Top 5 Indoor Rowing Workouts

If you’re tired of the treadmill, step off that beaten belt and try a more stimulating endurance challenge — rowing workouts.

“If you take the time to learn rowing technique, it’s one of the best exercises you can do for cardio,” says Jack Nunn, former member of the U.S. Under 23 National Team, US Rowing Masters 2013 Athlete of the Year and owner of Roworx, an indoor rowing fitness center in Long Beach, CA. The low-to-the-ground, long machine engages your legs, back, core and arms, delivering an intense full-body cardio experience. Best of all? Rowing won’t put as much stress on your knee and hip joints as running does, meaning that this type of training is ideal for people of all ages, sizes and walks of life.


The Warmup

Make sure to spend about 10-15 minutes to properly warm up and stretch before any of the following workouts are done. In rowing we always use the ‘pic drill’ to warm up by starting with just using our arms and then gradually working our way up the slide.

These Pic Drills are a very effective learning tool for correcting problem areas and achieving a new level of mastery during the stroke. This allows you to focus more energy on less work and creates muscle memory more effectively and more quickly. You can incorporate the ‘pic drill’ a couple of times during your warm up as you ease into more power per stroke at a steady stroke rate.

Pic Drill:

Arms Only

  • Sitting at the finish/back of the stroke with your legs fully extended make sure to release the hands quick away from the body and then pull into the abdomen with ratio.
  • The upper body remains in the layback position and wrists should remain flat and relaxed while the handle moves in and out from the body at a level position.

Arms And Back

  • Legs remain fully extended and knees are flat while the upper body hinges from the hips and the arms reach out towards the ankles and feet.
  • The upper body swings into the layback position as the arms pulls the hands into the finish position.
  • The arms relax and release the hands away from the body.
  • The upper body follows through on the motion until reaching toward the legs.

Segmented Slide

  • Quarter Slide – Just like the arms and back portion of the drill but now you incorporate the legs with a slight bend in the knee as you approach just a 1/4 of the slide. Like a mini squat stroke.
  • Half Slide – Same movement as above but now just a bit more up the slide until you reach halfway and then push the legs like a half squat.
  • 3/4 Slide – This part of the stroke I call a lengthened stroke in which it is almost a full stroke but not quite.
  • Full Slide – Maintaining control and ratio throughout the stroke, make sure to emphasize full straight arm extension and pivot from the hips in order to lean forward while keeping your shin and shoulders relaxed and keeping the seat about 6-8 inches away from the heels.

Row each position continuously for 10-20 strokes and then move on to the next segmented part of the stroke until the full slide is reached.

The Workouts

Ready to row? Try one of these five conditioning sessions suggested by Nunn. And we’ve got some good news: You don’t even need to time your own intervals. All of the top 3 workouts are pre-programmed in the monitor of the Concept 2 rower and the next two workouts are easy to program on the monitor.

Read the tips below, do the 10-minute Pick Drill above, then cue up your routine by choosing “Select Workout” from the main menu, then tapping “Custom List” on the rowing monitor, and picking your poison.jack-rowing-marina-1-machines

Rowing Workout 1: HIIT Sprints (30/30r in Concept 2 menu)

If you’re short on time, these high-intensity intervals will give you a quick sweat fix. Improve your strength and explosive power in just 20 minutes (not including warm-up or cool down). You’ll burn roughly 300 calories in total, says Nunn. Keep your stroke rate between 26 and 32 and always be in control of how fast your legs are moving.

Rowing Workout 2: Lean Leapfrog (v1:00/1:00r in Concept 2 menu)

Compete against yourself during these aggressive bursts. While most rowing workouts are aerobic, this one is designed to be anaerobic. Similar to a weightlifting session, you’ll exert your muscles enough to produce lactate which leaves you with that burns-so-good feeling.

Ultimately, an anaerobic rowing machine session will help you increase your power output and endurance because you’ll be forced to tap into the strength of your legs. While paying strict attention to your stroke rate, try to maintain or increase your meters rowed during each “on” minute. This challenging row is 40 minutes and will burn roughly 700 calories, says Nunn.

Rowing Workout 3: Pyramid Power (v1:00/1:00r in Concept 2 menu)

Try this intermediate challenge to improve endurance and consistency with your rowing. For each interval, aim to keep the same workout intensity, or pace. You can check this by looking at watts or by changing your units to “time per 500 meters” on the display. Be warned: Just because you’re rowing and resting for the same amount of time doesn’t mean it’s going to be easy! Your hard work will burn roughly 450 calories.

Rowing Workout 4:  ‘Speed Play’ Workout (30-20-10) 4 minutes/sets of 30-20-10 on and 2 minutes rest

You can start this workout by utilizing 4 sets of 30 seconds moderate pace at stroke rate 28 – 20 seconds at a hard and fast pace at 30 strokes per minute – 10 seconds for an all out fast sprint at 32 strokes per minute and following this 4 minute workout routine you can set 2 minutes for rest. You can do 3-4 intervals of this workout which brings you to a total workout time ranging from 20-30 minutes with the warm up included.


This is usually reserved for running workouts but you can easily incorporate this awesome workout on the Concept 2 rowing machine. This workout is probably the easiest way to tackle speedwork as it ramps up the pace when you feel good and slow down when you need a break.

This classic workout strategy, called fartlek (Swedish for “speed play”), alternates easy and hard rowing–you decide how long and how fast–and is used by both newcomers and Olympic-caliber athletes.

For new rowers, the flexibility makes fartlek rows and workouts an ideal introduction to speedwork. Fartleks allow the body to gradually adjust to harder training without being forced to stick to a particular pace or distance.The heart works harder, as do the specific rowing muscles, but because you’re in control, it allows for an easier adaptation.

For seasoned rowers, freelancing a tough workout provides respite from the grind of hitting splits and watts and a chance to tune into how an effort feels.

Whatever your goals, injecting a little playtime into your rowing routine can help you hit your target while building strength and endurance in the process.jack-row-erg

Rowing Workout 5: One And One Workout (1 Minute On And 1 Minute Rest x 10-15 reps)

This is very straight forward workout designed to get individuals focused specifically on what they are doing for one minute a time during the workout. Each minute is designed to be intense and hard working making sure you are getting the highest watts and lowest split possible on the monitor.

Each minute is a ‘Focus Piece’ in which the individual will think about one technical cue only throughout the 26-32 strokes per minute workout. I usually start with the head and chin position and then work my way down the rest of the body to enhance technical skills to drive out more power from each of the bodies movements.

Example of the workout can be to focus on one technical aspect of the rowing stroke for one minute at a time.

Minute 1: Chin level and shoulders relaxed

Minute 2: Straight arm hang. Feel the latissimus dorsi stretch throughout the middle of the back as you push against the footboards and hang off the legs.

Minute 3: Breath twice per stroke. Exhale at the catch (front of the stroke) and the finish (back of the stroke)

Minute 4: Hook the catch. Make sure the feet, seat, and hands all hook up at the same time at the catch which is one of the most important parts of the rowing stroke.

Minute 5: Light and wide grip on the handle. Making sure the hands are wide apart and relaxed near the end of the edge of your fingers and the thumbs are below the handle.

Minute 6: Keep the chain level and don’t let it bounce or move to high up or down. Focus at the front of the chain during the rowing stroke and don’t let it move too much or shake/bounce.

Minute 7: Legs down fast. Look down at the knees and tell them to go down as fast as possible in order to get more power and efficiency out of each rowing stroke.

Minute 9: Shins vertical. Again making sure you are getting compression at the catch (front end of the stroke) pivoting forward from the hips and keeping the seat 6-8 inches away from the heels.

Minute 10: Put everything together and make the stroke perfect every time while trying to hold the exact same split or watt power average for every single stroke.

What makes a rowing athlete special? Lungs, heart, legs? It turns out rowers must have it all.
Olympic Doctor, Henning Bay Nielsen explains more in the following video…

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