Rowing Tips for Competition
Video by Bryce Smith & Written by Kaitlyn Kassis

When the erg comes up in the Open, you want to make sure you understand and practice how to get the most out of your rowing effort. Check out the video with tips on foot placement, quick release, rowing technique, breathing mechanics, pacing and more! And let’s dig into a few of the more technical topics in a little more depth – rowing for calories vs meters, technique & mechanics, and strategy. 

How to Row for Calories

Calories show up frequently in workouts as a unit of measurement and seems to be one of the more challenging parts of rowing to understand. 

When the monitor measures for calories, it is measuring calories per hour (power output). Power output is measured in Watts. Watts and calories per hour are related in a linear fashion meaning they move together. So when you row for calories you are rowing for power output.

Rowing for Calories vs Meters

The first question usually is whether or not you should row differently for calories versus meters. And the answer is no.

The most important part of rowing is that you are efficient and that you are able to connect to the machine. What you should strive for is to optimize your connection to the machine which will allow you to apply as much force, acceleration, and distance as possible. 

Tips for Improved Rowing Efficiency

If you want to gain a significant advantage both on how you perform and how you feel when you get off the erg and transition to the next movement, you need to do things properly – just like you do when you perform a heavy lift or a gymnastics movement.

Leg Drive for Rowing

The portion of the stroke where we go from catch (when you’re all the way forward in your stroke) to extension needs to be thought of as a LEG DRIVE, as opposed to an arm pull.

The drive through the legs should be so forceful against the erg that you can almost feel your butt pop up off the seat. In more precise terms, the force you push against the erg should take approximately 10-20 pounds off of the seat.

Just like you wouldn’t yank a deadlift off the ground with your arms, you need to initiate your movement on the rower with your legs. Your arms are simply there to guide that handle to your chest as you drive through the extension.

Grip for Rowing

Loose grip, loose upper body. You have often been cued in running to relax your hands, and not clench them into fists. Tension in the upper body is not only a waste of energy, but it also leads to improper positioning through the stride. The same theory applies to your grip and upper body on the erg. It is completely unnecessary to white-knuckle the handle.

Rather, it is more beneficial to keep a relaxed grip on the handle. In addition to a relaxed grip, it is also important to keep the shoulders and arms loose as well. If the arms are already tensed up, we are much more likely to revert to an upper pull than a lower-body drive.

Hip Hinge in Rowing

This next point is a big “Aha!” moment for a lot of people. When you have fully extended through the drive, and are about to begin the recovery portion of the stroke, think butt back first. Before the recovery is initiated, the seat should actually slide back just slightly before it begins to slide forward. 

Recovery in Rowing

This motion can be thought of as the same sort of hinge pattern you see in a hang clean – it even serves the same purpose! Pushing your butt back first loads the hamstrings through the recovery, which sets you up for a powerful and explosive drive.

Efficient recovery + powerful drive = SUCCESS!

Keep these cues in mind the next time you hop on the erg in a workout and become cognizant of your movement patterns as you row. Chances are there is something small you can tweak that will make your time spent on the rower much more efficient – and maybe even more enjoyable! (No guarantees on that one though.)

Other things to consider while rowing…

Rethink Your Breathing

Mobilize Your Thoracic & Hamstrings in One

Thoracic Spine Isometric Holds



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