The keys to rowing in CrossFit

In this article I bring you a professional rower to explain all the keys to this exercise.

Juan B Romero has been in the rowing world for almost 20 years, first as a rower, and then as a coach, in 2011 he obtained his national level 2 rowing coach title and since then he has not stopped learning more about this sport.

crossfit rowing tutorial

In 2016 he came in contact with Crossfit and since then he has worked on promoting rowing in the crossfit environment, with classes for athletes at the Box and specific rowing courses for coaches. Don't forget to follow him on his instagram: @juanba_rem

What is Rowing?

inventors Dreissigacker indoor rowing

Rowing is a sport that consists of moving a boat over the water, with the use of an implement (oar) as fast as possible, which makes it a sport of cyclic strength-resistance.

It is also a low-impact sport, since the athlete does not have to carry his or her weight, so he or she can achieve high resistance with little stress on joints and still achieve a lot of muscle activation and stimulation.

What are the benefits of rowing?

By activating so much muscle mass, it allows training with very different objectives very easily by playing with effort time and stroke rate, from recovery training to anaerobic-alactic work.

Since to be efficient in rowing it is necessary to develop a good technique and maintain it at high levels of demand, the athlete becomes more aware of his movements and improves his body control, which has added benefits for any sport he practices.

Rowing competitions are held over a multitude of distances, from the Olympic 2000 to the three-mile trawler, including sprint races, long-distance sea crossings... with boats from 1 to 13 rowers, boys and girls, in light and heavy weight categories, making it an extraordinarily versatile sport.

Focusing on the requirements of a 2000 m competition, rowing is a sport in which 80% of the energy comes from the aerobic pathway.However, at the same time, since it requires high levels of strength, the anaerobic pathway is decisive.

In rowing competitions, the hardness of competing at almost 100% of VO2 max for approximately 8', with very high lactate levels, means that the athletes' energy resources are rapidly depleted.

In a regatta there are about 210-230 strokes.34-38 per minute. The power output of elite international rowers usually averages 420 watts, and in the first 5 strokes of the regatta it can reach 650-990 watts, giving 40-50 strokes per minute.

What muscles are used in rowing?

Rowing is an exercise that involves most muscle groups, especially the legs and backwhich achieves very rapid adaptations at the cardiovascular level.

Rowing phases

Let's see which muscles are activated in the different phases of the stroke.


rowing machine technique

(Beginning) Emphasis on the legs

crossfit rowing technique

(Medium) Emphasis on the back.

rowing machine benefits

(End) Emphasis on arms.

phases of paddling


paddling position

Recovery and return to the beginning

indoor rowing

Training areas

Like most sports, Rowing adapts the most commonly accepted training zones to the characteristics of this sport. In a simplified way they can be seen in this table:

ZoneType of work% Freq. Card. Max.Strokes per minuteWhat it is good forPerception
UT2Use 2. Light aerobic work, low intensity.55-7018-20Improvement of the aerobic base.Light work. A conversation can be held while paddling.
UT1Use 1. Heavy aerobic work with increased oxygen consumption.70-8020-24Higher level of cardiovascular improvement.Increased heart rate and sensation of exertion. Sweating begins.
ATAnaerobic threshold. More demanding work. At the aerobic limit and entering the anaerobic zone.80-8524-28High level of CV fitness. Building mental and physical tolerance.Hard work. High heart and respiratory frequency. Muscle discomfort.
TROxygen transport.demanding work.unsustainable for long periods.85-9528-32Development of oxygen transport to muscles under stress.Stressful, intense effort.
ANAnaerobic. Short bursts of maximum effort.95-10032+Anaerobic work. Getting the body used to working without oxygen.Very stressful.

Crossfit application

Rowing is an exercise that, due to its characteristics, allows us to train in a very specific way many physical qualities, in addition to the fact that, as it is performed on an ergometer, which measures the power applied with great precision, it gives us a lot of control over the training we do and when it comes to performing tests.

For example, a 2000 m test will give us a pretty good idea of the VO2max of an athlete. With this tool, we can measure and design specific training to improve different qualities.

These characteristics have led to indoor rowing becoming a modality acquired by CrossFit.

The Concept 2 rowing machine

There are different models of rowing machines on the market, based mainly on moving a flywheel that has a certain inertia against a dynamic resistance, which can be achieved with the friction of air, water, or magnetic forces.

Each one has its advantages and disadvantages when it comes to simulate more or less efficiently the rowing movement, but the model that has become a "de facto" standard is the one manufactured by Concept2, which is the one we will refer to from now on.

The Dreissigacker brothers created this model in 1981. and has become the world's best-selling rowing machine.

Dreissigacker concept2 brothers

While rowing existed before the CrossFit GamesThese would never have existed without rowing. In 2007, participants had to complete 1000 meters in the first race. Since that time rowing has never been lacking to this competition.

Rowing first appeared in an Open in 2014, specifically in 14.4.

60-calorie row
50 toes-to-bars
40 wall-ball shots
30 cleans
20 muscle-ups.

Rowing Marathon at CrossFit Games 2018.

Dave Castro surprised the athletes at the 2018 Games on the first day of competition. They must have complete a rowing marathon in the shortest time possible. 42 km seated in Concept 2.

rowing marathon crossfit games

The results were:


  1. Lukas Esslinger (2:43:50)
  2. Lukas Hogberg (2:44:33)
  3. Cole Sager (2:46:55)
  4. Brent Fikowski (2:47:03)
  5. Patrick Vellner (2:47:13)


  1. Margaux Alvarez (3:oo:42)
  2. Whitney Gelin (3:01:53)
  3. Annie Thorisdottir (3:02:46)
  4. Laura Horvath (3:03:37)
  5. Katrin Tanja Davidsdottir (3:05:19)

The Concept2 rower, in particular, is an ergometer, which allows you to know very precisely the power the athlete is producing and the workouts become very effective.

Something we must constantly keep in mind is that the rowing machine is a rowing SIMULATOR, so by knowing what the demands of rowing in the water are, we will learn to be better at indoor rowing.

The Concept2 rower has a very simple operation, based on air resistance against a fan that the rower moves with a pulley system. By activating a lever that opens or closes the air flow, the resistance of this fan is increased. It is important to insist that increasing or decreasing the resistance simulates rowing a more or less heavy boat, not that more force is transmitted.


Total length: 244 cm
Width: 61 cm
Weight: 26 kg
Seat height: 36 cm
Batteries: D Plus
Maximum weight supported: 227 kg

concept 2 crossfit

How to regulate rowing in CrossFit?

The Concept2 rower can only be adjusted (adapted to the rower) in two aspects, the height of the pedal board (where the feet rest) and the fan resistance. As a general rule, the feet should be placed as high as possible, but in such a way that the whole foot has contact with the pedal board.

Depending on the height, body build and flexibility of the rower, the feet have to be placed higher or lower, the general rule is that the rower can reach a strong position in the attack comfortably.

What resistance in Concept 2?

As for fan resistance, as a general rule we should start with a low number between 3 and 5, concentrate on technique and as we improve, we will be able to raise that value.

concept number 2
Photo by

The function of this part of the machine is to control the amount of air entering the box. We can select a value from 1 to 10.

  • The greater the numberthe more air will enter the machine. The more air, the more effort the movement will involve. More air means that the circuit will slow down sooner and require more work on the next pull. At higher values the work will be force.
  • The lower the numberAt low values, the less air will enter the machine and the easier it will be to move the circuit. At low values the work will be more aerobic.

With time and experience we will discover which number we are most comfortable with.

If you select the position at a high number close to 10, you may exhaust yourself before you can achieve a good stroke rate. Remember to select a value at which you can keep working steadily.

The screen

The C2 display has many options for setting workouts, data display options and other information.

concept2 display
concept2 digital display

In the following image you can see the options for displaying information during a workout, in different units, layouts, even graphs of the force curve of each stroke, average watts, paceboat...

As for its use to program the workouts, it is very simple, in the menu option "Select workout" you can choose predefined "classic" workouts (2k, marathon, etc...) or specify it in distance, time, calories, intervals for any of these variables, rest time, etc etc...


The maintenance of the Concept2 oars is very simple, basically you should:

  • Clean the rail and handle after each use.
  • Grease the chain weekly
  • Disassemble and vacuum the fan at least once a year and check that the handle return rubber is working properly and replace it if necessary.

Safety tips when using the paddle

The use of the Remo C2 is very safe, although like any other device, it is necessary to use it correctly to avoid accidents or breakdowns. Here are some of the things you should NOT do:

We must not release the grip causing it to hit the machine.

Avoid rowing with one hand. We can damage the chain and injure ourselves

Avoid twisting the chain.

Explanation of each phase

The shoveling can be separated into four phases, let's see them in detail:

The attack

paddling phases

In the catch, the legs are compressed and the shins are vertical. The triceps work to extend the arms, and the flexor muscles of the fingers and thumbs grip the handle. The back muscles are relaxed and the abdominals flex the torso forward.

The last

best rowing technique

You start the movement with the leg muscles, and the shoulder muscles contract. As you move through the sequence, the back muscles begin to work as the torso opens and the glutes and hamstrings extend the hips. As you finish the pass with the arm pull, almost all of the upper body muscles are activated.

The end

rowing concept2

At the end, the abdominals stabilize the body and the glutes and quads contract. The biceps and back muscles also contract to help hold the torso in the end position and internally rotate the upper arms.


rowing machine concept2

The triceps are activated to pull the arms away from the body. The abdominals flex the torso forward, and the hamstrings and calves contract as you turn toward the attack.

The most important part of the stroke is the attack.Without a good attack, we lose that stroke and have to make it up on the next one.

If there is one part of the stroke to pay attention to, it is this. It is important to focus on the fact that rowing is cyclical, so you need to take care of your posture in each stroke, especially until you automate the gesture.

The body must be like a compressed spring in the attack, you have to arrive in tension to be able to execute it and take advantage of it well. If you don't arrive in tension and prepared to develop the stroke well, you lose efficiency and rowing, like all cyclic sports, depends on how efficient you are.

Rowing technique

There is two technical details that seemingly unimportant, but which will allow us to be much more efficient when rowing:

  1. The first is that in the attack, the shoulders should be in front of the hips.The gluteus and lower back muscles can be used to their fullest extent.
  2. The second second is that, at least until the movement is well controlled, the heels must not come off the pedalboardThis leads to over flexing the knees and a weak attack, and can also be harmful. Later, when the technique is well controlled, depending on the flexibility of the athlete's ankle, the heel can be detached a little to make the stroke longer.

A concept that will give us much efficiency when paddling is the "ratio" or "tempo" since the stroke has a power part, in which we apply force and a recovery part, in which we relax to return to the beginning of the stroke, the relationship between the duration of each phase will mark how efficient we are paddling.

It is important to keep in mind that the recovery is much slower than the pass. Ideally, we usually speak of a 1:2 ratio, which means that, if we take one second to make the pass, we should take about two seconds to return to the attack, in reality it is closer to 1:1.5, but it gives us a good reference of how fast we should return to the attack.

Most common errors

Summary of the most common mistakes made by beginner rowers and their correction:

Overextension of the body in the attack


The seat almost hits the heels, the shins are past vertical, the body leans too far forward, and the head and shoulders drop toward the toes. This places the body in a weak position for attack.

history of crossfit rowing


The seat remains at least 5 cm from the heels, the shins are almost vertical, the body leans comfortably forward, and the head and shoulders remain high and relaxed.

Opening the back prematurely


The rower pulls on the handle by lying backwards instead of stepping and using the legs. This wastes leg power and can injure the back.

common rowing mistakes


The legs should start the pass with the body still leaning forward (shoulders in front of the hips) The back gradually opens, chaining this back pull against the almost extended legs.

Going out of the car


The rower initiates the stroke by extending the legs without moving the handle. All the strength of the legs is wasted.

crossfit rowing


The body needs to transmit the thrust from the legs to the handle, the handle must move at the same time as the carriage.

Back grouped


In the recovery, the rower lets the knees come up before the arms are fully extended. As a result, the knees and hands collide or the hands are forced to avoid the knees (unnecessary work for the arms).

best crossfit rowing machine


The rower should extend the arms fully and lean the upper body forward from the hips BEFORE bending the knees to slide forward. This brings the hands well in front of the knees.

Tipping too much and ending up on the chin


The rower leans back too far at the end and/or pulls the handle up to the chin. This is an inefficient use of the arms and back, as the body is hanging from the girths, without properly transmitting force.

crossfit rowing machine


The handle should maintain a more or less constant height, so that it ends the pass below the pectoral. The back should end with an inclination of 5-10 degrees.

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