(UPDATED FROM MARCH 9, 2016)

My first encounter with a Concept2 indoor rowing machine was when I walked into a Joplin, MO CrossFit box in 2012. It barely caught my eye. It was just sitting by itself in the corner collecting dust. I thought to myself, “Where did they get that? A retirement home?” Little did I know a few years later I’d be calling the owner of the box monthly to sell me that Model C rowing machine.

Still, it wasn’t until the 2013 CrossFit Games and the infamous “Row 1” and “Row 2” workouts (which rattled and shocked the CrossFit community) that I realized how integral this piece of equipment was about to become.

Why and how is it possible that a simple piece of equipment could shift the entire direction of a sport and the programming that followed the 2013 Games? Was it really that unexpected? After all, it’s supposed to be “constantly varied”, right? 2013 may have been the year the rowing machine made its mark in CrossFit, but it actually began way before then. Allow me to “drag” you back in time as we take a look at the history of rowing at the CrossFit Games…

Alpha and Omega

Beginning in 2007, where the very first workout of the first CrossFit Games began with a 1000m row and the last day at the 2016 Reebok CrossFit Games Individual Event 14 had 2x200m row in it. 10 years later the rower isn’t just a tool but rowing became one of the most programmed exercises in competition, in gyms, and even on Crossfit.com. It’s versatility and easy adaptation to any sport has made it indispensable.

By the Numbers

The 2008 CrossFit Games is the only year when a rowing event wasn’t included in an event. But, thanks to Concept2, a rowing challenge was held at “the ranch” in Aromas, California. Rowing has always been part of the top 10 exercises in CrossFit and its popularity and acceptance are increasing over time. In 2015 rowing was the 3rd most popular movement programmed in CrossFit workouts.* There were 3 Open, 3 Masters Qualifier, 19 Sectional, 36 Regional and 16 CrossFit Games events that included rowing in a variety of forms, totaling 77 workouts.**

CrossFit Events with Rowing

Rowing Events per Year

From all of the events, 7 were AMRAP style and 70 were task oriented. In addition, 18 were for calories and 59 were for meters, while 25 involved transitioning in and out of the rower for multiple rounds.

Goal, Type, and Transition

Average distances programmed per event is approximately 2000m. Average calories programmed per event is approximately 60.

Top 5 Most Grueling Rowing Events in CrossFit Games History

  1. 2010 South Central Team Event 3: 24-minute max calorie row
  2. 2015 CrossFit Games Open event 15.5: 27-21-15-9 calorie row, thrusters
  3. Multiple Events: 2k row for time (5 times)
  4. 2010 CrossFit Games Team Event 2: 1-minute max reps deadlift (264lb/173lb)/Rest 1 minute/1 minute max reps pistols/Rest 1 minute/1 minute max calorie row/Then, establish a 1RM shoulder-to-overhead for each athlete, in 12 minutes.
  5. 2013 CrossFit Games Individual Event Row 1 and Row 2:  Row 21,097 meters w/ first 2k being scored as a separate event

As you can see, rowing now is and will continue to be, an essential part of the CrossFit Games from the Open all the way to the Games. Although so far in the CrossFit Games Open rowing was either Workout 4 or Workout 5, you can never exclude the rower from your preparation toolkit and we know that it’s never too late to improve your rowing skills. Personally, we suggest a program focusing on your 2K or 60 calories with a time domain from 5-10 minutes.

“There are some movements that are staples in determining and testing fitness. The rower is one of them” 

– Dave Castro, CrossFit Games Director on 14.4

*Based on the Beyond the Whiteboard article “BTWB 2015 CrossFit Fitness Report” published on 12/28/15 by Daniel O’Brien

**In 2009 and 2010 the Sectional and Regional workouts were not unified, meaning that there were different workouts each event per section or region.

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