Rowing and The Force: Understand yours to unlock your power

by Gabriel “gaberock” Avilla, CF L-2

The Concept2 Rower is a fantastic tool to build your overall fitness capacity. In addition, the rower can provide you with real-time information to help your technique and performance. Ever feel like you’re rowing for dear life yet not improving your time? This article will help you understand the concept of using the Concept2 Force Curve to dial in your rowing technique which can translate to better overall performance. 

The Concept2 Force Curve

The force curve on a Concept2 rower graphically represents how you apply force during the rowing stroke, indicating how your force varies as you use your legs, back, and arms during the drive. 

In general, the smoother the curve, the smoother the application of force. The larger the area under the curve, the greater the amount of force applied. Some of you might notice that your force curve is a little chunky. That’s okay! This information is telling you where to look and what to work on. Rowing with the force curve setting on is a great way to work on smoothing out your technique and stroke.

Rowing Points of Performance

As a reminder, we will review the points of performance for rowing per position. Overall, think tight, strong, midline, pillar, cylinder, or torso. There is a difference between just going through the motions and actively engaging your body, musculature, and posture for rowing. Drive OUT with the legs, swing the hips/open the hips/torso leans back slightly, then arms. The row is a PUSH not a pull. If you have deadlifted before, it’s like a deadlift, with a high pull. We drive or push the machine away, drive out with our legs, then transition force into hips (hip extension) then through the torso, and into the arms. Then we reverse it, arms go away, hips close, knees bend and we get the handles back toward the flywheel in a nice compressed catch. 

The Catch

  • Arms are straight; head is neutral; shoulders are level and not hunched over.
  • Upper body is leaning forward from the hips with the shoulders
    in front of the hips.
  • Shins are vertical, or as close to vertical as is comfortable for you. Shins should not move beyond perpendicular.
  • Heels may lift as needed.

The Drive

  • Start the drive by pressing with your legs, and then swing the back through the vertical position before finally adding the arm pull.
  • Hands move in a straight line to and from the flywheel.
  • Shoulders remain low and relaxed.

The Finish

  • Upper body is leaning back slightly, using good support from
    the core muscles.
  • Legs are extended and the handle is held lightly below your ribs.
  • Shoulders should be low with wrists and grip relaxed. Wrists should be flat.

The Recovery

  • Extend your arms until they straighten before leaning from the hips towards the flywheel.
  • Once your hands have cleared your knees, allow your knees to bend and gradually slide the seat forward on the monorail.

Finding your Force Curve

Using the force curve display is one setting that can improve your technique, another is the 500m split time. A 500m row split time is a common benchmark every athlete should know, similar to a 1RM back squat or a 1 mile run. This is helpful because you can visually and graphically see how efficient your row technique is, as well as you can see that through having an efficient technique and application of force throughout the different phases of the row your 500m split time will be faster. Fast is not fast. Smooth is fast. 

You can view these at the same time. To navigate to see both the force curve and the 500m split time:

1. Start Rowing On The Machine To Turn it On

2. Press the Change Display button on the monitor to Display Power Curve Option

3. Press the Change Units button on the monitor to 500 Split Time Average

What is your Force Curve telling you?

A chunky front end means Exploding at the Catch – A huge peak on the front end of the curve that tapers off means you are likely applying too much force too early and should distribute it more through the rest of the stroke.

A chunky middle means Disconnected Transition – A dip in the middle, depending on where it is can mean two things. A peak that dips peaks again and drops off is usually an issue in the connection between legs, hips, and arms. We would be looking at a disconnection somewhere in the transitionary period in the middle. 

A chunky back end means a Passive Start – A dip or deviation at the back end of the curve can either be a problem connecting the hips to the arms or a problem with the arms. 

A long flatline means there isn’t much power or area under the curve. You are not creating much force or are not able to apply much force to the machine. We should be working on how you connect, on better bracing at the catch, better application of force into the machine, and better positioning. 

At the end of the day, we want consistent, smooth, large areas under the curve. To get that we want to properly sequence the use of the legs, hips, then arms, and return them in sequined fashion in reverse order. The most ideal and common force curve would have a high peak in the middle with lots of area under the curve. The sequenced style of rowing with a high peak and large amount of area under the curve is the most common style of rowing among rowers. 

Going forward, use this screen to check on the efficiency of your row technique and use it to help you improve the timing of the drive, transition, and catch of your row. Ideally, we want our rowing to be smooth as a knife in butter from the catch, through drive and pull to the catch.

How to Smooth Out Your Force Curve

Try this exercise: 

Set your damper on a 1, row between a 25-30 stroke rate, use the force curve display, and try to create consistent smooth curves that all look the same for 10 minutes. Training with the rower on 1 is like training with a PVC pipe to practice the Olympic weightlifting movements with good technique. You will find that you have to be really intentional and use your legs and time your transitions effectively with the damper at 1. As your performance becomes consistent at level 1, increase the damper yet work to maintain the same force curves. Posture, Positions, Sequencing, then Power!

This post was inspired by the CrossFit Invictus post: “Understanding the Concept2 Force Curve Graph.”

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