Sprint Starts on the Concept2 Rower

May 23rd, 2014

Category: EGA

Sprint Starts on the Concept2 Rower


Often times, in shorter rowing pieces (1000m or less, depending on the context), you’ll see people tug on the rower a few times with their arms.  There’s a reason they’re doing this, but there’s a better way (so please stop pulling on the rower like a gorilla, folks).

Many of you 6am class regulars have seen Andrea throwing around some iron and getting after the Olympic lifts.  What you might not know is that she’s a former competitive rower, and a really good rowing coach to boot.  In her latest installment (of more to come), she goes over the proper procedure for a correct sprint start on the Concept2 rower.

She’s also included some verbiage below.  I’ll let Andrea take it from here:


There’s something really gratifying about flying off the line ahead of all the other boats.  You take a few abbreviated strokes, you feel the cadence pick up while the resistance gets lighter, and you’re off!  Well, maybe you don’t get the same visual satisfaction when you’re racing people on rowing machines, but there’s something to be said for going from 0 to the rowing equivalent of 60 in as short amount of time as possible.  Being efficient here can also mean the difference between first and trailing.

However, before getting into the particulars of executing this start method, think first if it’s really necessary.  A lot of my emphasis in coaching CrossFitters to improve their C2 rowing involves eliminating inefficient “extras”, literally keeping an athlete out of his or her own way.  A poorly executed “rowing shuffle” to start a rowing piece is really just a waste of effort (and a goofy looking one, at that).  However, even if you can fly through a flawless sprint start, think about what context the rowing appears in the WOD.  Is it an all-out race?  Are you doing sprint intervals?  Is it a team rowing WOD involving personnel changes on and off the machine?  Is it the last item to end a chipper?  If so, by all means, fly off the line as fast as possible.  However, if it’s a 20 minute row at a comparatively low stroke rate, or an event where you want to exhaust the least amount of your energy reserves (eg., 800 meters of rowing sandwiched between high rep thrusters and toes to bar), you might be better served just getting on the machine, taking 3-5 strokes to build your momentum, and then settling into your rowing pace.  Generally speaking, the manner in which you start a rowing piece should correspond to the level of intensity you’re applying to that particular row, same as how you’d naturally moderate your running speed depending on the distance and context.

A sprint start will take a little extra effort, but the payoff in speed can be worth it in the right setting.  Ironically, 2014 Regionals Individual Event 6 involves BOTH situations, with a 50-calorie row to start and end the WOD.  Being successful on the first row means being efficient without burning out, because there’s a lot of work that follows.  But if two or more athletes are neck and neck coming to the final rowing piece, it could make for an exciting finish, and will be determined by who can row more efficiently after getting up to speed in a hurry.

What you might see a lot of, however, are athletes moving frantically through a few partial strokes in the beginning, heaving against the full weight of the resistance, then abruptly changing directions halfway through the stroke to begin again until they reach some semblance of full speed.  As I go over in the video, it’s my position you’re better served generating power from the back end of the rowing stroke, where 1) the resistance is easier to move as quickly as
possible, and 2) you’re ending each stroke at the natural finish, which keeps you from fighting yourself for power.

Regarding the abbreviated stroke lengths, I recommend a sequence of 3/4, 1/2, 3/4, 3/4, full.  Some people prefer 1/2, 1/2, 3/4, 3/4, full; some people just like to start by taking a half stroke, then think “lengthen, lengthen, lengthen” until they’re taking full strokes.  Point being, this takes some practice, especially if you struggle with the sequence of the rowing stroke.  I prefer the 3/4 start, because upon hearing “3-2-1-GO” it’s easy to pick up the handle, seamlessly ease into position and go, but without 100% of the weight of the resistance.  The next stroke, the “jump” is where you really pick up your speed.  It’s also the place most people get tripped up if the sequencing is not sound.  From there, taking two slightly longer but not yet full strokes will help pick up the speed, and then by the fifth stroke, you’re ready to go.

Again, the key here is PRACTICE.  I can reliably go from a dead stop to a 1:30 split in 5 strokes; suffice it to say if you’re reading this, you’re probably fitter than I am, and if your top speed takes longer than 5 strokes to reach, you probably have room for improvement.

Once you’ve finished stroke #5, what I like to do (again, depending on the length of the intense piece I’m starting) is then take 10-20 strokes at a higher rate (strokes per minute) than I intend to row the piece at.  This may be more psychological than anything, but it really revs me up, such that when I eventually “settle” into my rowing pace, I feel like I’m on autopilot.

Good luck, and PRACTICE!


  1. Jo May 23, 2014 at 4:25 pm

    Thanks! Really useful! 🙂