Rowing Crazy


“We Don’t Just Talk About Rowing
We Actually Row!”

“We Don’t Just Talk About Rowing – We Actually Row!”

What Is a Rowing Pick Drill and a Reverse Pick Drill?

Rowing Pick Drill and Reverse Pick Drill

Hi everyone, I’m Petra, and today, I wanted to talk about a common type of warm-up exercise or improvement method called pick drills.

If you haven’t heard this term before, it’s not surprising. I think people who have spent a lot of time rowing take it for granted that beginners or those who have only used an indoor rowing machine must know what this is.

Don’t worry, in just a few minutes, you will discover what a pick drill is, what a reverse pick drill is, and how you can use these exercises to your advantage.

Let’s jump right in, shall we?

What Is a Pick Drill in Rowing?

Physiotherapist and rowing coach Laura Tanley showing how to do the pick drill

The short answer is that a pick drill is a warm-up exercise.

At its heart, a pick drill is nothing more than warm-up exercises to get you ready to start rowing.

Pick drills are also a good training practice for beginners. If you want to improve your form, one of the easiest ways to do that is by practicing pick drills every time you sit down on your erg.

It’s called a pick drill because you “pick” a certain section of the rowing stroke and perfect that by focusing or drilling it into your body and brain.

How Do You Do a Pick Drill?

Our resident rowing expert and certified physical therapist Laura Tanley demonstrates a pick drill in this short video:

As you can see from the video above, you focus on a particular part of the rowing stroke. You should keep your attention completely on what you are doing, making sure that you do it to perfection.

Not only does this drill warm up the muscles that you’ll use during your workout, but doing a single pick to perfection will also create muscle memory, which will make your rowing efforts much easier.

You do a pick drill by beginning with the finish stroke. It may feel backward to you, but the order goes like this:

  • Get in the finish position, torso at 1 o’clock, legs almost completely outstretched, hands placed loosely on the outer edges of the handle. Work just your arms for 15 seconds to 1 minute.
  • Now you will pivot your hips back and forth. Like a rocking motion, forward and backward, as if you were going to stand up but changed your mind. Yes, you keep using your arms in combination with that body motion.
  • Now do a half-slide rowing. Don’t slide all the way forward. Be sure that your feet stay completely flat.
  • Last, of course, you do the full slide, performing the full erg workout.

It’s important that you do each step of the pick drill not only to warm up those muscles and prevent injury but also to practice perfection in your rowing stroke.

Pro Tip- Try using your erg in front of a mirror or filming yourself on your phone so you can see if you’re doing the strokes correctly.

What Is a Reverse Pick Drill?

As you can imagine, this is going to be the opposite of what we just did above.

Watch this short video where our erg expert Laura Tanley shows us how it’s done:

This one might feel more “natural” since it starts with the catch position.

  • Pay attention to your catch position. Be sure that your arms are fully extended over your knees, and your abs are tight.
  • Hold the handle gently on the outside edges and leave your arms extended. Moving just your legs, push back doing a half slide.
  • Now add in a full slide and move your torso back and forth from the 11 o’clock position to the 1 o’clock position. Keep your arms straight and don’t pull on the handle yet.
  • Last, you can add in the handle pull, and you are doing the complete rowing stroke.

You can do each part of the pick drill for either 15 or 20 strokes or 15-20 seconds or whatever feels good to you.

Do I Have to Do the Pick Drill and Reverse Pick Drill Together?

Rowing expert Laura Tanley explaining how to do the steps in a reverse pick drill

No, you don’t.

I would do a regular pick drill during one rowing workout and then a reverse pick drill the next workout, then perhaps do another type of warm-up on the third day so you don’t get bored.

Nothing will kill your motivation faster than boredom, so mix things up. Play different music when you do the pick drills or opt for workout programs with a pick drill built into them.

Keep yourself motivated, and you’ll be way ahead of the game!

Why Should I Bother with Pick Drills?

Practicing pick drills can go a long way not only towards improving your strokes but also in preventing injury.

You might think that you can’t get injured using an erg, but trust me, you can. I’ve seen people racing with their friends, and in their excitement, lose their form and end up hurting their back, elbows, or knees.

Max Secunda working out in a gym on a Concept 2 rowing machine

I know that when you go to the gym and have waited 30 minutes or more for a machine, you’re anxious to get in your 30-minute limit and a pick drill feels like a waste of time. Yet, even a short pick drill will warm up your muscles enough so that you don’t get hurt or sore.

You can also fix that problem by getting a rowing machine for your own home. There are all kinds of rowing machines available to fit your needs—silent rowing machines, folding ones, and even super budget-priced options.

When you have your own indoor rowing machine, you will get so much more out of your rowing experience because you aren’t pressed for time.

In the meantime, you will benefit from integrating a few minutes of pick drills into your workouts. You will be glad you did.

How Often Should I Practice a Pick Drill?

If you use workout videos, such as the ones on the Hydrow, you will find that nearly all of the instructors use a pick drill to help warm up the rowers and get them ready for their workout.

Max Secunda rowing on a Hydrow rower

This is because warming up is really important, so even if you are a fairly seasoned erg user, you’ll probably want to do pick drills and reverse pick drills fairly often.

Of course, you can break up your routine by doing other types of warm up exercises, like burpees or jumping jacks. However, I’ve found that beginners who regularly do pick drills often have a better form and, therefore, do better on their workouts. Try doing at least a short pick drill or reverse pick drill every time you sit down to use the erg. I’m sure you won’t regret it.

The Bottom Line

When it comes to pick drills, you should just consider it as part of the overall workout. Get it done and move on so you don’t think of it as a chore or an unnecessary part of your workout routine.

Make it short or make it longer, whichever seems to work best for you, but the main point of a pick drill is, to steal a phrase from Nike, to Just Do It!

Have a great time rowing, people!