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Rowing Workouts

Marines rowingWhether you are training to compete in the Oxford-Cambridge Boat Race or just want to lose weight and get fit, then a rowing fitness program could be ideal. Rowing requires an excellent balance of both upper and lower body strength and endurance.

Structured Training

If you want to get really fit using a rowing machine it is a good idea to follow some sort of structured training. Best results come from following an interval training program with complimentary weight training.

Warm Up

It is important to warm up well before rowing, especially to ensure that your back and shoulder are limbered up and the blood is flowing well to these areas. An active warm up can be considered part of the exercise, so if you are aiming to workout for 1 hour a day to help lose weight, then you do not need to work out at full intensity for the whole hour if your warm up is sufficiently active.

Stretching before warming up and again after completing the workout is also recommended. For a general rowing workout the warm-up should be about 10 minutes long. If you plan to do a very intense workout at a race pace then you should warm up for up to 20 minutes to really get the body well prepared for the exertion ahead.

The warm up just involves rowing at a moderate pace, keeping your heart rate relatively low, no more than twice its normal resting pace. Likewise you should cool down after a session in a similar manner, rowing for about 10-15 minutes at a very easy pace. This should be followed by some stretching.

Rowing Technique

Key tips for rowing:

  • Remember to keep your arms and wrists straight when rowing.
  • Do not lean back too far, nor lean forward too far.
  • In the forward position your knees should finish above your ankles, no further forward.
  • When pulling back keep your back straight and only lean backward slightly to end the stroke, and bring your hands to your waist.
  • Your chin should be above the middle of your seat.
  • When pulling you should concentrate on working your legs, back and arms in unison so that when you reach the end of each row, everything stops at once.

Your Rowing Workout


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Your rowing workout should really depend on your goals. If your first goal is to just get fit and lose some weight, then it is important to start slow and easy, at a pace that suits you.

Many training guides will provide training plans with speed and durations, but if you are not fit to start with you will quickly struggle with these plans.

Build up your fitness, strength and stamina and then work towards a more structured plan later on, if that is your desire. To start with aim to increase your daily workload. To increase fitness you can start by ensuring that on each workout you increase one of these statistics:

  • Duration of workout – As you get fitter you will be able to workout for longer. This may not always be your goal, as in time you will be able to row for hours if you want to, but this may not be the best way to use your time. So once you have reached a comfortable workout time, say 30-60 minutes of continuous exercise, you can start looking to improve other factors.
  • Average Speed – If you increase your average speed in each workout you will be increasing the amount of work you do, and the calories you burn, in any given time. So if you decide to workout for 30 minutes, but in each session you increase your average speed, you are working harder in each workout. But average speed is not the only indicator of increased work. A more accurate indicator is the calorie / joules counter.
  • Energy Consumed – If your rowing machine has a calorie counter (of joules counter) then you can find out how much energy you are using to row per session. If you always row for the same length of time at the same average speed, the calories consumed will remain constant. To burn more calories, you need to increase one of 2 factors: speed or resistance.
  • Increase Resistance – All good rowers have a way to vary the resistance. The higher the resistance is, the hard it is to pull and therefore the more effort that is required. More effort = more calories. Increase the resistance and you can continue to row at the same speed over the same duration and become fitter, stronger and burn more calories, which means you should lose more weight.

Rowing With Interval Training

To make a rowing workout more interesting than just rowing at a steady pace for 45 minutes you can perform an interval training approach. Interval training has been shown to help people lose weight and get fit more effectively. The easiest way to perform interval training on your rowing machine at home is to simply plan to row for a set time, say 45 minutes, and then perform 3 intensive intervals, where you row at full pace for 2-3 minutes. Once the 2-3 minutes is finished, you row at a recovery pace, then repeat. A typical session could be like this:

  • 0 Minutes - Start with a warm-up row, working at approximately 200% of your resting heart beat.
  • 10 Minutes – Row at a medium intensity for 3 minutes. You should aim to row at a pace that allows you to complete the 3 minutes at the medium pace, but not have too much steam left at the end. When the time is over, lower your speed.
  • 20 Minutes – You should have now had 7 minutes recovery from your medium intensity interval, so now do a full intensity interval for 2 minutes. This should be at your full speed on the highest resistance level that you can handle. When the 2 minutes is over lower the resistance and your speed.
  • 30 Minutes – Another interval at medium to high intensity, but this time 3 minutes. As you train more you should be able to determine what your medium and full intensity pace is. You should work harder than the first interval, but not so hard as the second.
  • 33 to 45 Minutes – After the last interval you can then wind down and workout at a steady pace at an easy resistance level. This is your cool down session.

During your first workouts you will not know what speed you need to row at for each interval, but if you keep notes you should in time have a good idea of what you are capable of rowing. This style of workout is excellent at getting you fit and burning fat.

Fun FactHugh Laurie, a.k.a. Dr Gregory House, was a highly skilled rower and rowed for Cambridge and Britain!

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