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Why Leaving Rowing Out of Your Workout is a Big Mistake

In terms of training value for time spent, there is little that comes close to rowing. It is a cardio, it is anaerobic and it is strengthening. By building rowing in to your CrossFit workout instead of running, you will be increasing the intensity and effectiveness of your training session several fold.

To understand why this is the case, it would be helpful to take a bit of a look at the body’s energy pathways and how they are used in a CrossFit training session.

An energy pathway, is the means by which the body delivers energy to the muscles, which can be converted into work by their contraction. Energy is released into the muscle fiber when a phosphate molecule is released from Adenosine Triphosphate (ATP) to form Adenosine Diphosphate (ADP). There is not a lot of ATP in the body (only about 250g), so it constantly needs to be recycled. An ATP molecule can be recycled between 500-750 times a day and it is estimated that one’s own body weight of the stuff will be broken down and recreated in a single day.

So, the processes by which ATP is recycled are what we are talking about when we refer to energy pathways.

Regeneration of ATP Energy from Food!!

In order for the body to be able to reuse this chemical reaction, the phosphate molecule that was released to produce energy needs to be reattached to the ADP to form ATP again. This chemical process is done in two basic ways, with a third concerned only with energy release.

Anaerobic Respiration Pathway1) The Anaerobic System: As the name suggests, this is the chemical process that takes place in the absence of oxygen. “An” meaning without and “aero” meaning air. Most of us have hear of aerobic because of the type of training often offered in gyms. Many of us will also have heard of anaerobic training, particularly body builders and athletes.

Unfortunately, it is not quite that simple! We still have to split anaerobic respiration into two separate types: The ATP-PC System and the Glycolytic System.


1a) The Anaerobic ATP-PC System is at the opposite end of the scale to Aerobic respiration. It is responsible for short burst activity such as jumping up onto a box or swinging a kettle bell up to vertical. During the first few seconds of an activity, ATP supplies the energy. It is immediate and can last approximately 12 seconds. For a few seconds after that, the rapid decline of ATP is cushioned by phosphocreatine (PC) before the cell turns to another energy pathway, namely the glycolytic system.

1b) The Anaerobic Glycolytic System fills the gap between the ATP-PC and oxidative (aerobic) systems. The sugar glucose, which is obtained from dietary carbohydrates and is stored in the blood and liver, is broken down into ATP by the process of glycolysis. The by-product of glycolysis is pyruvic acid, which is converted into something most of us have heard of, namely lactic acid.

The process of glycolysis comes in two flavors – fast and slow. Essentially, the fast version can run for up to 30 seconds resulting in acid lactic acid accumulation, a drop in power and subsequent fatigue. Slow glycolysis doesn’t produce as much power, but extreme fatigue is avoided for longer. Here, the pyruvic acid is converted to acetyl coenzyme A, run through the oxidative Krebs cycle (see below), which produces more ATP, which delays fatigue.

For example, a 400m sprinter would come out of the blocks using the ATP-PC system and run most of the first bend on it. After that, ATP stored in the cells would run out and the fast glycolysis system would kick in. As the lactic acid starts to build up half way round the second bend, the runner grits his teeth whilst the cells desperately start reproducing ATP through slow glycolysis.

Aerobic Respiration Pathway2) Aerobic (Oxidative) System is the lowest intensity and slowest process. Without getting too technical, it basically requires oxygen to break down glucose, fat or protein in the blood to form ATP. At its very core level, this is the system which operates when you sleep. As long as you have glucose, fat or protein available, it is virtually unlimited.

In terms of sport, the aerobic system will first use carbohydrates (glucose), which in a healthy adult is around 2500 KCal. Once this is depleted, which will happen during a marathon for example, the system will turn to fatty acids and then to eventually as a last resort to proteins.

One important technical term to note is the Krebs cycle, which is the chain of chemical reactions that continues to oxidize the glucose that was started during glycolysis. This process ends up by recreating ATP with a by-product of hydrogen, which is then converted to water by more chemical reactions and the electron transport chain. Phew!! So, bio-chemistry lesson over!

So what does this all mean in terms of CrossFit training?

The first thing to note is that through appropriate training, the anaerobic systems can be improved by 20% and the aerobic system by a massive 50%! Top rowing athletes spend a lot of time on the ergo training at a low level to improve their base aerobic systems. One would think that given the intensity of a race and the inhuman levels to which they push themselves, it would be best to train at a high output all the time.

The problem with this approach is that, as we have seen above, the glycolytic energy pathway is only good for around a minute at a push. Improving the efficiency of the Krebs cycle at oxidizing glucose into ATP is therefore essential for intense sports such as rowing the 2000m.

Essentially, the rowing machine will cover all these bases. Throughout your circuit, you can add in short 30 second intense bursts, which will push your glycolytic system to its limit throughout most muscle groups. At the end of each circuit, you could do a 10 minute aerobic cruise giving your oxidative system a good half hour in a three circuit session. Alternatively, you could build a fartlek interval training sub-session on the rower into each round keeping all three systems on the alert. The possibilities are endless.

The major advantage of rowing over other types of training is the “whole body” nature of it. CrossFit endeavors to cover all major muscle groups in a multiple of strength related and aerobic manners. Bringing a rowing machine into the circuit will enhance the intensity of both the strengthening aspects as well as the aerobic aspects of the session for almost the entire body. Also, by varying the speed and load of the machine, it is possible to activate all the energy pathways described above, giving you a more complete workout.




How to Improve Your Rowing Technique

Have you ever watched somebody row well and felt frustrated that the meters — or the calories — seemed to fly by for them and not for you? Do you cringe when the workout of the day involves rowing? If you are nodding yes to either of these questions, keep reading. Understanding the rower, combined with better technique, can help you start turning your weakness into a strength – today.

Row, Row, Row Your Boat…

Regardless of damper setting, you have to apply greater force if you want your “boat” to go faster or accumulate more calories.

Obviously, jumping onto a Concept2 Rower is not the same as rowing a boat on the water. However, if you approach the rower as if it is a boat, you may be better able to change your technique accordingly. Do you see Olympic rowers jerking the oars unevenly, shorting their hips on the pull, or taking quick, furious strokes? The total opposite, actually, regardless of the type of boat or the number of people rowing. Concept2 Rowing explains:

Think of the Indoor Rower as your boat. If you row at low intensity you can row for a long time. To make the boat go faster you pull harder; and if you try to make the boat go very fast you will be exhausted in a short time. Air resistance on the flywheel fan works just like the water resistance on a boat.

Now that you are thinking in terms of a boat on the water, let’s examine the effect of the damper settings 1-10. In the lower numbers 1-4 the feel of the Indoor Rower is like a sleek racing shell. In the higher numbers 6-10 the feel is like a big, slow rowing boat. Either boat can be rowed hard; and as you try to make either boat go fast, you will need to apply more force. Making the sleek boat go fast requires you to apply your force more quickly; and when trying to make the big boat go fast you will feel a high force but at a slower speed of application.

Damper Settings

No doubt this is apparent if you have ever played with the damper setting on a machine. What, then, determines how much work you are doing (in meters, calories, or watts)?

As you are moving forward for your next stroke the monitor measures how much your flywheel is slowing down. It can determine precisely how sleek or slow your “boat” is by how much it slows down between strokes. It then uses this information to determine from the speed of the flywheel how much work you are doing. In this way your true effort is calculated regardless of damper setting.

Did you know? The ideal stroke rate is 22-26 strokes per minute (s/m).

If the flywheel hums along steadily due to your consistently smooth, strong pulls, you will produce more work. The ideal damper setting for every individual is different, but it should be where you achieve the highest output levels.

Breaking Down the Rowing Stroke

There are two components of the rowing stroke: the drive and the recovery.

The Recovery (Phase 1)
  • Extend your arms until they straighten.
  • Lean your upper body forward to the one o’clock position.
  • Once your hands and the oar handle have cleared your knees, allow your knees to bend and gradually slide the seat forward on the monorail.
The Catch (Position 1)
  • Arms are straight; head is neutral; shoulders are level and not hunched.
  • Upper body is at the one o’clock position—shoulders in front of hips.
  • Shins are vertical and not compressed beyond the perpendicular.
  • Balls of the feet are in full contact with the footplate.
The Drive (Phase 2)
  • With straight arms and while maintaining the position of the upper body at one o’clock, exert pressure on the foot plate and begin pushing with your legs.
  • As your legs approach straight, lean the upper body back to the eleven o’clock position and draw the hands back to the lower ribs in a straight line.
The Finish (Position 2)
  • Legs are extended and handle is held lightly at your lower ribs.
  • Upper body is at the eleven o’clock position—slightly reclined with good support from your core muscles.
  • Head is in a neutral position.
  • Neck and shoulders are relaxed, and arms are drawn past the body with flat wrists.

The drive is the work portion of the stroke; the recovery is the rest portion that prepares you for the next drive. The body movements of the recovery are essentially the reverse of the drive. Blend these movements into a smooth continuum to create the rowing stroke.

A good rowing cadence, or tempo, is 22-26 strokes per minute (abbreviated s/m on the monitor).

Rowing Video Demos

For the drive of the rowing stroke, mimic a horizontal power clean: drive with your legs through your heels, open your hips to full extension, and pull with your arms last.

Shane Farmer of CrossFit Rowing talks through the rowing stroke with Cody Burgener as his model at his home box,  CrossFit Invictus. He advises athletes to focus on three aspects of rowing:

  1. Drive: Engage your legs first, swing your back open, and pull your arms at the end into the finish position. He & Cody agree that as with power cleans, once the arms break, “the power ends!”
  2. Recovery: Because your legs are responsible for ~75% of the drive, they need 75% of the recovery, too. Be patient on the recovery and bend your knees last, after you have re-straightened your arms and leaned forward.
  3. Catch: This is the transition between the recovery back into the drive. Farmer advises thinking about the turnover “one inch” before the catch so your legs get ready to drive again.
In the simplest of terms, Jason Khalipa at CrossFit Santa Clara describes what good rowing should look like by comparing the rowing stroke to a sumo deadlift high pull and/or a power clean. He emphasizes a strong cadence (“hard drive…recover. hard drive…recover”) and thinking about moving in straight lines. In the drive, legs push back, hips open (while maintaining a straight back), arms finish; to recover, arms straighten, hips close, and knees bend last.

Avoiding Common Rowing Errors

Practice! From the finish position, try drilling arms-only rowing, then add in a hinge at the hips to practice body & arms rowing.

As with Olympic lifting, there are many different places within the rowing stroke that a technical error can occur — all of which lead to a loss or lessening of power and efficiency. Again, Concept2 Rowing provides a comprehensive list of fixable mistakes, sorted by body part:

Arms & hands

  • Over gripping the handle: Keep your wrists flat through the stroke with your hands comfortably wrapped around the handle.
  • Breaking arms at the catch: As Shane & Cody pointed out above, an early break means the power ends.
  • Chicken wing arms: Elbows should finish pointed straight back, not out to the sides, with shoulders in a relaxed (not hunched) position.


Your back should maintain a strong upright position throughout both parts of the stroke.

  • Lunging at the catch: To avoid this, establish the lean (torso at 1 o’clock) early in  your recovery, before the knees bend, and maintain it until the drive begins again.
  • Over-reaching at the catch: Your hands do not need to reach out excessively toward the flywheel in the catch position, as this causes your back to round and pulls your shoulders forward.
  • Lifting with the back at the catch: Press through the drive with your legs, then lean back after your hips open. Lifting with your back also makes the chain pull back unevenly, and you want a smooth, horizontal pull.
  • Excessive layback: Your torso does not need to go past 11 o’clock in the finish position.

A drill to correct some of these errors? As the recovery begins, pause with your arms straight and torso at 1 o’clock, then finish the recovery. Repeat for several strokes to establish a good back position.


  • Bending knees too early on recovery: This forces you to lift the chain to avoid hitting your knees; keep the chain level throughout both the drive and the recovery.
  • Rushing the slide: Instead of going too fast toward the catch, remember to straighten the arms, close the hips, THEN bend the knees. Rushing the slide implies an incorrect de-loading order.
  • Over compressing: This can happen at the catch — don’t let your shins go past vertical.
  • Shooting the slide: This is the equivalent of driving your legs back without taking your body with you (like raising your hips before your shoulders in a deadlift).

Two suggestions for avoiding these errors:

  1. Count your cadence out loud on the drive and then the recovery; the latter should take longer.
  2. Practice a legs only row (no pull) in order to feel the load order of legs first before the hips open.

Rowing Machine Review Tidbits: Getting “Down the Stream” Faster

Improve Your Fight Gone Bad score

The CrossFit Rowing Blog explains how he gets 20 points (or more) from rowing alone during Fight Gone Bad: To allow for the transition time of getting strapped into the rower, he moves from the push press early to get a full 60 seconds of rowing in (averaging 1500 calories or more) — which equates to 7 or 8 extra calories.

Getting into indoor rowing is great for CrossFit. To figure out which is the best rowing machine to choose, check out the rowing machine reviews here.

Original article from the now defunct website www.tabatatimes.com/row-better-now

Why runners should be rowers.

This is a great post originally from www.firstdegreefitness-europe.com that struck a chord with me. I used to play a lot of rugby and got into rowing once I had stopped playing regularly. Rugby is an intense sport and as part of my training I did a lot of running and picked up a persistent calf muscle injury which took a lot of rehab. To keep fit I was swimming and cycling but had I known about how intense rowing is, I would most definitely had done this instead and then added it as permanent part of my training.

As a runner I was in need of a workout to help me retain fitness while I rehabbed a foot injury, so I was directed to a rowing machine—commonly referred to as an ergometer or “erg.”
Then I endured one of the most challenging cross-training workouts of my life—for exactly 12 minutes.

Rowing is an invaluable tool for runners. When you learn how to do it right it lights up weaknesses you didn’t know you had. It helps runners and cyclists find power in muscles they hadn’t used before.

Rowing is a potent weapon in an endurance athlete’s cross-training arsenal, or as a replacement for running when injuries surface. It’s no joke. It’s some serious, lung-searing stuff. When an athlete is dealing with a foot or Achilles tendon problem, often the solution lies in replacing running with work on the ergometer. For both continuity and recovery. In place of key running workouts, use indoor rowing.
It’s all about proper technique. If you don’t do it right, it’s not going to work.

While running and rowing are similar in cardiovascular benefits, they differ in the muscular workout they deliver. Erin Cafaro, a 2008 Olympic gold medalist and member of the U.S. rowing squad, said that rowing punishes the body in different ways. “In one continuous motion rowing works legs, core, back and arms,” she said. “It’s a full-body workout.”

One of the chief benefits rowing offers runners is improved posture. “Runners typically have terrible posture, leading to bad form, leading to beating the hell out of yourself.
Proper rowing helps runners develop robust midline stability to help shift running from smaller, weaker muscles such as hip flexors to more powerful muscles in the hips.

Properly performed rowing gives a runner a solid blast of cardio work, works the abs, core and lower back, and even develops flexibility in the hamstrings and calves.

Where should you start? Don’t make the mistake most runners do when they first hit the rowing machine and yank away—not only will you miss out on the primary benefits rowing has to offer, but you also might make things worse.

So, what benefits does rowing offer runners and triathletes?

Rowing machines allow runners to do a non-impact form of endurance training. If you want to be a better runner, your training should focus on running mainly. However, cross-training during non-competitive periods in the year and during recovery blocks throughout the season helps runners stay injury free and mentally fresh. Those are the key benefits of rowing for runners.

Any tips fur runners taking up rowing?

Strongly resist the urge to become a rowing specialist. This is especially true for triathletes, who tend to want to mimic the training done in the specific sub sports of their discipline. For example, very often triathletes fall into the trap of training like Masters swimmers, road cyclists and runners rather than training like a triathlete. The same intensity and inquisitiveness that leads to those miss-steps can also lead a motivated runner or triathlete to use the erg as if he is a crew specialist. This is counterproductive because it can hurt recovery. If you’re really trying to improve on the erg, it’s likely your training load will increase on the erg and will cut into your recovery, leading to decreased volumes of sport-specific training. Both problems can reduce sport-specific performance.

Click here to view original web page at www.firstdegreefitness-europe.com