The Total Row Way: Why form matters

Posted on Posted in Benefits, Fitness, Rowing

Proper Form: The forgotten part of fitness

The Problem

Have you ever walked into the newest “it” studio, found yourself slightly overwhelmed by the deluge of spandex and heart-thumping music, only to be thrown tights-first into a workout without any level of personal instruction? Sadly, you are not alone.

As the fitness industry has evolved and become inundated by “better” technology and constant selfies, the marketing (and associated application) has focused on the perceived experience of the class rather than its proper instruction and execution. This is a problem.


Let’s take a step back

The other day, we had a nice young lady walk into one of our TR45 classes on her first complementary pass. The following conversation ensued…

Instructor: Hello Sally (not her name), have you ever rowed before?

Sally: Oh yes, I’ve rowed many times in my (Insert Super Popular Gym) classes!

Ins: Awesome! Just to be sure, we will take the warm-up nice and slow, and give you some tips along the way. If you have any questions during class, just shout them out or ask us during a break.

::Warm-up starts. Sally slouches over and grabs the handle with a death grip. She immediately leans back with her back and arms, while trying to take short quick strokes::

Ins: Sally, let’s slow things down and go through our 3 step process for cleaning up your rowing form. It only takes a few minutes, and a refresher is always nice. Did your prior instructors walk you through the mechanics during the warm-up, and give you a chance to settle in?

Sally (looking perplexed): Well, no… The trainer would usually just lay out the workout, tell us how to get strapped in, push play on the speaker system, and send us off! Many times the rowing was just a part of a circuit, and we had no instruction at all. We were simply told to go as far as we could.

::Curtain closes::

While this interaction may seem small and overly dramatic, it is a MAJOR problem when rowing (you won’t think it’s small when you injure yourself) and is very common among many of our crew members. However, like most things in life, there is always a better way!


The Solution

I will state this without mincing words: if you ever find yourself in the middle of an exercise class, sitting on a rower, and were not given an overview of appropriate form and power generation…STOP. Ask your instructor to give you the basic overview of mechanics, including the order of the stroke, power behind the stroke, and timing of the stroke.

In the increasingly likely event your trainer does not know how to execute a proper rowing stroke, request a different exercise for that portion of the workout. Once finished, proceed to another gym that can adequately explain the exercises they ask you to do. (Note: This is not an attempt to bash our fellow exercise aficionados, it is simply a way to protect YOU during YOUR workout.)


Rowing, the “Perfect Exercise”

For your reading pleasure, we are including a basic primer (with pictures!) on a proper rowing stroke. There are slightly variations among how the stroke is taught, but we will focus on the areas that are widely agreed upon.

Legs, Core, Arms…Arms, Core, Legs

If you’ve ever taken a class at Total Row, you might have grown weary of us constantly telling you the order of your stroke (maybe this is why fitness classes pump up the music so loud nowadays). We do this for your safety, and also to remind you of your form as you grow tired (yes, our classes will do that to you). Let’s take a look one step at a time:


Initiating the stroke

Legs: With your arms extended, a light grip on the handle, and your chest slightly forward (about 10 o’clock), the initial motion (and generation of power) should come exclusively from your legs. Ever heard the saying “lift with your legs, not your back”? This is the same concept. Use the strength in your legs to initiation the motion, not by levering your back.

Core: Your core is like the meat of a sandwich: while you don’t always notice it at first glance, it’s very important to the overall experience (ever tried to eat a bread sandwich?). By flexing your lower back and engaging your core, you transfer the power through your legs and up to your arms.  Without your core, you will lose momentum in your stroke, have to make it up with extra force through your arms/back, and tire out quickly.

Arms: By the time your arms have engaged, the momentum of your stroke should be at its crescendo. Finish the stroke by pulling the handle to the top of your rib cage, and letting your arms flare out naturally to your side.


Recovering the stroke

Arms: The last to finish in the power phase of your stroke, relaxing your arms is your first step in recovery. You don’t need to rush this phase, just let the tightness in the rope slowly pull them back to towards the front).

Core: Once your arms have fully extended, allow your core to move forward (from 2 o’clock back to 10 o’clock). With your arms extended, your handle should now be crossing over your knees. Like the initial phase of the stroke, it is very important to not forget your core. This allows your upper body to move back to the 10 o’clock position, and setup for the following stroke.

Legs: Once your arms and core are fully recovered (and the handle has passed over your knees), let your legs recover back to the starting position. If you are flexible enough, try to get those shins vertical before beginning the next stroke.


Power through your legs

There are two important reasons that pushing through feet is the initial motion in a rowing stroke. First, by beginning the motion with your legs, you protect your back (we have discussed this). Second, your legs are hands-down (see what I did there) the most powerful tool your body has.

When we initiate our stroke through our legs, we are able to take the brunt of the energy where it is most easily handled.  If your order is out of whack, and you pull with your arms or back first, your rowing class will end quickly and your performance will lag. Become cognizant of your feet against the board, and make sure you are pushing through them.


Final thoughts

We gain no pleasure in bashing other gyms and fitness plans, and are ecstatic with how quickly rowing is taking over. With that said, we all must take caution that the fitness industry is notorious for taking a good thing, and mucking it up with absurd marketing and ill-equipped trainers.

At Total Row, we take pride in our instructors’ specific knowledge on our Water Rowers, and how to make sure you have the most effective workout possible. We are not a gym that simply processes as many people as possible.  Many of our classes have more of a personal training vibe, and we will do our best to answer any questions you have.

If you ever find yourself in a gym (doing any exercise) where your instructor cannot adequately explain the proper mechanics, think extra hard about continuing that workout. It doesn’t take much to spark an injury, exactly the opposite of what “the Perfect Exercise” is intended to do.

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