Training Ground

Mastering The Row

Mastering The Row

The rowing ergometer has become a pillar of CrossFit. By integrating rowing into functional workouts, the interest in rowing and learning to row correctly is a growing trend.. Mastering posture and breathing can clean up your technique and makes for an efficient workout.

There are 4 distinct phases when it comes to rowing. Each has an ideal position. The phases can be separated into two positions and two movements.


The Catch

This is the front end position. You’ll be “catching” the water in your oar with all lower limb joints flexed. The arms are extended and reaching forwards.

Through this position, keep your back straight, bending from the hip to bring your shoulders slightly ahead of your hips. Depending on your flexibility, the depth that you reach can differ.

How far should you be reaching during the catch? Well, experts tell us to use your shin as a guide. Bring your shins to vertical on this position, but not beyond. This means your ankle will also be flexed, and again, depending on your flexibility, it may cause your heal to lift off the foot rest. This is irrelevant and the rower is designed just for this!

During this phase, you should be finished inhaling if you are breathing at a rate of one or two breaths per stroke. 

Setting yourself up with a good catch means effectively starting the most important part of the row, the Drive.


CrossFit Row Machine Technique

The Drive

This portion of the movement is where all the work is done. Start the movement with the legs, extending at the knee first, followed by the hip. The angle of the back should be approximately at vertical throughout the drive, and then extends slightly with the shoulders moving past the hip at full extension. The arms are also following the movement, remaining straight until the hip finishes the movement.

A quick snap of the arms, keeping the hands and wrists relaxed and straight completes the drive. Rather than trying to extend as far as possible, keep the handle at the lower sternum, at a level below the ribs. Remember to keep the shoulders down, with the shoulder blades squeezed down and together.

Here, you should be doing a slow exhale throughout the pull.


The Finish 

This is the completed position of the pull, which we described above. If you are breathing 2 breaths per stroke, you should begin a 2nd inhale here, and exhale though the recovery.


The Recovery

This phase is a moving position, essentially reversing the drive. The arms extend first, clearing the knees. After this, the hip and knee flex to return to the catch position. The seat will be pulled back into the front end position, allowing you to start over again.

During the recovery phase, you should be inhaling if you are breathing at one breath per stroke, or performing a quick in and out before reaching the catch if you are breathing twice per stroke.


How to determine breathing rate 

The rate of breath usually depends on how hard you might be working. Start off with one breath per stroke. As you progress into more intense phases of rowing, add your second, quick breath in at the end of the drive and beginning of the recovery. The experts tell us that there is no one single standard, and finding the optimal time to change from one to two breaths depends on each person.


Mistakes to avoid 

  • Do not pull your cable as far as you can, or up to your chin, chest, throat, etc!

  • Do not reach up to the very end of the range of the cable, reducing the energy potential of the drive

  • Never cut the action of the arms short! Perform full extension and flexion during each stroke.

Imprint correct technique into your rowing routine and watch your performance improve with a more efficient movement.

CrossFit Cardio Endurance Supplement

Christie Leclair
Christie Leclair - Author

FD Bulsara, BSc is a competitive athlete in Olympic weightlifting and a student in Osteopathy. She coaches private and group fitness classes and freelance writing about her passions: fitness, health, sport, nutrition, weightlifting, CrossFit, injury prevention, pain relief, injury rehabilitation, and the latest research on all these topics! She is a dog person and spends free time training at the lake. Find her at

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