A few of the regional qualifiers had rows in them as events. The first reaction by many was "Boring!" because who wants to watch the same motion for a whole event. Melissa Byers writes on her blog about how exciting the 2k row event really was at the North East Regional Qualifiers.

The CrossFit Games Northeast Qualifier (NEQ) Day One workouts were announced a week ahead of time, on the Albany CrossFit site. The first included thrusters and burpees - an evil combination that I have programmed myself many times. Maybe not the sexiest of CrossFit exercises, but certainly classics. And, again, brutally effective in their capacity to leave you sweating and panting and broken on the ground. But the second workout of the day stole all the attention, and not in a good way. Just five little letters was all it took for the virtual crowd to start buzzing.

Row 2K.

I'm not going to talk about the NEQ organizers' strategy in programming this workout. I won't even begin to speculate the science-y analysis that went into choosing the movements, the reps, the distance. What I will say is this... what I heard on Saturday morning, was, "BORING." The crowd at Albany thought the idea of rowing 2,000 meters as one of only three qualifying events was, well, kinda boring. I mean, you just row. No heavy weights, no range of motion criteria, there isn't even any counting involved. Athletes strap in and, like, row for a few minutes. Between, maybe, six and nine minutes, which is kind of a long time to watch the same damn movement. So from what I gathered, spectators weren't thrilled about the prospect of watching people row. The general crowd consensus was that Saturday afternoon would bring heat after heat of the CrossFit equivalent of watching paint dry. Boring.

I'm here to tell you, people... it was ANYTHING BUT. The row was, for me (and I think many of my fellow spectators), the most exciting part of the qualifiers, hands-down. The. Most. EXCITING.

We rolled 20 C2 rowers into the competition arena and lined them all up in two rows, facing each other. As an athlete, should you so choose, you could look directly into the face of your competition as you battled for points. To have so many competitors in such a small space, all lined up in order, meant that the crowd could watch the field as a whole. It was kind of like a horse race - one clumped mass all moving fast and hard, straining to come in one meter ahead of the next guy over. The athletes' tension was palpable, and the crowd fed off the perceived intimate competition - athlete squaring off, literally head to head, against athlete.

At the beginning of each heat, the competitors stepped up, strapped in, grabbed the handles... and then waited, tense and twitchy, like shirtless, sweaty thoroughbreds at the starting gate. Their coaches stood behind them, just as anxious, waiting for the signal to begin. And in that moment, the crowd was quiet.

The horn would blow and the athletes would begin to pull. And it was clear, immediately, who could actually row. Because the event was more than six minutes long, it gave the crowd a chance to walk around, checking out each competitor. Technique flaws were readily apparent. Pacing mistakes were easy to spot. (I don't know a lot of people who can maintain a 1:20 pace for a full 2,000 meters.) But for those athletes that got it right... it was poetry in motion. Literally.

There were a few rounds where I was just a spectator, not judging. Dallas, my sister and I scoped out different vantage points during one of the women's heats. I stopped him at one point, and pointed to a ridiculously fit woman wearing a green bandana. (Edit: I have since discovered she is Jessica Dunn, a trainer at Albany CrossFit.) "Um, Dallas... what, exactly, is she doing?" Her technique was so different than anything I'd yet to see that day. She was moving, for lack of a better word... slow. It was the opposite of what EC Synkowski calls the "CrossFit Hustle", that rowing motion that takes you backandforth-backandforth as fast as humanly possible. She was... slow. Her recovery was slow. Her drive, while the perfect display of the legs-body-arms that EC taught us, was also kind of slow. But then, Dallas pointed out one thing. This woman had a MONSTER pull. Her technique wasn't slow. It was efficient as hell, because she was producing so much power with each movement. The longer I watched, the more inspired I became. She was, in a word, gorgeous. She made me want to be stronger. She made me want to be a better rower. She made me want to be HER. And she made me want her to WIN.

Because of the way this event was organized, we had the perfect opportunity to stay put and watch our girl while still monitoring the rest of the pack. Before the event, the organizers gave all the judges four different colored cards, each signifying a different meter mark - one when the athlete was down to 1,000 meters, the next when they reached 500. They instructed us to hold each card up in turn as the athletes got closer and closer to finishing the event. The last card was to signify the final 250 meters, as a signal to the crowd that the athlete was almost done.

I thought this was really dumb. I mean, I'm supposed to remember which card to hold up, and the crowd is going to be able to figure out what each color signified? Dumb. Except IT WASN'T. The crowd went wild each time a judge's hand went up, signifying a new milestone in the row. We watched breathlessly through a sea of pink cards, waiting for the first hand to come up blue. It told us who to watch, how close they were to finishing, who was in contention for winning the heat. The card system allowed the crowd to fully participate no matter where they were standing, and gave us incentive as spectators to fully invest our cheering potential in "our" athletes. It was brilliant, and I'm sorry that I called it dumb, Jason, David and Neal.

Anyway, back to my new girl crush Jessica. We were able to monitor where she was in the field because of the card scoring system, which meant I could stay right where I was and just watch her row. She was, in my mind, flawless. Her technique never deviated, her pacing was rock solid and damn if she didn't make every hard-fought meter look HOT. With the last 250M to go, her pacing sped up a little, but the power of her pulls never diminished. I whooped as her blue card was raised, watched as Caitlin Fabian pulled in first, and then yelled myself hoarse for the green-bandana-clad Jessica to finish strong. In the end, she pulled her 2K in 8:02, and finished sixth out of all the women for that event. She may not have won, but as a spectator, she made that heat. And as both a spectator and a judge, the 2K row was the most exciting part of my weekend.

I did not hear one rumbling of "boring" when that event was done. Not one. The crowd was charged, amped, pumped. Everyone was talking about how exciting it was, how much energy was packed into one small event area, how each heat, start to finish, was non-stop screaming and cheering. And if the crowd felt it, I know the athletes felt it, and I'd like to think that helped to drive some PR-worthy performances. So I don't know if a 2K row was the best choice to test a well-rounded athlete. I don't know if it perfectly balanced the demands of the other workouts, or if it truly measured enough of the ten aspects of fitness in an appropriate manner. But I do know it was as exciting as hell. If you were there with me, you know exactly what I'm talking about. And if you weren't... you missed out on some of the best that CrossFit has to offer, from an athletic perspective and a community perspective.

Also, have I mentioned CrossFit New England's Bern fell off his rower mid-event? He swears it's okay if I talk about it in this very public forum. And it's a story worth re-telling, so I'm going to check in with Bern to make sure I've got the details right first... but you'll hear all about it next week.

Addendum: Make sure you read NEQ Organizer David Osorio's comment regarding the thought process behind programming a 2K row as one of the events. I love that he dropped that particular brand of genius on us. Thanks, David.

21 comments on this entry.

1. Tom wrote...

June 17, 2009 11:56 AM

Great recap and story! You are right on about the 2k row being a "classic" that tests many of the 10 aspects of fitness.

2. Carol "B" Wadsworth wrote...

June 17, 2009 12:12 PM

You gave me goosebumps reading this! I was there too and it was an extremely exciting event! I wish I had noticed Jessica... but I couldn't get my eyes off my sister - who also finished finished well at 8:00:02! It was an incredible event and a terrific weekend. Thanks for bringing it all back!

3. Dan wrote...

June 17, 2009 1:23 PM

Great story! As a participant I can tell you it certainly wasn't boring. For a rowing event it was about as exciting as it can get. However the maximum level of excitement possible for a rowing event is only slightly higher than a mid distance track event. I think workouts like the triplet on Sunday has the potential for much more excitement. If that makes any sense?

I think rowing is an excellent measure of power, but needs to be a smaller piece of the fitness pie when being used to measure power for competition. If you threw the same three NEQ workouts at someone like Speal, he probably would not have been ranked in the top ten. Even if he won the other two events (which he probably would have) he would be crushed on the row. Speal is a ball of power but on a erg he would appear human.

And the debate continues...

4. MARKO wrote...

June 17, 2009 2:27 PM


However,I don't agree with the 2K as an event to measure an individuals ability to qualify for the Crossfit Games.

Rowing is a very technique specific skill. If you were to look at the times of any collegiate CREW team you would find that even the most elite times in the Crossfit games 2K are above average at best when compared to these individuals.


If you took one of the CREW Atheletes and had them row 1K, than do 30 Burpees, and end with 20 155lb jerks you would discover that as far as Crossfit goes they are sub par.

I think rowing can be a component of a Crossfit qualifier but not an entire event due to the fact that someone with good technique could appear to be a very strong Crossfit Athlete when in fact they are just a proficient rower.

Not to mention the person with poor form is working harder than the technique proficient rower. So, again it fails as a measure of true fitness.

5. Zach @ CFLV wrote...

June 17, 2009 3:26 PM

Marko -

It would be very difficult to have ANY one event be a "measure of true fitness" as you stated. That's why all the Qualifiers and the Games have multiple events.

I'd like for someone to come up with a WOD that involves all 10 domains of fitness equally and hits all time and modal domains...but I don't think it's gonna happen.

It is A) a technique-based effort (much like swimming) and B) one of the few things in CrossFit that favors a tall athlete (I'm short...so I'm biased against all you tall people!).

6. MARKO replied to comment from Zach @ CFLV...

June 17, 2009 8:58 PM

Totally agree...

That's why I think it's important that each event be thought out to balance as many of the 10 domains as possible. Or at the very least a couple of the domains over several events. I just don't think row a 2K should be a qualifier event.

I'm not discounting rowing a 2K as being a waste of time. It's awesome and I do it often, but as far as an event used to measure an athletes ability in Crossfit to determine if they can go to the Games.....

It wouldn't be my choice. The other two were much better IMHOP

7. caleb wrote...

June 18, 2009 5:42 AM

personaly, after competing in the 2K row at the NEQ. I felt that the 2K was a battle between the ears, and to watch the distance cards being thrown up made the crowd go crazy.

8. Zach wrote...

June 18, 2009 6:50 AM

Just curious...were the athletes allowed to choose their own damper setting or were they all set already?

9. lauren Plumey replied to comment from Zach...

June 18, 2009 8:51 AM

You could choose your own damper setting and it could be changed in the middle of the row by your coach if you wanted to (although, I didn't see anyone do this).

10. David Osorio wrote...

June 18, 2009 9:26 AM

Athletes were allowed to set their own Damper.

I think the validity of using a 2K row to measure fitness depends on the other events included in the qualifier as well as the scoring system. There's no doubt that a 2K favors a taller athlete however one could argue that the Heavy Thruster/ Burpee workout favored a shorter stronger athlete somewhat balancing things out. That being said, the jury is still out on all of this. The events and winners at Aromas will shed more light on the nature of measuring fitness within a competition, we'll just have to stay tuned.

I do have some issue with your contention that the technical nature of rowing somehow invalidates it as a measure of fitness. Doesn't the coordination and accuracy required to row efficiently fall perfectly in line with the 10 general skills that CrossFit is partly based upon? The same argument against high skill movements could be made with Snatches and Double Unders just as easily. Also, if the majority of CrossFitters had access to pools and swimming was regularly included in main site WODs then I would see it as a totally legitimate event for a Qualifier. For obvious reasons, that will probably never happen though.

11. David Osorio wrote...

June 18, 2009 9:36 AM

Oh and Melissa. You're being FAR too kind.

Great write-up, lady!

12. MARKO replied to comment from David Osorio...

June 18, 2009 10:18 AM

Double Unders require a $5.00 dollar jumprope and just about every crossfit Gym will have this piece of equipment. However, a rowing machine is not cheap and I personally have been to several Crossfit Gyms that did not have a single rowing machine. Even the better Gyms may only have 2 or 3 machines and in just doesn't work with a class of 10-20 people.

The technical advantage I'm talking about has to do with time on a rower. A Collegiate CREW athelete will spend 45 minutes a day on a rower. A Crossfit athelete in a Gym with sufficient rowers will spend maybe 20-30 minutes a week give or take. A Crossfit athelete without a rower (which is highly possible) will spend ZERO time and be forced into a serious technical disadvantage.

The comparison to Double Unders can't be made for technique because everyone has an opportunity to practice this technique. The same is true for the O-Lifts, pull ups, burpees, running, etc, etc...

Most gyms have pull up bars, weight bars, weights, and jump ropes at the bare minimum to even qualify as a Crossfit Gym capable of executing Crossfit WODs.

We are fortunate enough to have a bunch of Kettle Bells at our affiliate along with rings, rowers, medicine balls, and everything else you would need. As a result we do quite a lot of kettle bell WODs.

But I don't think it would have been fair to have a heavy kettle bell snatch event at our Regionals because most gyms don't have a complete sets of Kettle bells, and technique is huge when executing this exercise.

My point is that if you don't have equipment requirements and standards through Crossfit HQ for affiliates than you need to kind of stick to the meat and potatoes events to ensure it's a fair competition for all involved.

As was said in the intial write up, "It was very clear those who had technique, and those who didn't..."

13. Scott wrote...

June 18, 2009 12:13 PM

I mean. I fear a 2K row like I fear few other things that happen at my affiliate. It's not a good way to spend 7.something minutes.

In terms of competition, it's the great equalizer. Melissa touched on this, but there's no bitching about weight classes (although some probably complain about being too short), just strap in and get some.

14. Elise replied to comment from MARKO...

June 18, 2009 8:31 PM

Awesome writeup Melissa - I could feel my heart rate picking up as I read it!

MARKO: just a few notes - for collegiate rowers, it's usually about 1.5 hours per day (not 45 minutes) and the weightlifting sessions at many schools are frequently either WODs themselves or WODs that have been modified to include erging. At some point, the efficiency of movement that comes from solid erging technique can be balanced out by speed, power, and high damper settings with poor technique. The same method of driving your heels away from your body and opening up your hips holds true in SDHPs, thrusters, deadlifts, etc and makes erging a popular choice for testing sheer power output over time.

15. Ryan wrote...

June 18, 2009 10:13 PM

I also have to say I'm not overly enthusiastic about rowing as an event. For one, it rarely separates the competitors because everyone is usually within 30-40 seconds of each other, compared to minutes separating guys on other events.

For another, as marko already stated, this is an expensive piece of equipment that requires practice w/technique to master. I think it's a useful tool to build fitness, but I don't like it as a measuring tool for the games.

16. MARKO replied to comment from Elise...

June 19, 2009 12:21 PM


I agree but do SDHP as this requires a bar and weight. Everyone has an opportunity to practice this technique.

17. Asim wrote...

June 19, 2009 6:13 PM


You seem to change your point against rowing from it not being a good standard of fitness (skills more important than fitness to row faster) to now it being expensive.

The problem with your first opinion is that if you take athletes from any one of the different areas Crossfit hits (gymnastics, Olympic lifts etc.), they WILL perform at a much higher level. However when thrown into a mix that constitutes a CF workout, they may not be able to maintain the same performance as would a CF athlete.

For example, take an Clean & Jerk Olympian and have him/her do kipping pullup. I can assure you their performance numbers will not be something to write home about. Does that mean that we take Olympic lifting off the criteria list of CF Games?

18. Sheldon wrote...

June 19, 2009 7:46 PM

Crossfit in 100 words or less includes the following statement: Bike, run, swim, row, etc, hard and fast. From this, I infer that rowing is a required a skill set to develop to be a successful 'crossfit athlete'.

19. Chris wrote...

June 22, 2009 8:17 PM

Having rowed for the national team, believe me it takes time to develop good technique on the erg(rower). you have to have a good cardio base and strenght to push/pull it out for the 2k. i am excited to start mixing it up and see how long it takes me to be able to do 100 push ups/pull ups, etc...

Height has a great advantage on the erg, allowing for a longer stroke. I'm 6'7'' and I have broken 6 minutes for a 2k. the world record is around the mid 5:30's.

Being tall has its disadvantages, longer arms mean further to travel while doing a push/pull up. Bench press sucks personally when your wing span is almost 6'10''. don't have the barrel chest of a worlds strongest man athlete.

But all disadvantages make the fight and accomplishment so much more rewarding.

20. Thomas R. Stegelmann wrote...

June 26, 2009 3:13 AM

As a former competitive rower, I agree with many of the statements. Yes, rowing requires solid technique and without having access to an erg, it is difficult to develop this technique. Yet, having a solid technique, you are able to score well without training on the erg regularly and CrossFit is the choice of training.

21. Alex Taylor wrote...

June 26, 2009 2:58 PM

There have been a lot of good points made about the validity of a 2k Erg Test in CrossFit, but one that I haven't seen yet is this: We train to be prepared for the unexpected. The most important obstacle you face probably won't be the thing you have explicitly prepared for. How you handle an unfamiliar challenge seems like an excellent test of how CrossFit you are.