A common term in the rowing community is, “flexibility equals free speed”. This may seem like an inconsequential term, yet, once you spend some time on the rower you will start to realize the significance of it. Ironically, this is because the better you become at rowing, the harder it becomes to row. Let me explain.

When I first started using the Concept 2 rower I was hitting a personal best every time I picked up the handle. So when my coach would talk about free speed it would go in one ear and out the other. So when I began to struggle to set new PR’s, specifically in the 500 and 2000 meter race, I decided to listen. After all, I was working hard, rowing 80,000 meters a week. The skill I was missing was flexibility (aka mobility).

Flexibility was never an issue when I was younger until after 3 hip surgeries later. I went from being able to place the palms of my hands on the ground to not being able to touch my own toes. My coach would always say “flexibility equals free speed”. What he meant was when you increase your range of motion it is easier to reach specific positions. 

“If you lack mobility you spend a lot more effort to create a stroke.”

– Coach Chris Mare from Manhasset Crew.    

For example, take two athletes. One is able to achieve full slide and the other struggles to get past three-quarters slide. The one struggling with mobility is losing valuable energy. Struggling to keep position is power lost in the drive as well as loss in recovery time going back to the catch.  

During the drive, our legs produce 60% of the power. This works both ways. During the recovery, our legs should be recovering 60% of the time. This is where having good mobility in our back, hamstrings, and ankles come into play, especially being able to sit in the proper catch position. 

During the recovery, it is vital to have the handle pass our knees before the knees start pressing up. If we lack hamstring flexibility this can be uncomfortable and hard to achieve. What do we do when things aren’t comfortable? We avoid them. We are now missing proper positions of our stroke and having to work harder in other areas to make up for this. 

Efficiency is key to maximizing our potential. The more efficient we become, the closer we get to reaching our potential and in turn our goals. Having proper coaching is instrumental to becoming efficient. But finding a coach and affording one isn’t easy.

Investing in good programming is a good idea for anyone looking to improve their skills. A membership to the Dark Horse Rowing program is only $29 a month (or $1 dollar/day) for coaching from one of the best in the business. Shane Farmer is a 4x CrossFit games competitor and national collegiate rower. Since starting this program with an emphasis on the drill work my form has come a long way. It’s one of the best decisions I’ve made in regards to my training and it without a doubt can likely be for you too.

In addition, incorporating regular mobility work into your warm-up before rowing will also have a positive impact on your flexibility over time. As shown in this video, you will begin to understand how your mobility translates to the rowing machine. Take the time to practice these exercises every day and you will also experience more free speed on the machine as well.   

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