Get a Leg Up

By Josh Crosby

Austin Meyer racing in the lightweight men’s single at last year’s World Rowing Cup in Lucerne. Photo by Peter Spurrier.

Social media makes it easy for people to ask me for training tips, workouts, or videos. Recently I received this message from a woman just getting started with indoor rowing. “I am an avid runner and purchased your WaterRowerGx rowing machine so I could have more of an upper-body/total-body workout. Here is the problem. I keep reading about how the power in rowing comes from the legs, but I don’t feel like I am giving my legs a workout. I have the order correct, pushing with my legs first and then using the core and arms, but I don’t feel any power from the legs. Any tips on what I might be doing wrong?”

The leg drive—leg connection and leg power—is indeed the power player in rowing. Whether you are starting cross-training on an indoor rower or fine-tuning your boat speed, without leg engagement, you’re not going to get anywhere. Try these simple tips and workout to begin leveraging this most powerful muscle group.

1. As you initiate the stroke with the legs, make sure your handle and seat simultaneously move backwards. If the seat moves by itself, independently of the handle, you are pushing with the legs first, but you don’t have the resistance or “grip on the water.”

2. As you begin to push with the legs, pay attention to the tugging feeling on your fingers from the handle as the energy from your legs travels up through the core, out to the arms, to the fingers, and finally to the flywheel.

3. Still not feeling it? Push harder and quicker with the legs right from the catch. On each drive, think like you are trying to jump off the back of the machine as far as you can.

Warm-up: 5-10 minutes of easy rowing focusing on pushing with the legs first, then opening with the core/torso, and finally drawing the arms to the chest. On the return just reverse it and take twice as long coming forward as you do going backwards.

Austin Meyer racing in the lightweight men’s single at last year’s World Rowing Cup in Lucerne.

The Workout:

6 minutes with 1 minute easy at a 20; 1 minute medium at a 20; 1 minute hard at a 20; 1 minute easy at a 22; 1 minute medium at a 22; and 1 minute hard at a 22. Rest for 90 seconds.

Repeat the same sequence, upping the stroke rate to 24 and 26 strokes per minute respectively. Rest for 2-3 minutes.

Repeat the 6-minute sequence, going back to a 20 and 22 respectively. Break 90 seconds.

Repeat the sequence one last time, with stroke rate changes of 22 and 28 strokes per minute respectively. Maintain the leg connection at the higher rate.