21-Day Training Plan for Mastering the Rowing Machine

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Rowing is one of the oldest Olympic sports and is enjoyed by millions of people each year. Rowers have become a mainstay in gyms across the country, and in rowing-only studios like Row House, they’ve been a staple at traditional gyms for decades. Rowers are also one of the top choices for home gyms and have even enjoyed some time in the spotlight on popular TV shows like House of Cards.

But like all cross-training machines, there’s a right way and a wrong way to use them. So, no matter where you might land on that spectrum today, if you follow the contents of our plan, you will be well on your way to rowing mastery.

First, let’s start with some introductions. Because while you may think you are acquainted with rowers, we want to be sure you know these machines well and provide you with some invaluable information before you dive deep into one of the best rowing machine workouts around.

Rowing History 101

Some say the rowing machine got its start in 4th century BC Greece as a method for training soldiers, other information finds evidence of its inception in the 13th century, but no one had a patent until the 1800’s so why don’t we start there?

His name was W.B Curtis and rumor has it he was a pretty sick kid, having contracted TB at the ripe old age of ten. But that tragedy might have been his greatest inspiration, because he was not content to remain a “weakling” as many would describe him. By the time Bill, as he was called, neared the end of his teenage years, he was an athletic beast. Dominating in everything he touched from weightlifting to gymnastics to speed skating to sprinting, and, of course rowing.

Bill created a machine that featured a flywheel, which is still at the heart of modern designs, albeit, now it’s a little more updated. College rowing teams went wild over Bill’s invention and not much changed until the 1970’s when weight was added to create tension. Adjustable resistance came along in the 80’s, digitalization in the 90’s, and today there are too many bells and whistles to list, but it’s fair to say there’s pretty much a rowing machine for every rower out there and they are a great way to work your entire body, achieve myriad health benefits, and rowing is one of the most effective ways to lose weight.

Row Gently Down the Stream

Because rowing is low impact and easy on the joints, it’s a great cross-training option for exercisers of all ages and ability, regardless of their fitness goals. And with a positive “rating of perceived exertion” (how easy or difficult an activity feels), rowing is an attractive choice for everyone. And the only information people need to remember to operate indoor rowers with proper form, according to champion rower Josh Crosby, are three things: order, power, and timing.

The order goes like so…legs, core, arms. Push off from the foot pedals, then arms, core, legs, as you return back to a bent leg position.

Most of your power comes from your legs, notes Josh, because you are pushing and driving with your lower body as you burst away from the base of the machine. (Although rowers work the whole body, or nine major muscle groups to be exact.)

Crosby recommends a count of 1, 2, 3 from the starting position as you press away, and 1, 2, 3, 4 as you come back in. (The extra count on the return goes to the legs. For instance: Legs, core, arms (are each one count from the starting position on the outward strokes) then arms, core, legs, legs (doubling the time to bend your legs as you did to straighten them, in an effort to allow them to recover on each of the return strokes.)

NOTE: To make sure you are using good technique check that the basics are in place: foot straps should be secured near the balls of your feet, and your grip should be wide on the handle to get maximum benefit from the strokes in your arms and upper body, and also to prevent injury in your shoulders.

Rowers Are Still Making a Splash

One of the best reasons to row, besides getting a full-body workout, is that the indoor rower strengthens all those places our modern desk and device culture dulls. It opens our chest after we’ve been hunched over our phone or laptop all day. It strengthens the backside of our body (upper back, lower back, glutes, and hamstrings) typically stationary from all the sitting we do, and it’s a great way to crush our core, which can really get soft with a prolonged habit of poor posture. So after weeks, months, and years of keyboard clicking, clear your cookies (and those are the only types of cookies allowed in this post, because the other types of cookies are counterproductive) and get ready to row your way to health and happiness.

And that’s precisely what we intend to have you do with the contents of our three week plan (one of the best rowing training plans WE know of) until you’re ship shape!

Meet the 500 Meter Split

Rowing speed is typically measured by the time it takes you to row 500m. If you’re one of our new rowers, you might not have any idea what the difference between sprint or jog stroke rates feel like so we have an easy trick to help.

First, just get rowing and don’t pay attention to the time. Once you’re feeling fired up, set your distance for 500m and do your thing, strong and long. At 500m check your time at each 100 meter distance. If your stroke rates or “splits” are close, like so 1:45, 1:46, 1:47, 1:46, 1:46,  it’s likely that this range is your true split. But if it’s more like 1:45, 1:57, 2:15, 2:18, 2:13, you probably gassed it at the top and ran out of juice at the bottom, so use that information to pace yourself at the front moving forward.

Regardless of your stroke rates at the start of the program, as you become more efficient and powerful with our rowing machine workouts, the time it takes you to cover 500m will decrease. The contents of the 21-day rowing plan we’ve put together will help you do just that while strengthening you all over and burning tons of calories. You’ll be surprised how much you can accomplish in just three weeks.

 

Our training plan features four workouts for rowers to be varied over a three-week span:

  1. Rowing + Strength Training Workout – A warm up, cool down and express 30-minute cardio workout with small bouts of strength and mobility work to break up your time rowing.

This cardio workout will help you build stamina and power on the rower. Short blocks of rowing are interspersed with mobility and strength work to benefit your legs, arms, core, and upper back. Each time you complete this workout, the total number of meters you can row will increase. Not to mention it’s one of the best rowing workouts for weight loss.

  1. Strength Training Workout – A warm up, cool down and full-body workout using a suspension trainer (i.e. TRX) to challenge you from head to toe.

You’ll complete 10 reps of each exercise, twice through. If time permits, complete a third round. Minimize downtime between exercises.

  1. Cardio Workout – A warm up, cool down and modular, 45-minute endurance cardio workout of your choice. These sessions can be shortened if needed.

Each week you’ll complete at least one endurance cardio workout. The type of aerobic exercise you do is up to you! You could certainly use the rower, though you might not find rowing for a continuous 45 minutes doable in the beginning. But when you do, it will be one of the best rowing workouts for weight loss! In the meantime, consider the treadmill (walking, jogging, or running), elliptical, or an exercise bike. You can complete your workout indoors or out. Your focus should be on moving through a variety of intensities throughout the 45 minutes, so maybe incorporate a HIIT workout portion here and there. If you’re just getting started or easing back into working out after an extended break, feel free to work up to the 45 minutes. You can either decrease the timing of any of the three challenge sections, or complete 1 or 2 blocks. Be sure to always include a warm up and cool down.

  1. Core Workout – A warm up, cool down and short workout focused on core and mobility. Add cardio to this workout (preferably rowing!) if time permits.

Squats, lunges, scorpions, planks, bridges, etc…all designed to crush that core and get you ready to row like a pro.

Need more rowing ideas, consider this…

One way to keep your cardio rowing-specific is to use “erg” sessions. Erg is short for ergometer and it is a way to measure exertion. Rowing machines are often equipped with ergs because tracking your progress during rowing sessions is something rowers value. (Like the 500m split we talked about above.)

According to our information, one of the most popular erg session training plans was developed by a guy named Pete Marston, who created something known as The Pete Plan. Pete wanted a way to work out during his lunch hour so he devised a training program (well, he calls them training programmes, because he’s a Brit) to accomplish just that, and it’s also a three-week plan, which means it fits within training “programmes” like ours.

The following excerpt is taken from Lunch Hour – The Pete Plan Blog. Rowing training programs for the time crunched. Per Pete, “The main concept behind the Pete Plan is that you do one speed interval session, and one endurance interval session per week, and then as much distance work as you have time for.” Note that all Pete’s sessions are rowing-only, so choose the time and distance you prefer on the days it’s relevant for you and your fitness level and goals.

Week 1:

8 x 500m / 3min30 rest

Steady distance (~8 to 15k)

5 x 1500m / 5min rest

Steady distance (~8 to 15k)

Hard distance (~5k+)

Steady distance (~8 to 15k)

Rest

Week 2:

250m, 500m, 750m, 1k, 750m, 500m, 250m / 1min30 rest per 250m work

Steady distance (~8 to 15k)

4 x 2000m / 5min rest

Steady distance (~8 to 15k)

Hard distance (~5k+)

Steady distance (~8 to 15k)

Rest

Week 3:

4 x 1000m / 5min rest

Steady distance (~8 to 15k)

3k, 2.5k, 2k / 5min rest

Steady distance (~8 to 15k)

Hard distance (~5k+)

Steady distance (~8 to 15k)

Rest

 

We’ve kept the duration of each of our workout sessions relatively short (except for the endurance cardio day). But everyone’s starting point and abilities are different, so do what you can to begin and build from there. The good news is, you’ll be progressing in no time.

Remember: Make sure to track your 500-meter split times to see how far you’ve come!

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