Efficient Strokes for Efficient Folks

For the month of November we’ve been working on getting our rowing technique on point, and as we head into the row-heavy month of December you’ll understand just why. While we do our best to teach the ‘how-to’ of rowing in class, it takes time and practice to perfect your stroke. With that investment in mind, here is a step-by-step guide on how to row more efficiently:


Understand the catch. 

Each stroke starts with “the catch”.  In this position, we want to be sitting up tall, with tension on the handle from your shoulders and arms. Things to notice: your shoulders are in front of your hips and the shins are straight up and down.  Make sure you’re not rounding your back to extend your reach further or sliding too far in so that the knees travel in front of the ankle or foot.

The Catch

Drive through the legs.  

From the catch position you should start initiating power from the ball of your foot and then drive through the whole foot as you extend your legs. The shoulders should be in front of your hips and your arms should be straight. Common mistakes here are leaning back or bending the arms too early; let your knees reach almost full extension before you open your hips and lean back.

Leg Drive


Extend from the hips.  

Once your legs are nearly straight, it’s time to lean back a little bit, generating power through your hips.  Your shoulders should be behind your hips and your arms straight.  Common mistakes here are again bending the arms before extending through the hips, and leaning back too far.

Leg Drive


Pull your hands to your chest.  

With straight legs and the shoulders behind the hips, your arms finish the stroke with a pull.  Things to notice: The legs are still straight.  Common mistakes are bending the knees early to return. Your hands should be the first thing to come back not your knees.

The return simply reverses the above instructions. So, the hands come back first. Once the arms are straight, you’ll flex from the hips to move the shoulders in front of the hips.  Lastly, the knees will bend to slide you back into the catch.

Hip Extension

Smoothing these cues out into one single movement or stroke will increase your efficiency greatly. If you are pulling at about 28-30 strokes/minute and doing  a 2-minute /500m pace you will have 112-120 strokes per 1000m.  If each stroke is more consistent, powerful, and less taxing on the body it will adds up to a much stronger time with less effort.

Happy rowing.


Duncan McNeill is a coach and co-owner at Alchemy CrossFit.

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