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Three steps to Good Rowing Technique

Rhythm - Swing - Style

This post explains how you can reach good technique in 3 steps with the Quiske Rowing App and Pod. But first, some thoughts on whether good technique actually is needed or not.

Does Technique Matter?

If your only goal is to increase your fitness and get an aerobic workout then technique is not so important. You can burn calories to lose weight, strengthen your aerobic fitness, and build muscle even if you’re not using the machine as intended.

However, if you want to make the most of the workout, break your records, or even learn to row on water, then technique matters a great deal. Also, correct rowing technique put you in a flow state which enables longer steady state workouts. The rowing motion should be seamless and fluid, and when done correctly, can almost feel like dancing. You enjoy rowing more when you do it technically well, and then it is easier to reach any goals you may have set for your training, be it weight loss or a new personal best on the 2K. Good rowing technique is definitely useful for any goal-oriented rowing, no matter if those goals are relating to body shape or to winning races.

If you row on water then you should definitely work on your indoor technique. A winter on the erg can make the transition to water difficult unless you try erging as if you were in a boat. If you row in a crew it also makes sense to synchronize the technique of the crew indoors, before getting into the boat. On land it is faster to detect differences in timing of different phases of the rowing stroke, and it is also easier to make the necessary changes while still on land, before venturing out in the boat.

Rowing is a full body movement which consists of many different sequences that should fluidly flow into each other. The motion is not intuitive and takes time to learn. The best way to learn is to keep at it, and to get feedback while you’re doing it. That way you can try different things and perfect your technique with small modifications. The Quiske Virtual Coach gives instant feedback every single stroke, so you can see the effect of any adjustments you make straight away while you're rowing.

The Quiske Virtual Coach was created simply so you can become a better rower and enjoy rowing more.

The Virtual Coach for the Beginner

If you’re just taking up indoor rowing the Quiske Virtual Coach is for you. The Virtual Coach can help with understanding the phases of the rowing stroke better by giving simple feedback indicating how you’re doing on 5 different focus areas:

  1. Rhythm
  2. Leg Rhythm
  3. Leg Speed
  4. Seat Stopped
  5. Style

The purpose is to focus on each of these areas one by one until you can master all 5 of them at once. The focus areas, all five of which are shown as numbered circles below. The feedback is given through color and green means excellent, yellow is good, and lack of color means that improvement is needed.

Rowing is a complex movement and getting a hang of it can take some time. When working on technique you should focus on one thing at a time. Keep working on that one thing for a large number of repetitions until it comes naturally.

Let’s get started from the beginning. First, make sure to choose the easy level of the Virtual Coach in the Quiske Rowing App settings. Then you're ready to start with the most important aspect of rowing: Rhythm.

Step 1. The key to good rowing is RHYTHM

The rowing stroke consists of two main phases: the drive and the recovery. The drive is where you do work, and the recovery is, as the name implies, when you recover from the drive to get ready for the next drive. The ratio of the time of your drive vs the time of your recovery is what is called rhythm (or ratio), and it is the most important thing when it comes to rowing well. Quiske defines rhythm as the percentage of time of the drive divided by the time of the full stroke (drive+ recovery). Most gym rowers have a slow drive and a rushed recovery. Not good rowing technique. When rowing correctly the drive should be sharp and the recovery should be relaxed.

TIP: To make your drive faster try taking the damper lever all the way to the bottom, this can make a big difference when learning good technique!

The Quiske Virtual Coach can guide you to good rhythm with feedback after every stroke.

Quiske Rowing App can measure the rhythm even without the separate Pod. All you need is your phone rigidly attached to the indoor rower handle and the App will give instant feedback on the rhythm of your drive vs your recovery like this:

Green color indicates that you’re rowing with good rhythm. You should try rowing consistently and aim for good rhythm every stroke. You can also record the session, and get a summary score of your full session afterwards.

Unless you have a pod, rhythm is the only focus area the App can measure, however, the rhythm is the most important metric and provides the foundation for building good technique.

What is good rhythm?

What the actual rhythm should be depends on the stroke rate and the Virtual Coach takes this into account. Also the drag factor influences the rhythm and you should set the drag factor so that you're able to do a sharp leg push during the drive. If the drag factor is too high it will slow your drive down and your rowing will feel more like pulling rather than pushing (this is because it is too heavy for you, and so you start also using your back and pulling with your arms, which you should not do at the first stage of the drive). For many rowers a drag factor setting of 100-130 is optimal on the Concept2.

Target: Aim for 32% or less at rate 20 SPM (Concept2).

When starting working towards good rowing technique you should first concentrate on rhythm and only drill into other improvement areas later.

Step2: SWING

As soon as you’re able to row consistently with good rhythm you can switch focus to what’s happening with your seat. To measure your seat you do need to attach a pod to it. The timing of your seat at backstop (the “seat stopped” metric in the Quiske Rowing App) reveals a lot about your technique. It shows how segmented your rowing style is, i.e. how separated your swing (back and arms) is from your leg work. Your body should start swinging (opening) only after you’ve used most of the oompf in your legs: use your legs first, only activate your torso after having reached max leg speed, and finally pull with your arms at the last bit. Think of a front loaded drive where you push hard and sharp with legs ONLY, and then make sure you keep your seat in place while your body swings back and forth before again sliding back to catch.

Target: At rate 20 SPM aim for seat stopped=40%, this gives a good amount of swing

TIP: Try visualizing that the seat gets stuck into chewing gum at backstop, it can help you keep the seat stationary for longer until your body gets used to the segmented body swing (at that point the seat naturally stays stationary at backstop)

Step 3: STYLE

When you’ve mastered keeping your seat stationary at backstop, i.e. separating your swing from your leg work, your next focus area is Style. This is the relative time within the drive phase at which your legs reach their max speed and it gives a good indication of when you’re opening your back. Measuring Style also requires a pod attached to the seat.

You should first engage legs only, and should not open your back until the later stage of the drive. If you open your back too early you’re not rowing as efficiently as possible, and also you unnecessarily shorten the length of your stroke.

The Style metrics is the most challenging for most rowers to get right, but it is very important.

Target: 33% (Concept2)

TIP: On the Concept2 you can set the PM5 monitor to show the power curve. When your rowing with a frontloaded segmented rowing style the peak power will be in the early part of the curve, this is another indicator of good technique which you can use if you don’t have a pod.

How to reach Good Technique in Three Steps

Concentrate on one metric at a time and only switch focus to the next one once you’ve mastered the one you’re working on. You should be able to consistently row solid green color for each of the metrics before switching to work on the next one.

TIP: The specific target values are rate specific but you can use the Focus Tile (see below) to see the target value set by the Virtual Coach for any particular metric at the rate you’re rowing at.

3 steps to good rowing technique

To summarize, you really only need to master Rhythm, Swing, and Style, to gain good rowing technique. In addition to these three most important metrics the Quiske Rowing App also measures your Leg speed and Leg rhythm. These are also important but e.g. Leg Speed doesn't measure pure technique but really is more about power: The Leg Speed metric measures the maximum speed you’re able to push the seat with your legs during the drive, which is directly proportional to the muscle power of your legs. The Leg Rhythm measures how long your working your legs as a percentage of the full stroke but this metric will be naturally in order if your Style is OK. Therefore, to reach good rowing technique you only really need to master 3 things: Rhythm, Swing, and Style. In that order.

The below video contains three short samples: first a short example of rowing with bad rhythm. Then a sample of non-segmented rowing where the seat doesn't stop properly at backstop and where the back opens too early (=poor swing and style). Finally a clip showing the kind of rowing which gets full green color from the Virtual Coach.

How to practice?

Frequent short session are better than rare long sessions. Note that when working on technique it is best to do moderate rowing: ~18-24 SPM with ~60-70% effort. The Quiske app is not measuring power, often technique get worse with full speed and this is why you need to do longer technique sessions with “easy speed”.

The Quiske app has two modes: instant feedback with or without recording (free rowing). The App gives a Summary with a technique score only after a recorded session. Recorded sessions can also be uploaded to the cloud service for further analysis. Often a 5 minutes recording is enough to track improvement.

TIP: Shoot video from the side! When starting out it is also useful to take video from the side, it helps understand improvement areas. Especially if have been rowing with wrong technique for many years it can take a long time to un-learn what you’ve been doing wrong and video is a great help for realizing what needs to be changed. The Quiske Virtual Coach is a great tool to help focus on improving rowing technique since it relentlessly gives feedback, every single stroke.

Shoot video from the side to help identify flaws in rowing technique

The Virtual Coach for the Experienced Rower

The Virtual Coach can also help seasoned rowers with finetuning technique. The Coach comes with 3 levels:

  • Easy
  • Moderate
  • Challenging. 

The level determines the ranges that the Coach finds acceptable for each of the metrics. You should start with the Easy Coach and graduate to a higher level when you reach a technique score above 90. The ideal values for each of the metrics is rate dependent (except for the Style metric which is independent from rate). Note that the Virtual Coach never allows slacking with your legs, so even when rowing at a low rate the leg push should be sharp if you want a green card from the Coach. Your strokes should be consistent, at a higher rate you just do those good strokes faster, which gives you better speed.

It can also be useful to try rowing with different kinds of technique. You can try removing the color from any circle and then try getting it back to green. This is a way to really understand the different segments of the rowing stroke and how they relate to each other. It can also help in really crystallizing your understanding of the difference between good and bad rowing technique.

The Focus Tile

When focusing on improving your rowing technique it makes sense to focus on one improvement area at a time. The Quiske Rowing App includes a special Focus tile, the 3rd tile from the top on the right, and there you can choose to see any one of the five metrics numerically. Choose what to display by pressing the tile long. The Focus tile displays the target value you should be aiming for on the lower left corner of the tile, see the tile highlighted red below:

Want to dive even deeper?

If you want to see more detailed data, you can swipe left to switch from the simple feedback of the Virtual Coach to see the actual raw handle and seat graphs in full detail. This view is for coaches and for people who like a lot of detail or who want to decide on their rowing technique themselves. The graphs shows the handle and seat speeds overlaid during one stroke, drive first and then recovery. You can also choose four/eight numerical values in tiles on the side by pressing the tiles long.

By analyzing the graphs you can gain a lot of additional insight into what is happening during your drive and recovery, and also learn about the timing of the catch and the seat. For experienced coaches and rowers the graphs can come to replace video, the graphs allow analyzing swing and timings just like slow-motion video. For example, you can check whether the seat and handle graphs are aligned during the first leg drive phase, if not (the seat and handle graphs gradients deviate) it usually means that the back is opening too early. There is also lot of insights in the numerical metrics, e.g. the sign of the seat timing value reveals whether the seat starts moving before or after the handle (bum shoving can be seen in the seat timing tile).

Rowing data cloud analytics

For the nerds amongst us rowers there's even more you can do with the measured data. Recorded sessions can be uploaded to the Quiske cloud where sessions can be analyzed even stroke by stroke. Also, the portal allows the overlaying of data from different rowers, to help spot even small differences in their techniques.

Analyzing the raw graphs in the cloud portal requires specialized knowhow but any rower interested in data analytics can of course learn this skill. However, we created the Virtual Coach precisely so that you don't have to learn the intricacies of the seat and handle speeds and their relationship. The Virtual Coach does the number crunching for you and gives readily digested feedback on your technique, instantly, while working out. The Virtual Coach functionality has not been integrated into the portal and the cloud tool is therefore really only for those interested in analyzing their data themselves.

Rowing graphs from different rowers can be overlaid in the Quiske portal

Technique vs Style

Technique should not be mixed up with style. You can row with correct technique using different styles and vice versa. See below a popular categorization of different rowing styles, we believe this categorization was originally done by Dr. Valery Kleshnev? The Quiske Coach prefers the segmented Rosenberg style but gives a pretty good score also for the Grinko style. If you prefer rowing with another style skip the Quiske Virtual Coach and swipe right for Coach View, which visualizes handle and frame speeds without promoting any particular style.

The Quiske Virtual Coach promotes the segmented Rosenberg style

The below video by World Rowing shows the essentials of good rowing technique on water, and it showcases the same segmented Rosenberg Style that also the Quiske Virtual Coach promotes for indoor rowing. Rowing with good technique on the erg helps transition to the boat. Note, that while the Quiske system also can measure rowing technique (oars, seat) on water that the Virtual Coach functionality is currently supported only indoors.

Finally

We built the Virtual Coach to give anyone the joy of finding good rowing rhythm. And anyone who does goal-oriented rowing for any reason the tools to teach themselves great rowing technique. Try letting Quiske be your Coach and see what happens! Let us know, we love feedback!

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