The ancient concept of Yin and yang describes how apparently contrary forces actually form a balanced and complete life. That concept is true for my favorite sport and my training;. Kettlebells & Rowing are Yin and yang.

They look completely different, but rowing and kettlebells have the same physical requirements. Championship crews win with power, endurance, and perfect rhythm, and these elements are also required in technically perfect kettlebell lifts.

The rowing stroke has two phases: the recovery and drive. The recovery is all about relaxation and fluidity – achieving maximum run of the hull and not disturbing the boat. The drive generates maximum power from your body that is efficiently transferred to the oar propelling the boat as far as possible from stroke to stroke.

The kettlebell swing has two phases as well. On the downswing it is all about relaxation and recovery. As the kettlebell travels back between your legs,  you keep your upper arms glued to your ribs and take a sniff of air at the bottom before performing an aggressive hip extension by driving into the ground with the feet. At the finish of the swing, your body forms a straight line from ear to ankle. Each rep of a hardstyle kettlebell swing is meant to generate maximum force and transfer that force to the kettlebell.

Whether it is an oar or a kettlebell you are generating all the power you can, and smoothly transferring it to an external object to move it through two phases: yin and yang, recovery and drive, hike and finish.

Power & Endurance

Footprint after a set of swings. Photo Courtesy of VivoBarefoot

Footprint after a set of swings. Photo Courtesy of VivoBarefoot

Rowing is a power-endurance sport. The crews with athletes who have the most power will always be in contention to win a race. Now, there are many other variables involved such as technique, experience, conditions, chemistry, etc but you cannot win at the highest level without crushing power. It is a prerequisite for the sport of rowing. Kettlebells develop power while demanding control.

Learning how to maintain integrity of alignment while under load is one of the underlying benefits of kettlebell training. During a race when technique breaks down, power leakages begin to occur translating to a slower boat.. The same applies with kettlebell training. It demands discipline, control, and awareness.. Each repetition of a hardstyle kettlebell swing generates maximum force but the caveat is you must have perfect alignment through your body to transfer energy to the kettlebell. [Does that sound like the drive phase of the rowing stroke, anyone?]

Kettlebell training helps rowers gain strength and generate more power in the sport of rowing. The Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research published a recent study “Effects of Kettlebell Training on Aerobic Capacity” The study found that “After 4 weeks of HIIT, well-trained rowers significantly improved their 2,000m times.” Getting rowers stronger, so they can go faster is what kettlebells are all about!


“If you don’t own breathing, you don’t own movement.” -Karel Lewit

Kettlebell movements require a biomechanical breathing match – another key crossover to the rowing stroke. Two great examples are the hike (recovery) and finish (drive) phases of the swing and rowing stroke, respectively.

All movement begins with the breath. Learning to move around your breath may be the most fundamental aspect shared across all movement disciplines. By incorporating the breath into the rowing stroke it teaches athletes to have greater body awareness while increasing their efficiency and strength. Their rhythm and timing will improve as well. Individuals who hold their breath are creating artificial stability so they feel safe. By bringing athletes’ attention to this they learn to move better.

The most important aspect of kettlebells in relation to rowing may be the hip hinge. The hip hinge is a fundamental human movement pattern. It is used in the deadlift, swing, clean, and snatch. The hip hinge is so critical to the rowing stroke but is often absent. We often communicate to the athlete to “Pause at body angle” which often results in them moving from the thoracic spine and shoulders. Our intent should be to get the athlete to move from the hips. We should communicate to them “Pause at hips over” or “hinge through the hips”. The athlete can feel if they are doing this movement correctly when they feel the stretch in the top of the hamstrings and glutes. Around the release they should feel their body weight transfer to the back of the seat and then back to the front of the seat. The shoulders are now in front of the hips and the handle is across the knees. Moving from the hips primes the glutes to do the majority of the work during the drive phase.