How to speed up your sprints
"In sprint rowing, CrossFit and gym enthusiasts may have a thing or two to teach the rowing community."
It is one of the strangest things that, in rowing, sprint distances are yet to be a core part of the sport. When it comes to athletics, cycling, swimming and even canoeing, the box office events are the short, explosive tests of outright power. In rowing, beyond the 2,000m regatta distance, we have sought to make the sport even less exciting to the outside world by rowing over even longer distances in the middle of winter as a time trial. We seem determined to make our sport as unappealing to the spectator as we can. Not anymore. At RowUK, we’re changing the game. And change is good. The new distance is 250m, both on the water and off it.
So, how can you get your time down on the ergo?
1. Be heavy. They say that ergs don’t float and that’s true, but there’s no getting away from it, for every kilo extra you carry, it makes it easier to get the splits down on the rowing machine. Heavy athletes have the benefit of being able to hang their weight off the handle as well as driving with their legs. The longer the distance covered, the more that endurance - rather than power - is the deciding variable. But if you’re looking for those tenths over the short distance…bulk up.
2. Agility. Okay, so you might be big, but you need to be agile too. You can develop speed of movement with enough practice but the key is to be accurate and technical as you move. Think gymnast rather than shire horse. Over the short distance, your stroke rate will be high (between 40 and 60spm depending on your size), but you’ll need to have fast hands and the ability to change direction quickly at both ends of the stroke. This agility and accuracy of movement is where the lighter athletes have the advantage (hence why the power advantage on the ergo is nullified by the technical advantage that lightweights have on the water). The interesting thing about many CrossFit athletes is that they have both power and agility in a way that many rowers do not. In sprint rowing, CrossFit and gym enthusiasts may have a thing or two to teach the rowing community.
3. Start pattern: You need to get the flywheel up to speed ASAP. You’ll need to step on the first five strokes with everything you have and, on the erg, you have the luxury of being able to be a little rougher and more aggressive than on the water where you have fluid dynamics to contend with. Top Tip: don’t lean back, keep your weight on your feet at all times and just get back onto the legs as soon as you can.
Stroke 1: Sit tall, don’t use the back, don’t lean forward too much. Hold the core hard, hit the footplates with everything you’ve got and spin the hands away with aggression.
Stroke 2: Just hands. This doesn’t work on the water, but on the erg you can grab a valuable few tenths by just yanking quick and hard on the second stroke. Spin the hands even harder.
Stroke 3: Go out to half slide, you’ll be up over 60spm, but as soon as the knees are half lifted, drive through the footplates again. No back, still tall. Hands away real quick, but try to keep it smooth at the same time and minimise chain slap.
Stroke 4; Same as stroke 3…half slide, punch that flywheel up again. Keep the back tall. Legs and arms doing all the work. Make sure the core is fully engaged.
Stroke 5: ¾ slide. Take a bit more slide and make sure you’re thinking about getting a grip between the chain and the sprocket on the flywheel as early in the drive as possible. You’ll still be up above 60spm and you’ll want to feel the legs pushing out the reps now. Real fast hands still, but controlled and setting yourself up for the next catch.
Stroke 6: Full slide. Right out to full extension, compressed like a coiled spring at the catch, but not overly compressed, you’re thinking about good form, good length, grabbing the spinning flywheel and increasing the ‘drive time’. You must still be at 100% effort.
Power Ten: Full slide, bringing in the back, still over 50spm, everything you’ve got, focusing on the ten hardest strokes you can and don’t worry about the ratio.
By the end of your Power Ten you’ll be looking to get a slightly better ratio and keep everything as smooth as you can. Really agile, really powerful, really light in the seat, with a single focus of keeping the splits as low as you can. Worry less about the stroke rate and more on good length, connecting with the flywheel at the front end of the stroke and using as much legs as you can. Low splits are all that matters.
Watch Leander's Georgie Brayshaw's RowUK250 Challenge. With a time of 44.2, she's currently top of the Women's leaderboard.
4. Power cleans: Along with squats, deadlifts, bench pulls and bench press, this is the key lift to help your rowing. The kinetic chain is very similar to rowing and it is a great blend of the power, agility and technique you will need over all distances, but particularly the sprint distance. It’s pretty much the rowing stroke spun around 90 degrees.
5. Right over the line. As times come down we will start to measure this 250m distance in hundredths of second rather than tenths. The monitor has this data inside it but the screen is not programmed to display it. Keep an eye out for RowUK digital products which will give you this extra bit of accuracy but, in the meantime, make sure you drive right through to zero metres on the countdown. It is the ‘dipping for the line’ that sprinters do and you don’t want to lose because you cruised across the line.
Now give it a go and let us know how you get on. Beat others, beat yourself, beat everyone.