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World Rowing Championships | Top Rowing Workouts

The pros make it look easy don’t they, even when they’re struggling. If you’re watching the World Rowing Championships and want part of the action, or you’ve made your gym’s rowing machine a cornerstone of your strength and cardio training, you might just be surprised to learn you haven’t been doing it right.

To get the most out of rowing we take a look at how the pros do it and how you can work some of their training drills into your own workout.

First of all, are you rowing the right way?

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The Basics Of Rowing

So while you’ve been slogging away to gain muscle, develop strength or increase your endurance on the gym’s rower, the experts actually suggest that this isn’t how it’s meant to be done. The National Strength & Conditioning Association Journal reckons the following: “The stroke is a coordinated muscle action that requires repetitive, maximum, yet smooth application of force”.

You might think that rowing is as rowing does, that by sitting down at the machine and pulling back the handle, but what you actually ought to do is break it up into a series of linked, fluid movements. The National Strength & Conditioning Association Journal advises first the catch, then the leg drive, which flows into the body drive and then, finally, the arm drive.

The catch involves relaxing your spine to optimize the flexibility of your core so that you can reach forward as far as possible.

You may think that your legs play little to no part when using your back strength to row. Rectify this by driving with your legs as you pull back.

The body drive is about extending this movement and driving back with your upper body, extending your spine.

The arm drive brings it all home. Don’t rely too much on your biceps, which are one of the smaller muscle groups involved. Instead, feel it through your whole arm up to your shoulders and the wings of your back.

In developing your rowing endurance and speed you should think of it in the same way that you would for running. Think both in terms of sprints and long distance.

Set your rowing machine to a long time or distance with less emphasis on reps per minute to build your longer race endurance.

rowing across the atlantic

Rowing Strength

For sprints and conditioning, think HIIT:

High-intensity interval training builds your explosive rowing power, speed and endurance while burning serious calories. With a focus on maximal reps per minute, ‘sprint’ for one minute, followed by one minute of rest or very low-intensity rowing. Start this at 10 minutes (5 mins high intensity in total) and increase as you improve your recovery capability.

Similar to the previous HIIT training tip, you can take a similar approach with a ladder or pyramid training method. These can be broken up into five stages:

1-minute high intensity, 1-minute rest

2 minutes high intensity, 2 minutes rest

3 minutes, high intensity, 3 minutes rest

4 minutes high intensity, 4 minutes rest

5 minutes high intensity, 5 minutes rest

Our next tip? Don’t just row.

What madness is this? Well, to really up your rowing game the secret is to wax on wax off cars. Only joking. But in all seriousness, to improve your rowing ability you might want to think outside the box with ways of developing the muscles that you use to row, along with your cardio health.

Resistance Training

Resistance training to improve rowing involves building your muscle strength in a way that translates to the rowing movement. This means your back, shoulders, biceps, forearms, core and legs.

Upper body

Aim for 3 sets of 8-12 reps of a moderate to high weight for the following:

Standing row

Seated row

Lateral raises

Lateral pull down

Bicep curls

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Core Strength

Core and legs

3 sets of 20 reps of the following:

Stomach crunches

Roman chairlifts

The following leg exercises will also engage and strengthen your core, but the aim here is to build the explosive power in your legs. Work with 3 sets of 6-10 reps of a moderate weight using the following exercises:

Leg press



Cardio Training

One hand washes the other when it comes to cardio training so incorporating running, cycling, boxing, swimming or stepping machines can only help with developing endurance and conditioning. Rowing is a low – zero impact exercise with your feet remaining still. So if you’ve gotten into rowing while recovering from an injury and want to avoid heavier impact through your feet, swimming and cycling are the best ways to prepare.

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Faye Reid

Faye Reid

Writer and expert

Faye Reid has a Master of Science in Sport Physiology and Nutrition. She puts her passion into practice as goal attack for her netball team, and in competitive event riding. Find out more about Faye's experience here: https://www.linkedin.com/in/faye-reid-8b619b122/.

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