This time of year, it is a pleasure to be off the erg and back on the water. Even bad weather doesn’t seem too bad compared to being indoors.
The good news is that there’s a lot of emphasis on developing specific power through loaded rowing, either through the use of a bungee wrapped around the hull, or by beefing up the gearing on the rigging. There is nothing like the true “hang” you can get in the boat. You simply can’t get it on the erg, even with sliders, because there is not enough momentum to really stretch and pre-load the system before you pull. I am very sore in all of my joints after doing some loaded power pieces into the wind, even after doing fairly aggressive CrossFit and indoor rowing in the weeks leading up to getting back on the water.
But don’t forget your squats! I find it’s easy to get caught in the euphoria of getting faster on the water and forget to get in the gym and maintain my core strength movements. Generally I scale back on CrossFit metcons at this time of year, and focus on on-water rowing and CrossFit strength workouts, as I get the “metcon effect” through loaded rowing. Squats, deadlifts, planks, squat jumps, and kettlebell swings are the core, with Turkish get ups and kettlebell snatches to correct imbalances. It’s important to keep developing core strength and stability, and then translating this into specific power in the boat.
Here’s a great article by Coach Kaehler on squats for rowers. I prefer the low-bar back squat, fully inhaled, core locked, knees out, below parallel. It doesn’t take a lot – I often build up to a just a few sets at a high weight late at night after a stressful day. I always feel awesome afterwards, but I find that if I don’t keep up with them regularly, my stabilization suffers. Don’t forget your squats!
Everybody hates burpees, right? They are used as a penalty, and in most metcons everybody groans when the burpee sets start. I used to be part of that crowd, but recently realized that once I got strong enough to deal with the pushup part of the burpee, the squat jump part should be cake since, as a rower, I have been doing squat jumps since like 1985 and air squats are a strength vs. a weakness.
Here’s what I realized: When I get tired, my body becomes very loose during burpees and I try to do them with the least amount of actual movement possible, ostensibly to conserve energy. This usually means that I barely make it off the ground and my “clap” is as minimal as possible. Here’s the kicker – it also means that the overall movement is slow, and therefore the cadence is slow, and I think this actually takes more energy and makes it worse.
I have found that a better approach is to treat the burpee like a static squat jump. As soon as the legs come in under the hips, fire the quads explosively, like you would do at the catch in a rowing boat. Rowers have an advantage here as we are trained to lead with the quads from a compressed position (i.e. the first half of the drive), whereas most CrossFit movements focus on the hamstrings and glutes. Mentally, there is a big difference, and the quick impulse with the quads is a uniquely trained skill that can work you your advantage.
The initial impulse from the quads means you have a lot of momentum as you open up. You come much higher off the ground, and the arms almost naturally swing up with the momentum vs. you having to lift them up to the clap. When I tried this approach, it made the burpee cadence much faster and made each burpee much higher quality. I believe this took maybe 20% off of the total time for the burpee segment of the WOD, which is a relief.
I am now going to change my mindset. While everyone else is groaning, I am going to start considering burpees as an opportunity to develop into a strength, which will give me a competitive advantage during WODs.