We’ve all had those moments of absolute greatness on the rower. We start a WOD and not only is our pace astoundingly fast, but it feels exceptionally easy. We are a rowing god. Somehow between the disaster that was the last workout and this one, we have arrived at rowing greatness.
And then you hit the 300m mark.
And then you realize you have completely and utterly F-ed yourself.
Many of us have not spent years and thousands of strokes on the rowing machine. It’s all good. You were most likely gifted with hand-eye coordination and an inherent coolness that correlates with ball sports. Kudos. But the problem is while you were probably a way cooler adolescent than I, I know that that magical feeling that whispers of rowing greatness is a cruel trick played by the rowing machine. Strokes upon stokes on that machine has taught me to never, ever trust that feeling. The most important thing to know about rowing in the context of a WOD is: slow down.
In rowing terms, this moment of decision and pacing is know as the settle. It is when you shift from a starting sprint pace to a sustainable rhythm. It is what prevents you from crashing and burning 90 seconds into your row. It is what enables you to get off that rower and do things like thrusters and pull-ups without staring at the bar for 45 seconds seriously questioning your choices while trying to remember your first name. It is what saves you.
We know this fact while running. We know that we can’t go out at our 200m sprint pace and expect to keep it for 800m and then be an effective person afterwards. We know this pace discrepancy in that context because we know we know that context, because we know what running way too fast feels like. Most of us don’t know intimately what our rowing pace should feel like at 250m versus 500m versus 50 calories versus followed by toes-to-bar versus followed by deadlifts. There are a whole lot of variables to consider when we have a row in the midst of a WOD, made even trickier by the fact that the row tends to be a huge unknown for people.
Most athletes see the row as a black hole of exhaustion. The rower wrecks people. Holistically. Rather, the row should be the one element of the WOD you can absolutely control. It should be not the source of destruction, but rather where you mitigate it. And you do this by pacing. You do this by actively slowing down five to ten strokes into a piece.
But how exactly do you settle and where exactly do you settle to…?
This is a layered question that takes knowledge of your own rowing paces, an overall understanding of the WOD at hand, general guesswork, and some good, old fashioned hope. Let’s start with pacing.
How do you settle? It’s simple.
Take five to ten strokes to go really, really hard. Use that adrenaline and that momentum while it doesn’t cost anything. Then, take a micro pause at the finish of your stroke, crawl up the recovery at a super slow pace, and then drive your legs down like you freaking mean it. Rinse and repeat for about three more strokes until you’ve effectively slowed your pace down while maintaining solid pressure with your legs (why it is so important to drive your legs down like you mean it on those first settle strokes as otherwise you’ll lose the power behind your pace.) If you aren’t able to slow down and it’s starting to get dicey: take an air stroke or two (aka: a no pressure stroke.) You will in fact not be taking an air stroke because you will be too hopped up on adrenaline and WODing, but it will slow you down before things get real interesting....
Trust me: SETTLE. It will change your Rowing and WODing world.
This is a guest post from Maddie Berky. Maddie was a NCAA Champion rower and now coaches rowing and CrossFit at CrossFit Verve in Denver, CO. She is also a writer and holistic nutritionist, specializing in all things food, sex, and worthiness. For more Maddie, check out MadWellness.com or ElevationRowing.com. You can also follow her onInstagram or Facebook -Mad Wellness or Elevation Rowing.