Crimes Against Rowing: A Series, Part II

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Read Part I of Crimes Against Rowing here.

These next rowing crimes may actually go completely undetected to the untrained eye. Although less obvious offenses, as neither is as dramatic as incorrect handle position addressed in Part I, their impact on your performance is significant and should not be underestimated. Read on — fixing these undercover errors is quick and painless, but these adjustments could be absolute game changers for you.

Think on Your Feet

Are you guilty of simply jumping on the rower with no consideration whatsoever of foot position? If you said yes, congratulations. Your rowing life is about to change for the better.

Buckle up; [T]he strap at the crease of the toes is ideal not only for comfort, but also because it allows the heel to flex without strap restriction…
Negligence here means you are leaving power on the table. Incorrect foot position can adversely affect everything from your leg drive to your lower back. Taking just a few minutes to determine proper flexfoot postion will make all the difference in terms of comfort and performance.

Check for vertical shins in the catch position.

Check for vertical shins in the catch position. Photo: UCanRow2.

The goal is vertical shins at the catch (the start position) to set up for maximum power on the drive. It’s okay for your heels to lift slightly. The flexfoot can be adjusted to help you achieve this position.

 “The bigger the foot and taller the person, the lower the foot placement,” says Concept2 Master Instructor Terry Smythe. “You need a slight flex of the heels in the catch. The lower leg should not be past vertical and the seat should be within 6-10” from the back of the heel.”  Of course, it’s difficult to judge your positioning yourself, so have a coach or friend in-the-know check your catch position and adjust accordingly.                     

  The long and short of it…

               Taller = longer shin = bigger foot = lower foot placement (less holes showing)

Shorter = shorter shin = smaller foot= higher foot placement (more holes showing)

There are sometimes other factors to consider, and Concept2 Rowing Instructor Leeny Hoffmann of CrossFit St. Louis explains: “When I’m training a pregnant woman or someone who carries extra weight/girth around the middle, we usually set the foot stretchers lower to accommodate their midsection at the catch.”  The same may be true for rowers with poor hip or ankle flexibility.

Hoffmann adds, “I always tell my rowers, in general, to strap somewhere between the ball of the foot and the crease of the toes. It’s not an exact science… variation in anthropometry and flexibility come into play.”


Failing to adjust the flexfoot is punishable by decreased leg drive.

For Smythe, the strap at the crease of the toes is ideal not only for comfort, but also because it allows the heel to flex without strap restriction that can result in hooking of the toes on the recovery.

The takeaway here is that your catch should not be compromised.  Vertical shins, or as close to vertical as your flexibility allows, are key.

Wandering Hands

Ease up: [D]on’t give the handle the death grip.
Admittedly, incorrect hand position is more of a misdemeanor when it comes to the long list of rowing crimes (as opposed to pulling the handle over your head … definitely a felony).

That said, I suspect many of you can likely widen your grip a bit on the handle. Also, don’t give the handle the death grip. Doing so is a waste of energy that you need for an aggressive drive.

So max-relax that grip. Keep the wrists nice and flat throughout the stroke as opposed to bent.

We witness a lot of this.  Grip is too close.

This is a no go. Grip is too close.

Correct! Wide, comfortable grip and flat wrists.

Hand and foot position are primarily static, so unlike the fluid row stroke that takes thought and practice to perfect, once you’re locked and loaded on the rower with the correct placement of your hands and feet, you can put both out of your mind and concentrate on absolutely killing it.

Find more great rowing tips at UCanRow2, Concept2 and Concept2 CTS: CrossFit.  Till next time, remember: You Reap What You Row!

Read Part I of Crimes Against Rowing here.


Meredith Timberlake is a Level 1 CrossFit Coach at CrossFit Mandeville. A CrossFit Rowing and Concept2 Instructor, she teaches rowing clinics in south Louisiana and beyond alongside co-coach Lisa Grab.

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