Why Your Bad Technique Drives Rowers Crazy

Search the web for “rowing technique,” and you’ll unearth the good, the bad, and the downright ugly. For fun, watch the downright hilarious Rowing Fail videos on YouTube.

These same searches reveal reddits and blogs of rowers complaining about rowing next to average Gym rats and Crossfitters. The rowing community has an unground current of “erg-shaming:” bashing people with good intentions but bad technique. I’m here to reveal why your bad technique drives us insane.

1) You’re going to hurt yourself

Like any sport, there’s a technique to it. Muhammad Ali didn’t just throw punches around. Sure, you could pick up a shot put and throw it. But if you want to keep doing it, you might want to know how to throw it correctly so you don’t torque your wrist and elbow. Repeatedly throwing it wrong sets you down the path to serious injury.

Some estimations say rowing uses upwards of 80% of our muscles to execute the rowing stroke. That’s practically your whole body. Doing a rowing motion wrong increases your chances of injury.

A common complaint among non-rowers and rowers is back pain. The difference is real rowers understand potential causes and ways to fix it so they can keep rowing. Nonrowers give up or keep going until the problem is worse.

But it’s not just back pain you risk with poor technique. Incorrect indoor rowing can injure your ribs, shoulders, wrists, ankles, knees, and legs. Read more about the importance of good rowing machine technique and its benefits on your power production.

2) You’re not actually working out

Nothing annoys a rower dripping with sweat like sitting next to a wallflower merrily going back and forth up the slide, not a hair out of place. This is not, “Row, Row Your Boat, Gently Down the Stream!” If you are not breathing with some effort, or lack even the smallest of sweat beads, you are not exercising.

People rowing. I see good and bad technique. You?

The most common misconception is rowing will work out your arms. People rip hard on the handle. They take the handle in an underhand grip and do curls.

If you sit down and say, “this isn’t hard,” (which has happened to me numerous times!) you are DEFINITELY doing it wrong.  

Rowing is a leg sport. A lack of engagement in the legs means you are executing the technique incorrectly. Rowing is a not a bicep curl. You do not need to wrench the damper to 10 to “feel it.” You need to engage the legs correctly and drive faster.

3) We’ve worked hard to learn rowing

The rowing motion isn’t as intuitive to most people as you think. Sure, some gifted athletes easily pick it up and run with it, but it’s not the norm. While there is a general sequence, rowers have spent hours honing the smaller details of the rowing motion. We’re proud of the hours we have invested into perfecting rowing technique. So yeah, we do have a little bit of pride when non-rowers try to hack it next to us.

Know nothing about rowing? There’s just as many videos coaching proper technique as there are bad examples. Watch a few. Slow down and focus on how you are moving. And even better–get some tips from real rowers! We love to talk sport.

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