I was recently asked for some advice on Concept2 rowing technique for a coach at our box who was prepping for sectionals. One of the qualifier WODs involved two 1k pieces with box jumps in the middle.
I am not a rowing coach, but I’ve been doing this for a long time and have noticed several things in watching Crossfitters row:
1. Low stroke rates, even for very strong and fit athletes. Rowing at 20-22 strokes per minute, no matter how strong you are, is too low for a short piece – the flywheel has too much time to slow down, and it’s like throwing some extra plates on the bar. For a 1k, try 26-28 or even 30. Let it flow, don’t muscle it!
2. Fast hands away from the body at the finish of the stroke. Taking your time at the finish contributes to the lower stroke ratings, but it doesn’t buy you anything on the indoor rower because there is no equal and opposite reaction benefitting your speed the way there is in a boat on the water. There is a good video that addresses this subject on the Crossfit Journal. Slow hands away on the rower are like doing negatives with a barbell instead of letting the bar drop fast and hitting the next rep.
3. You can gain some seconds at the start by doing two things to avoid pulling against the full momentum of a stationary flywheel. This will let you get a couple of extra strokes in. First, try to start with a flywheel that is still spinning. Take a few light warmup strokes just before setting the monitor for the WOD, as close to the start of the WOD as possible. The wheel will take a few minutes before it stops completely. Second, sit up a little at the start and use a sequence of half, half, 3/4, 3/4, then full strokes. This lets you start with the most powerful section of the stroke, and pick up the length as the wheel comes up to speed.
4. Shoot for even splits every 500m. Resist the temptation to blow it out at the start even if you feel good, because you only have about 60 seconds of anaerobic capacity before you will crash, and you need those legs for the next exercise! If it is the last exercise in the WOD, target the last 250 meters (25 strokes) for a sprint – 5% up for 10, 5% up for 10, then sit up and just punch the legs for the last 5 strokes. If you are doing 1K pieces, these are roughly 100 strokes – you can literally count the strokes and visualize your race strategy ahead of time if that works for you.
Hope this is helpful – everyone has a different method, and a lot of it is psychological. Just remember that for a 1K piece that is going to take 3:30 to 4:00, you can’t muscle it – you have to focus on speed and power to be successful – light and explosive will generally beat slow and powerful over this distance.