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Rowing Through the Grind of Winter


I don’t like to row. That’s only part of the issue. Whether it’s for a warm-up, a WOD or even during a competition, I don’t enjoy rowing. Watching the half-marathon rowing event at the Games last summer almost made me physically ill when I contemplated what it would be like to endure a CrossFit hell such as that.

Unfortunately for me, I live in the central part of the United States and, inevitably, we run into a problem each and every year — winter.

While I’m not one to shy away from some cold mornings running the dark sidewalks around our box, it becomes a problem when we get hit with say, 20 inches of snow in one day like we did last winter. At that point running is difficult because, well, there are no sidewalks anymore. This leaves our CrossFit athletes with two options: run in the icy dark streets or row.

I have done both, and to me, one is no more unpleasant than the other.

Similar to much of my CrossFit skill set, I am not terrible at rowing, but I would not call myself above average, either. I do it when forced to but would almost never do it voluntarily. In the event of a WOD that presents the option of 150 burpees or 1,500-meter row, I’d pick the row. You get the idea.

Almost every day, during our pre-class warm-up, two choices will be laid before us on the trusty white board: 500-meter row or 400-meter run. I almost always select the run.

But as I stated earlier, we will hit a point at which running is no longer a good or safe choice, and eventually it will not be a choice at all due to weather-related conditions.

At that point, much like a grizzly bear, we will go into running hibernation. Unfortunately, unlike Mr. Bear, we don’t get to rest for months; we now have to replace running with rowing. It’s not that it’s the hardest thing to do in CrossFit, it just becomes annoying and repetitive as it evolves into our main source of distance-related cardio-based training.

Don’t get me wrong, my trainers, Brian and Zack, will throw tons of variety our way in terms of spring work, sled pulls, burpees, box jumps and the infamous bear crawls in order to give a varied array of metcon work to go with some winter strength training. Additionally we have occasionally thrown caution to the icy wind and have run despite the conditions.

I recall a few years back I got a text that read “Bring gloves and a hat.” I did as instructed to find that the next morning we ran a dark and icy “frozen 5K” in which we ran long frozen pathways and roadsides (when possible) around the city for the entirety of the 3.1 miles. You can’t fault the effort, but there are some very real safety concerns when running in ice close to an active roadway in the dark morning hours in the middle of the winter. This of course has caused some interesting challenges, including me falling and busting my ass, which I’ve been known to do from time to time.

It just seems to me that at a certain point, say in February or March, you just want to say, “Enough is enough” and take to the wet, icy, snow-covered sidewalks and roadways and risk falling or passing cars to feel the frigid air in your lungs and to move in real time, not just watching a set of virtual meters roll past your eyes.

It all reaches a point when you can barely stand to even look at the rower. Eventually, the snow will pass and the day spent planted on that hard plastic seat, pulling the rower chain again and again will pass, and our athletes will again be able to step out in the fresh air and run like Forrest Gump.

As much as this becomes repetitive and monotonous, one thing gets me through these mundane winter months. At least we don’t have Airdyne bikes.

How do you feel about winter rowing? Let me know at jtolgrinder @

Stay on the grind (even if it’s grinding on a rower for five months).

— Jamie Toland (JTol)