Thursday, February 9, 2012

What I Talk About When I Talk About Rowing

A Harlem River Regatta
I know I mentioned a few posts ago that I would talk about rowing--well now I'm making good on that threat. I've recently started to incorporate rowing into my training, not as a substitute but as a supplement and now I’m a big proponent of the benefits of running and rowing.

I don’t think every runner needs cross-training—I have gone large periods of time without doing any exercise other than running—but if you can find time to work it into your schedule, I think it can definitely aid your running. [Note: I AM NOT a healthcare professional or a certified anything so I offer this all as my opinion—take from it what you will].

Let’s talk about why rowing is great (I’m speaking about an indoor rower, but I assume this is all true for real rowing too):

1. It’s non-impact. If you use proper rowing technique, you can get a great cardio workout while giving your joints a chance to recover. That means, generally, you can row without compromising your recovery during a busy training week.

2. It can improve your posture. A lot of runners have terrible posture—I am definitely no exception. Rowing helps strengthen your core and back leading to better posture and better running form!

3. It works your whole body. Rowing works your legs, back, core, and your arms all at the same time. As someone who doesn’t like (and ergo rarely does) weight-lifting, rowing lets me get in a little upper body work.

4. It improves your flexibility. Running tends to leave your muscles pretty tight (especially if, like me, you frequently “forget” to stretch). The large range of motion in rowing actually improves the flexibility in the hamstrings and calves.

How do I incorporate rowing? I add it in as a recovery workout 2 to 3 nights a week. I typically row 5000m but I’ve been doing this for long enough to have worked up to that point. Rowing is tough stuff started out so I would recommend starting by setting a time goal for yourself and selecting a lower resistance like a 3 or 4.

Below the jump is an excerpt from an article detailing proper technique.

Rowing Technique: The Essentials (From T.J. Murphy, “Why Rowers Should Run” available at

1. Proper grip. Curl your fingers around the handle and keep the wrist joints cocked slightly.

2. Secure the feet. Insert your feet into the footrests and adjust the toe strap so that it crosses over the top shoelace. Pull the straps snug around your feet.

3. From "The catch" or start position into the early drive. Keep your shins vertical and the muscles tight, pulling your belly button up and in, and make a point to retain good posture. Slant the upper body forward, extending powerfully from the hips. Avoid hunching your shoulders. From this position, begin the "drive" phase by employing your leg muscles with a powerful push off. Retain the forward tilt of your upper body for the first half of the drive phase—approximately a foot of travel as the seat slides backward on the rail.

4. The drive. Push through with your legs, and in a continuous motion, begin to use your back and abs as a lever, transferring the workload to a combination of your legs and the muscles surrounding your core. Resist the temptation to begin pulling with your arms until you've completely channeled the power from your abdominal and back muscles. With legs fully extended, begin using your arms to pull and finish the stroke. Keep the muscles of the core—the midline stability muscles—activated and tight.

5. The finish into the recovery. Upon completing the drive and pulling the handle to a point just in front of your upper abdominals, you will transition into the recovery phase. While keeping a tight core, smoothly return to the starting position at half the speed used in the drive. Use this time to allow the muscles to recover. Reverse the sequence of the chain of movements—arms, back and core, and finally allow the legs to return to the spring-like position of the catch.

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