How to Row Faster

Whether you’re competing in a canoe competition or participating in Crossfit, rowing is a demanding but rewarding physical activity. If you want to improve your rowing times, it’s not as simple as just putting in a more intense effort. The best way to improve your rowing speeds is by perfecting your technique and maintaining superior physical conditioning.


EditRowing Correctly

  1. Get in the proper starting position. The starting position is also known as the catch. In this position, your arms should be straight out in front of you and your shoulders should be level. Lean your upper body forward but keep a straight back. Bend your knees and keep your shins as vertical as possible.[1]
    Row Faster Step 1.jpg
  2. Drive back with your legs and hips. Push off with your legs and use them to propel yourself backward. Once your legs are extended, bump your hips up. Pulling with your arms in the beginning of the drive will make your rowing less efficient and you’ll get tired faster.[2]
    Row Faster Step 2.jpg
  3. Pull back with your arms. Bend your arms and pull your hands back to your chest while leaning back so that you can get the most power out of your drive. This is called the finish position.[3]
    Row Faster Step 3.jpg
    • Your hands should come to the bottom of your chest at the end of each drive.
  4. Go back to the starting position. After the finish, you enter the recovery stage. Don’t rush your recovery by aggressively pushing forward. Instead, concentrate on developing a healthy pace rather than expending unneeded energy. Calm your muscles and allow your body to return to the starting position.[4]
    Row Faster Step 4.jpg
    • It’s called the recovery stage because you should be exhaling and resting your muscles for a short period.
    • The idea behind getting faster is setting a good pace, not frantically trying to pull back as fast as you can during every stroke.
  5. Exhale during the drive and inhale during the recovery. Make sure to inhale during this time and exhale as you pull backward. Taking short breaths will cause you to become tired faster, and will reduce the speed of your stroke over time. Regulate your breathing by inhaling deeply through your nose and exhaling out of your mouth.[5]
    Row Faster Step 5.jpg

EditMaintaining a Steady Pace

  1. Practice. To increase your rowing times, you’ll want your motion to be as smooth as possible. Don’t jerk your legs back during the drive or throw your weight into your upper body. Try to transition to each stage of the stroke as smoothly as possible.[6]
    Row Faster Step 6.jpg
  2. Do three short pulls to get your machine started. Instead of doing one deep pull to get the wheel started on a rowing machine, you can do three smaller pulls in succession. Grab onto the handles and pull back slightly as if you’re doing a partial pull. Then, do another pull that’s about half a repetition before doing one full pull. This will get your wheel started and so that you can find your pace faster.[7]
    Row Faster Step 7.jpg
  3. Adjust the drag setting on your machine. The drag setting will increase or decrease the resistance on the machine. If you’re having issues because the resistance is too high, you can reduce this setting to make it easier to row. Adjust the drag factor by going into the machine’s settings and lowering it.[8]
    Row Faster Step 8.jpg
    • Play around with the settings until you find a drag factor that you feel comfortable with.
  4. Watch your performance monitor. Depending on what kind of rowing machine you’re on, there will be different numbers on a display that tells you important details about your workout. Typically this information will include calories, pace, and stroke rate.[9] Keep an eye on the stroke rate so that you know what kind of tempo you’re keeping and how fast you’re going.
    Row Faster Step 9.jpg

EditPerfecting Your Technique

  1. Use your legs, not arms. Drive the seat back by pushing off with your legs, not pulling with your arms. Keep your elbows straight as you drive back with your legs. You should only pull at the very end of each drive.[10]
    Row Faster Step 10.jpg
    • If you feel yourself coming off the rowing seat, it means that you’re pushing up, not back.
  2. Drill the things you aren’t good at. Practice will improve your technique and thus your overall speed. If you notice that you’re having a hard time with a particular portion of the stroke, you’ll want to concentrate on that stage more. Practice doing the part of the stroke you’re struggling with, like the catch or the recovery, without doing the full stroke to perfect your technique.[11]
    Row Faster Step 11.jpg
  3. Videotape yourself. Watching a video of your technique will clue you into the areas that need improvement. Have a friend or teammate videotape your stroke and review the video so that you know what you should concentrate on improving.[12]
    Row Faster Step 12.jpg

EditExercising to Improve Performance

  1. Workout your lower abdominal muscles. Your lower abdominals are a critical part of being able to row faster and longer. Use workouts like yoga and pilates as well as traditional core exercises like pushups, crunches, and leg lifts to work out your lower abdominal muscles.[13]
    Row Faster Step 13.jpg
  2. Do front squats. Stand with your feet shoulder width and hold the bar on your chest so that it runs under your chin. Front squats will develop your core strength, upper back, and quadriceps, which are all muscles that are heavily used while rowing.[14]
    Row Faster Step 14.jpg
    • Keep your elbows high to maintain good posture.
    • The bottom portion of the front squat resembles the position you’re in during the catch.
  3. Practice doing deadlifts. Deadlifts are great because they mimic the action that you do during the drive. Your knees are bent and must drive up. You finish the lift with your shoulders and back, which are the same muscles you utilize when you row.[15]
    Row Faster Step 15.jpg
  4. Use the pulldown machine. The pulldown machine will work out your shoulders, back, and arms. This is a great exercise to help build power and explosiveness in the final stages of your drive. Grab onto the pulldown grips and pull them down in front of to your chest and down to your waist.[16]
    Row Faster Step 16.jpg

EditSources and Citations

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