The handle, the seat, the foot straps. What do these three things all have in common? They are the parts of the indoor rower that connect to your body. Let’s look in depth at the foot straps, why they’re needed, and how to use them.
The foot strap secures you to the indoor rower for the finish position, where the abdominals stabilize the body, and the glutes and quads are contracting. The foot straps allow for more layback in the stroke, but the core muscles should be engaged for primary stability. A drill that helps to ensure the abdominals are being used at the finish is to row without any foot straps (rowing “feet out”). The stroke may shorten a bit during the drill, but the goal is to engage the core to stabilize the layback. When rowing with the feet back in the foot straps, make sure the abdominal muscles maintain the layback position; do not rely on the feet.
The foot straps are not a necessity on the recovery, where you slide back up to the catch. Using the foot straps to gain momentum on the catch puts undue stress on the hamstrings and can cause injury. Instead, think about getting your hands away quickly, then letting your back follow your hands forward to get the forward body angle that you need at the catch. Using the foot straps to pull back up the slide also tends to rush the recovery. The recovery is just that—a “recovery” from each stroke and preparation for the next one. Your drive to recovery ratio should be 1:2. In other words, your recovery should take twice as long as your drive. If you are using your feet to pull up on the recovery, you are most likely “rushing the slide” (see our Technique Video, starting at minute 4:52).
Position the foot strap above the ball of the foot as shown in Getting Started. While rowing, be sure the foot strap is snug but does not cut off circulation. The foot strap doesn’t have to be completely tight. If you find that your feet and legs are more comfortable with a bit more foot-freedom, that’s fine. A couple fingers worth of extra space should be plenty.
Foot straps can wear out over time but are easily and inexpensively replaced. The life of your foot straps can be extended, however, both by using proper technique and strapping them correctly. The foot strap is tightened by pulling down on the loose end. To remove, pull up on the tab of the buckle. The foot strap does not need to be fed through the buckle to be removed.