August 9, 2022

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The Rowing Workout Plan To Build All-Round Fitness

7 min read

Wouldn’t it be amazing if there was one piece of gym equipment that did it all: developed your cardio fitness, built strength – both muscular and mental – and helped you to get lean? Well, there is. It’s called the rowing machine, and with this weekly indoor rowing workout plan you’ll improve your strength and cardio fitness over four sessions a week.

The biggest benefit of using a rowing machine is that it works the whole body, targeting 86% of your muscles. Your legs will get the bulk of the exercise, with a rowing stroke being made up of about 65-75% lower-body movement. The rest of the stroke is powered by your arms, back and core.

You’ll also get a great cardiovascular workout that allows you to improve your anaerobic threshold as well as developing your endurance.

The Rowing Workout Plan Explained

This plan uses four different types of workout because if you want to maximise the improvements to your fitness, it pays to mix it up. Some sessions will primarily build endurance while others are more strength-based. Varying your workouts may also help to sustain your interest, meaning you’re more likely to keep to the plan, and a consistent training routine is more important than any single workout.

The plan fits in four sessions a week, which might seem low if you’re used to training every day, but don’t forget that rest days are essential to allow your body to repair. If you really want to add more exercise, you can do weight training to complement this programme, as well as stretching, yoga or Pilates sessions.

Rowing technique

Before embarking on this plan make sure your technique is sound. This ensures that you’re maximising your performance – the better your form, the more effective your training will be – and reducing the chances of injury. Our guide to rowing technique is essential reading.

Setting the resistance

If your rowing machine has a damper or dial to adjust the resistance, you may be used to setting it to maximum. This isn’t always the best choice, though. A low to medium setting will give you the most effective workout and can help to protect your back.

Strokes per minute

The recommended strokes per minute (SPM) may be lower than what you’re used to, but the focus of the plan is in efficiency and preserving good technique. Before you increase your effort level try to stick to the suggested SPM for a few sessions – you might be surprised by how well it works.

Exertion levels

The suggested exertion level is on a scale of 1 to 4.

  1. Pace that you could sustain over a long period.
  2. Sustainable, but starting to get out of breath.
  3. Strenuous, but not completely maxed out.
  4. Everything you’ve got.

Stretching

You should focus on stretching your lats, triceps, quads, hip flexors, hamstrings and glutes. If you don’t have an existing routine, try this cool-down stretching session.

Workout 1: HIIT

This session requires you to row at maximum effort with rests in between, with the goal of developing your muscular strength and cardio fitness. Try to maintain your split (how long it takes you to row 500m) throughout the workout. If you find you can’t maintain that level of effort, increase the amount of rest and lower the work interval.

Warm-up

Time 5min

Build up the pace and intensity gradually reach 30SPM at full exertion.

Workout

Sets 15 Time 30sec Rest 30sec Intensity 4 SPM 28-30

Progression: increase the work time and decrease rest time by five seconds each week.

Adaptation: reduce the work time and increase the rest time.

Warm-down

Time 5min

Finish with a light paddle, then stretch.

Workout 2: Anaerobic Threshold Workout

Oh, the burn! Prepare yourself because this workout is tough, but it will improve your aerobic capacity and anaerobic threshold level. The stroke rate increases twice in the final four minutes and by the end of each 10-minute set you should feel you’ve reached your limit. You then have four minutes of rest – plenty of time to fully recover from going all-out and getting ready to do it all again. Aim to keep your split consistent between the three intervals and if you’re losing a lot of power by the third set, aim to pace yourself in the earlier intervals the next time you complete the workout.

Warm-up

Time 5min

Build up the pace and intensity gradually to reach 28SPM.

Workout

Repeat the following three times in total.

  1. Time 6min Intensity 3 SPM 24
  2. Time 2min Intensity 3 SPM 26
  3. Time 2min Intensity 3 SPM 28
  4. Rest 4min

Progression: reduce the rest period to three minutes. Aim to beat your score from the previous week.

Adaptation: start with two sets rather than three and/or increase rest to five minutes.

Warm-down

Time 5min

Finish with a light paddle, then stretch.

Workout 3: Steady State

Leave your ego at the door for this steady-state session. The goal is to build your endurance and aerobic capacity. Make sure you’re rowing at a pace where you can talk, even if just in short sentences and if you’re familiar with your UT2 zone, try to keep within it. If you want to build on it, increase the length of time you row for rather than increasing the level of exertion.

Warm-up

Time 5min

Build up the pace and intensity gradually until you reach 18-20SPM. If you are pushed for time, use the first five minutes of the workout to warm up.

Workout

Time 40min Intensity 1-2 SPM 18-20

Progression: row for longer, working up to an hour.

Adaptation: start with 20 minutes and build up to 40 minutes over subsequent sessions.

Warm-down

Stretch for five minutes – if you’ve kept it steady you shouldn’t need the usual five minute light paddle.

Workout 4: Mat Attack

Rowing studios that combine indoor rowing with mat work have taken the fitness world by storm. You don’t need to join a class to benefit from this style of workout, though – just try this studio-style session, alternating rowing sprints with circuit training. The goal is to improve your overall conditioning, developing full-body muscular strength and aerobic fitness. If you’re not used to doing circuits, this may take more out of you than you expect. Make sure you include stretching at the end of this workout as well.

The session should take about 30-35 minutes plus warm-down and stretching. If you add a core circuit you can bring it up to an hour in total.

Progression: Add free weights to the mat exercises and/or repeat the final round or add a core circuit at the end.

Adaptation: complete just one round of the sections on the mat work and/or increase the rest periods.

Warm-up

Time 8min

Build from 20SPM at light effort on the rowing machine to 28SPM at firm effort.

Section 1

Complete two rounds in total of the following circuit.

1 Curtsy lunge

Time 1min Rest 0sec

Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart. Take a step back with your right foot, but also move it behind your left leg so your right foot lands outside of your left. Bend both knees to 90°, then push up through your front foot to return to the starting position. Alternate sides with each rep.

2 Jump squat

Time 1min Rest 20sec

Stand with your feet hip-width apart. Bend your knees and push your hips back to lower until your thighs are parallel with the floor. Push through your heels and explode to jump straight up. Land softly and continue straight into the next rep.

Section 2

Get back on the rowing machine and complete this sequence of intervals.

Sets 6 Time 40sec hard at 26-28SPM Recover 20sec light at 22SPM

Section 3

Complete two rounds in total of the following circuit.

1 Reverse lunge

Time 1min Rest 0sec

Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart. Take a step straight back with your right foot. Bend both knees to 90°, then push up through your front foot to return to the starting position. Alternate sides with each rep.

2 Burpee

Time 1min Rest 20sec

Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart. Fold forwards at your hips and bend your knees to place your hands on the floor outside of your feet, then jump your feet back to land in a top press-up position. Jump your feet forwards again to your hands, then jump straight up and bring your hands above your head. Land softly and continue straight into the next rep.

Section 4

Get back on the rowing machine and complete this sequence of intervals. Finish on the mat taking no, or minimal, rest.

1 Row

Sets 5 Time 30sec hard at 28-30SPM Recover 20sec light at 22SPM

2 Mountain climbers

Time 1min Rest 0sec

Get into the high plank position on your hands and feet, with your arms extended and hands beneath your shoulders, and your body forming a straight line from head to feet. Bring one knee towards your chest, then the other. Repeat at pace.

3 Press-up

Time 1min Rest 0sec

Get into the high plank position on your hands and feet, with your arms extended and hands beneath your shoulders, and your body forming a straight line from head to feet. Bend your elbows to lower your chest to the floor, then push back up powerfully. Keep your body in a straight line throughout. Make the move easier by placing your knees on the floor.

Warm-down

Time 5min

Finish with a light paddle on the rowing machine, then stretch.

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