Whether you are looking to compete on the Indoor Rower at a Rowing event or CrossFit competition, or if you simply want to improve your efforts in interval workouts; knowing how to do an effective race start and how to accelerate your stroke rate can lead to big gains in speed without putting in any extra training hours.
Theory: Moving The Flywheel
When you begin an interval or a race, it is important to get the flywheel up to speed quickly so you can start to find a rhythm and target stroke rate that will see you through the middle of the race or interval. In order to achieve this, power must be applied in short bursts, restricting the flywheel from decelerating and allowing the speed of the flywheel to increase exponentially over the first 5-10 strokes. In doing so, you should be able to get down to your 500m target split (or faster) within the first 5 strokes.
How To Start
From a standing start where the flywheel is still, the most effective approach to apply power over the initial strokes is to decrease the overall stroke length. Most rowers, on-water and indoor, will take the first stroke at ½ - ¾ slide- that is ½ or ¾ ‘s towards the flywheel from the finish of the stroke. Because you are starting from a stand-still, the first stroke will feel the heaviest so it is important that you recruit your legs to initiate the stroke, then squeeze the resistance through to the back and arms. From the finish of the first stroke, let the arms move quickly away and into the next stroke- another ½ - ¾ stroke. Connecting the stroke correctly (always remember- legs, body, arms!) over the initial strokes is key to building out stroke length and hitting your race target split quickly.
For more on the drive phase of the rowing stroke CLICK HERE
Over the initial 5 strokes of a race start, where speed is increasing exponentially, it is not essential to have a full 2:1 recovery/drive ratio that good rowing technique typically dictates. In this case, quickness on the recovery is necessary to drastically increase stroke rate, from standing still to your target rate (or above). Once the full stroke length is achieved, approximately 7-10 strokes in, using increased time on the recovery to find rhythm and settle onto mid-race pace is an effective strategy for a controlled, relaxed stroke to take you through the middle of the race or interval.
For more on the recovery phase of the rowing stroke CLICK HERE
Accelerating Pace and Stroke Rate Mid-Interval
You can use a similar basic process of a race start to accelerate stroke rate during interval training. When moving to increase stroke rate by 2 or more SPM, start by moving the handle away from the finish more quickly, letting the hands flow freely from the drive phase to the recovery phase. Continue this stroke to ¾ slide and make an extra effort to accelerate the leg drive through to the finish. Return to full length on the next stroke and continue to work the handle transition out of the finish until you reach your new SPM.
Note- whether you are attempting a race start, or accelerating your stroke rate mid-interval, it is very important to maintain good form and technique. You will need to ensure you are recruiting the main muscle groups (especially the legs) and not revert to hauling on the upper body, however tempting that may be. Doing so will not only affect your form as you lengthen out to full strokes, but also make it difficult to find a sustainable rhythm.
Give these race-start formats a go to begin to learn what might be the best start plan for you:
1). Onto pace quickly + early settle onto race pace (approximately 15 seconds)
2 x half strokes
2 x ¾ strokes
5 full strokes
2 x half strokes
2 x ¾ strokes
5 full strokes- 2-4 points above target stroke rate
5 full strokes- 2 points above target stroke rate
5 full strokes- settle onto target rating by the end of the 5 strokes.
You can adjust the duration of full strokes above your target stroke rate to suit your race plan, before settling onto your target mid-race stroke rate. Physiology and tactical preferences between different athletes can vary widely, so it is best to try several approaches to race starts (and race plans as a whole) to best determine which approach is the most effective for you.