In today’s episode of the PT on ICE Daily Show, Fitness Athlete division leader Alan Fredendall discusses the Concept 2 rower, including each key component & how to perform basic maintenance on it. Alan also coaches rowing technique, including how to use the monitor to establish the ideal “drag factor” so that patients & athletes understand their optimal damper setting as well as strokes-per-minute (spm). Finally, Alan discusses how to improve rowing performance, including testing & retesting established benchmarks on the rower.
Take a listen to the episode or read the episode transcription below.
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Hey, what’s up? Good morning. Welcome to the PT on ICE Daily Show. I hope your morning is off to a great start. We’re here early on Fitness Athlete Friday out in the garage to talk about rowing. Fitness Athlete Friday, if you’re not sure, we talk all things related to CrossFit, Olympic weightlifting, powerlifting, running, biking, swimming, today, rowing, everything related to the recreational athlete, that patient or client who is getting after it on a daily basis. Before we get started today, let’s talk about a couple of quick announcements. Courses coming your way from the fitness athlete division, we have no more courses that you can take in 2023 unfortunately. All of our live courses between now and the end of the year are either done or sold out and all of our online courses are finished or have already started towards the end of the year. Your next chance to catch us is going to be in January on the road for our live seminar Your next chance to catch us online is going to be January 29th for Fitness Athlete Essential Foundations, or February 5th. We also call that course Level 1 Online Now. Your next chance for our Level 2 Online course, previously called Advanced Concepts, will be on February 5th. What are those courses? Those three courses compose the Certification and the Clinical Management of the Fitness Athlete, or known as CERT CMFA. Our level one online course is all of the basics. It is a lecture-heavy course. It is a course heavy on clinical application, not only to the fitness athlete but also taking the principles that we teach, how to properly dose and prescribe load, how to increase the intensity of your physical therapy sessions, taking concepts, not only applying them to the fitness athlete but all of your populations, everybody that could potentially come into your physical therapy clinic. Our level two online course, previously called Advanced Concepts, gets a lot deeper into the weeds with a fitness athlete. So if you’re looking to learn about advanced Olympic weightlifting, advanced gymnastics, such as those found at CrossFit, muscle ups, handstand walking, pistol squats, all that sort of stuff, and then a super incredible thorough deep dive into programming, then the level two online course is for you. That is for the person who is looking to regularly work with fitness athletes in the community and be the provider of choice in their region. And then our live seminar is focused almost entirely on moving, about understanding what it means to perform a one rep max or a sub max test to predict a one rep max, what that feels like for you to do it so that you better know how to apply that to your patient population, but also how to program based off of that, how to work different therapeutic exercises together to facilitate both intensity as well as recovery during physical therapy. So those three courses compose the CERT CMFA. So p10ice.com, click on our courses to find the next live or online courses coming your way. And I will say this morning ahead of an announcement that you’re going to see via email and social media that our prices will be going up per ticket on January 1st. So you heard it here first. Our ticket price will be going from $650 for the majority of our courses live and online to $695 on January 1st. If you were looking to grab one of our courses in 2024, I would do it now. Save yourself the 50 bucks. So that’s what’s coming your way from the fitness athlete division.
Today we’re talking about rowing. We’re here with the rower. I love this piece of equipment. I think it’s a very versatile piece of equipment. I’ve had the chance to spend a lot of time on the rower when I first began CrossFit. Was not really able to run. I was so overweight. Spent a lot of time on the assault bike, and a lot of time on the rower. I’ve done a lot of endurance stuff on the rower, a lot of different programming on the rower. I’ve rowed two full marathons. So I want to share today the very basics of a rowing machine, what it is, how it works, and how to take care of it. If you’re really thorough with your maintenance, even a couple of minutes per month, this is a machine that could last you your entire career without really needing to purchase any repairs or even possibly replace it. And then we’re also going to get into the basics of rowing technique and how to get a little bit better at rowing.
COMPONENTS OF A ROWING MACHINE
So let’s start from the top. and describe the rowing machine and all of the different parts, and also some tips and tricks for maintenance. So first things first, the question that most people have about the rower is how does it work? It works with sensors in the damper, which is a flywheel, with a computer monitor here, and then calculations are performed by the computer every pull to give you outputs of a pace of meters or calories, some sort of output of your work. So there are sensors in the chain and sensors in the flywheel. Starting from the front of the rower and working our way out, we have the damper. This houses the flywheel. This is where the resistance from the rower comes from. This handle on the side toggles between 1 and 10. What that does, is the higher the setting, as you approach 10, you’re allowing more and more and more air to flow into the damper and create resistance against the flywheel as you row. So you are in charge of a combination of letting more or less air into the damper and pulling the chain you kind of control how the rower feels. A lighter damper is going to feel like a smooth row on really smooth water and a high damper is going to feel like in a really aggressive row maybe through really rough water or something like that. Far and away the majority of people are going to want to row somewhere with a damper setting between four and six. Now you do get more work awarded for a higher damper setting. That being said, it is much more challenging and fatiguing to pull. So the higher the damper goes, you need to be a stronger human being in general, especially with your pulling capacity, and you need to be a more experienced rower. You’ll see folks trying to break world records, row at a 10. That’s not the majority of human beings who are using a rower. Most folks sitting down on the rower, especially a longer effort, are going to be somewhere between a four and a six. We can calculate the exact damper setting that is best for each individual using a setting on a monitor called the drag factor, and we’ll talk about that in a little bit. Taking care of the damper and the flywheel housing is really simple. Take a vacuum, suck the dust out, blow the dust out of there some way to clear the dust so that the flywheel does not get a bunch of gunk accumulated in there. Very easy to maintain the flywheel. Next is the chain. Pretty simple. When you are storing a rower, even if you’re storing it horizontally, Always place the monitor down and release the chain. That takes tension off the chain. That’s going to let your chain last a lot longer, and it’s going to let the screws that hold your monitor upright last a lot longer as well. The chain is pretty simple. It’s a handle attached to a metal chain that again pulls on the flywheel. So normally when we’re using it in class, we have it out and racked in the handle, but when we’re storing it, put it away and take the tension off that chain. Very easy to maintain the chain. Just keep it away as a solvent, not a lubricant. Find an actual lubricant, something like white lithium grease, to grease up that handle, keep it moving nice and smooth, and keep it from rusting as well, especially if your rower is stored somewhere that’s not climate-controlled. A CrossFit gym that doesn’t have air conditioning, in your garage or something, where it’s gonna be subjected to humidity, keep that thing lubricated so it does not rust. Very easy to maintain otherwise. Our footplates, this is where our feet go, pretty simple. We’re going to adjust the foot plane based on the length of our foot such that the strap, we want the strap somewhere about mid-foot. We don’t want it jammed up in our ankle crease and we don’t want it out on our toes either. We want to be able to plantarflex and dorsiflex our ankles and not be restricted by the straps. Taking care of the straps is pretty easy, they’re just fabric, use some sort of fabric conditioner. Maybe in the winter, some fabric conditioner so they don’t crack and fray. Once a month, again, a few minutes of maintenance and the machine is going to maintain it. And then just clean the footplates. Keep the footplates clean of junk, dog poop, whatever. Otherwise, very easy to maintain the straps and the footplates. The seat, the biggest thing here is that the cleaner you keep the track, the smoother the seat is going to go back and forth on the track. You can coat this with a little bit of grease as well, but the main thing is, especially if you’ve jumped on here and you’ve rowed for a longer distance, the pressure of your butt on the seat is going to kind of grind against the track a little bit. It’s going to leave little black particles, and a little bit of residue. If you clean that up, it’s going to keep the seat moving nice and smooth. And again, maybe once a month, add just a little touch of grease and work it into the metal of the track. Pretty easy to maintain the seat and track. And then the most important component of the rower, the component that is the most expensive when stuff goes wrong, is the monitor. So the monitor is where we keep track of our work. It is battery-powered. It works a lot like a car. It’s got C batteries in the back. As you row, you are transferring a little bit of energy from the battery to the rower, kind of like an alternator in a car. And then just like a car, over time, the batteries will decay. These are C batteries. They will decay a lot faster than a car battery. And you may need to replace the batteries every few months. That’s far and away going to be your largest expense with a rower. making sure if you’re running low on batteries, that you change the batteries out. Now the rower will run without batteries, but it will only run as long as you are actively rowing. So if you stop rowing at any moment, the monitor will shut off. So not something you want to happen in the middle of a workout, especially a longer row. The biggest thing with maintaining the monitor, do not directly spray any sort of cleaning solvent on the monitor. Just like you would not spray it directly onto a laptop computer, You would maybe put it on a little rag and just kind of wipe it. Make sure that you’re not putting a lot of chemicals inside of this. Again, it is a computer. So that’s taking care of the monitor. So those are the key components of the rower.
MECHANICS OF ROWING
Now let’s talk about the mechanics of rowing. So I’m going to turn sideways here so you can see my side profile. putting our feet in. We want to have tight straps, but we don’t want them to be excessively tight on our feet. Again, we want to have the strap somewhere, maybe midway between our ankle crease and our toes. We want to be able to plantarflex and dorsiflex our toes. Tighten it enough so that if you lift your shoe up, you can easily transition on and off the rower. That’s how tight the strap should be. Now the mechanics of rowing are very simple, however, they require knowing that rowing is a leg press primarily. Your legs are doing the majority of work on the rower, not your arms. A lot of folks get on here and they do really short strokes and they really do an arm-heavy stroke. and they find that their arms get fatigued, their grip gets fatigued, that should not happen on the rower, even if you jump on here and you commit to rowing three to four hours to get a marathon. You should not feel like your grip strength is a limiting factor on the rower because your legs are doing the majority of the work. So how we like to coach rowing is we like to say legs, lean, and pull. So as I have the handle, I’m thinking about a big leg press, almost like I’m going to deadlift. Legs, then I’m going to carry that momentum forward, lean, and then I pull with my arms. So full speed it looks like this. Legs, lean, pull. Legs, lean, pull. And that should allow a nice smooth rowing pattern. I’m going to let the damper stop for a second so you can hear me. If you hear a lot of slapping, When someone is rowing, that means that their handle is not moving smoothly back and forth. Something is probably wrong with their rowing form. For some reason, their rowing handle is going in an elliptical pattern instead of a straight line. Just like anything else in physics, Straight lines are astronomized. So we need to fix what’s going on. We should be using legs, lean and pull. We should be moving as one continuous unit and that handle should be moving smoothly in and out of the rower. So that’s the basics of rowing mechanics. A lot of folks can use a lot of simple peeling or more of a lean- back. We’re not excessively extending the spine. However, we do want to use the momentum generated by our legs to transfer into a little bit more posterior chain activation to get a little bit more out of the handle. The longer the handle, the more credit you’re going to get meters or calories on that rower.
Now let’s talk about the drag factor. I’m going to turn this rower around again. Drag factor is a calculation of an imitation of what it would feel like if you were actually in a rowing boat on the water. How much drag would you perceive rowing through the water? An ideal drag factor is going to be 115 to 135. How is that calculated? It’s going to be different for every person based on how hard they pull the rower and the setting of the damper. How we get to it, it’s going to be in the menu on our rower. We’re going to go to more options once the rower is turned on. We’re going to go to utilities and it’s the setting under display drag factor. So it’s going to say row to display drag factor. Now what you’re going to do, this is again, this is individual to every person. Every person, based on their specific damper setting, based on their rowing mechanics, based on how strong of a rower they are, it’s going to be different, but we’re shooting for 115 to 135. So if I get on the rower, I’m just going to start rowing, and it’s going to tell me my drag factor. So right now, after a couple of pulls, it’s telling me 99. I’m at a dip or a 4. I’m going to bump up to 5. I’m going to do a few more pulls. And now I’m at 121. So I’m between 115 and 135. What does that mean? A damper setting of 5 for me is going to get me right where I want. So the most important thing, especially if somebody’s going to be using a rower a lot, for our CrossFitters who are probably going to be rowing every week, For maybe a patient who has a rower at home in the basement, working on drag factor can really help them know when they sit down, no more mystery about where to put the damper setting. You’re going to be able to say, you know what? For you, damper four, damper five, damper six. Maybe for a very tall, very strong, very experienced rower, maybe they are at damper seven or damper eight. That’s going to be rare, but also not impossible. So drag factor is really going to help folks know when I get on the rower, where should I put that damper based on my mechanics, based on my experience and strength with rowing.
MAKING PROGRESS ON THE ROWER
The final point I want to talk about aside from the components, maintaining it, mechanics, and drag factor is making progress on the rower. A lot of folks want to get better at the rower. The unfortunate truth is to get better at the rower, much like anything else in life, you should do more rowing. So, rowing is a great accessory thing to add in, especially for our CrossFitters. It’s unloaded. It’s not going to be as tough on the body as maybe adding in an extra session of Olympic weightlifting or running per week. Very easy to add in an extra maybe 30 minutes of rowing a week to try to get better at rowing. A lot like anything else with monostructural work, with cardio, with running, rowing, biking, The answer to the question how do I get better is where are you weak at on the rower? Are you weak under fatigue in the middle of a CrossFit workout? Are you weak at very short sprint efforts about getting on a rower and rowing 500 meters? Are you weak as the fatigue fall-off factor sets in and you row maybe a 2k or a 5k row as you get into longer endurance rowing? Where is your weakness? If folks say, I don’t know, that’s a great time to establish some benchmarks. A lot like wanting to know somebody’s 400-meter run time, Their mile run time, their 5k run time, we can do the same thing on the rower. We have established benchmarks on the rower. A lot of them are pre-programmed in the computer. What is your 500-meter row time? What is your 2k row time? Your 2k row is going to be equivalent to a mile run. What is your 5k row time? that’s going to be fairly equivalent to a 5k run. A lot of folks are going to be faster on the rower than running, but that’s about equivalent as well. So establishing some benchmarks, looking and seeing how far speed falls off going from 500 to 2k, from 2k to 5k is going to let you help that patient or athlete better program that accessory rowing to get specifically better at the energy system they need to work at. Getting better at rowing too is recognizing where my paces at. Pacing on the rower is per 500 meters. That’s the pace that you usually see pop up on the screen, two minutes per 500, two minutes and 20 seconds per 500, and so on and so forth, and understanding each person needs to learn what is a fast, maybe a PR pace for my 500-meter row pace. If there’s a workout that has maybe three rounds of deadlifts, pull-ups, and a 750-meter row, what pace should I look to establish if I want to hit that fast? What pace should I establish if I want to hit a sustainable pace that I can hold for maybe a longer effort, like a 750, and then what does a recovery pace look like? If we have a longer workout that maybe has some 1000-meter rows, we had a workout this week that was 50 burpees, 2000 meter row, a one-mile run, and a much longer endurance-focused workout, what should my 500-meter pace look like on the rower for a longer effort, a 2000 meter effort, and understanding when you get on the rower you settle in what pace am I hoping to hold here based on the outcome that I want. Do I want to get on and off this rower as fast as possible, treat it like a sprint effort, Do I want to get on here and sustain a longer effort, or is this maybe a very long effort, a 2,000 meter row in the middle of a workout, and I’m thinking about primarily using this as recovery until I recover a little bit, and then I can begin to pick up the pace again. So understanding where your benchmarks are at, where your paces are at, and what the goal of the goal we’re at. where it is in the workout, it’s very important to get on here and not go too slow and give up the workout, but also not jump on here and just burn out and be that person on here that looks totally miserable because you started off way too fast and now you’ve wrecked yourself and you still have a long way to go. So the rower, the damper, the chain, the seat, the foot plates, the monitor, what they do, how to take care of them. Rowing mechanics, it’s a leg press, not an arm pull. Legs, lean, and then pull. Drag factor, different for everybody. Very important to understand to get on there and play with drag factors so that you understand for each person, and they understand for themselves, why and how I’m choosing the damper setting that I am, and then how to make progress. Test benchmarks, train rowing, get more comfortable being on the rower, especially for long distances, and then reassess those benchmarks. So I hope this was helpful. Join us in a couple weeks, we’re going to go over some more advanced rowing, how to turn the rowing machine into a skier, and then how to use the rower for adaptive purposes for adaptive athletes, or just for folks who come in the clinic, who maybe can’t row because they’re only able to use one leg or one arm or both, how to use a bunch of different equipment that you probably already have around the house or the clinic to get those people rowing. So hope you have a fantastic Friday. Thanks for joining us. We’ll see you next time. Bye everybody.
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