Summer Training Programs for Rowing

The spring season has ended, the final 2k’s raced or tested, and you’re ready to start down the road of summer training. How can you use the 12-16 weeks of summer to best set you up for the rest of the year?

First, take a break! If you rowed all the way through spring and in to the championships, you might be on Week 16 or so of spring rowing. You deserve a break, and it will benefit your training too. This is called the “Rejuvenation Phase” if you’re using a block periodized program, and programs throughout geography and time have used the 2-3 weeks following a major competitive season as a time to mentally and physically rest, destress, and heal up from hard training. You will find that your energy rebounds and you’ll be enthusiastic for the next training block, instead of dragging into it and possibly carrying over aches and pains. Use this time to pick up a neglected hobby, enjoy some non-rowing recreation, and loosen up a bit on the diet.

Once you’re rejuvenated and ready to go, outline a few goals for your summer. Good summer goals don’t overlap with your competitive seasons. You shouldn’t be PR’ing your 2k, 6k, or squat max in July. For one, chasing the same goal training cycle after training cycle can mentally burn you out, particularly when it comes to erg training. For another, it isn’t physiologically possibly to be in peak condition year-round, so if you’re peaked in August, chances are you’ll have a hard time reaching that mark again next May when it actually matters.

The purpose of summer training is to lay a foundation for the rest of the year.

Summer training for the spring 2k rower is the General Preparation Block in the block periodization system. This is a perfect time to do more cross-training, a higher variety of exercise, and build some muscle with higher volume training. This also works out perfectly because these are all different goals than your spring training. Set a new PR in a running, cycling, or swimming distance. Learn to scull if you’re a sweep rower. Enjoy the extra recovery time and aim to gain 5-10 pounds of lean bodyweight. Hit a new 8RM squat or deadlift. Cross-training and high variety in the weight-room is crucial during certain periods of the year to offset imbalances caused by rowing and maintain athletic qualities. This is not to say that you can’t erg at all, just that it should be deprioritized compared to the ultra-high specificity of spring training. Summer is also a great time to get in a lot of meters and build a great aerobic and technical base in addition to increased cross-training.

READ: Basics of Strength Training for Rowing

So we know that the General Prep Block is characterized by more cross-training, more variety, and higher volume to undo imbalances and build an aerobic and muscular foundation. Here are two sample programs, one for lightweights and one not, to illustrate how to do just that.

Both of these programs use Jim Wendler’s popular 5/3/1 program for the main work. I really like the 5/3/1 system for a few reasons. It is a simple progression, it is low volume, and there are multiple ways to make progress (weight and reps). 5/3/1 is a great program for the General and Specific Prep periods.

WATCH: The Exercise Guide

“A” exercises are main work and should be performed after a warmup with 2-3 minutes of rest in between sets.

“B” exercises are primary assistance exercises and should be performed with 1-2 minutes of rest between sets. If you see a “B1/B2,” that means to superset the exercises. Perform B1, then B2, then take 1-2 minutes of rest before doing the next set.

“C” exercises are minor assistance exercises and should be performed with about 1 minute of rest between sets. “C1-C3” should be done as a circuit. Do C1, then C2, then C3, then rest 1 minute before doing the next circuit set.

Lightweights Close to Competitive Weight

Goal #1: Improve Peak Power

Goal #2: Improve Muscular Balance

This is designed to keep volume fairly low to still drive strength and power with minimal hypertrophy (muscle size). Both of the “B” exercises should be performed with full explosive intent!

READ: Peak Power Training for Rowing

Day 1: Upper Body

  • Full-Body Warmup
  • A. Overhead Press or Incline Bench: 5/3/1
  • B1. Push Press: 5-10 sets of 2-3 reps, 60-70%1RM
  • B2. Pendlay Row: 5-10 sets of 2-3 reps, 60-70%1RM
  • C1. Face Pull: 2-3 sets of 12-20 reps
  • C2. DB Bench or Pushup: 2-3 sets of 12-20 reps
  • Core

Day 2: Lower Body

  • Full-Body Warmup
  • A. Front Squat: 5/3/1
  • B. Deadlift or High Pull: 5-10 sets of 2-3 reps, 60-70%1RM
  • C1. Batwing Row: 2-3 sets of 12-20 reps, 60-70%1RM
  • C2. Romanian Deadlift: 2-3 sets of 12-20 reps
  • C3. Step-Up or Single-Leg Squat: 2-3 sets of 12-20 reps
  • Core

Not Lightweights

Goal #1: Improve Base Strength

Goal #2: Improve Muscular Balance and Size

Anyone who isn’t a lightweight should be using the off-season to build lean muscle mass to build a foundation of base strength. To accomplish this, this program is higher in volume and lifting bumps up to 3 days per week during the General Prep period. You could do this in a few different ways based on your personal preference.

  1. Upper/Lower/Full (demonstrated below)
  2. Alternate weeks of Upper/Lower/Upper and Lower/Upper/Lower
  3. All 3 Full-Body

Day 1: Overhead Press & Upper Body

  • Full-Body Warmup
  • A. Overhead Press: 5/3/1
  • B1. Incline or Dumbbell Press: 4-5 sets of 8-10
  • B2. Row or Chin-Up: 4-5 sets of 8-10
  • C1. Any Biceps Curl: 2-3 sets of 12-20
  • C2. Any Triceps Extension: 2-3 sets of 12-20
  • C3. Face Pull, Band Pullapart, or Shoulder External Rotation: 2-3 sets of 12-20

Day 2: Squat & Lower Body

  • Full-Body Warmup
  • A. Front or Back Squat: 5/3/1
  • B. Block Pull or Romanian Deadlift: 4-5 sets of 8-10
  • C. Single-Leg Squat: 2-3 sets of 12-20
  • Core

Day 3: Deadlift & Back

  • Full-Body Warmup
  • A. Deadlift: 5/3/1
  • B1. Single-Leg Squat: 4-5 sets of 8-10
  • B2. Row or Chin: 4-5 sets of 8-10
  • C1. Batwing Row: 2-3 sets of 12-20
  • C2. Pushup or Dip: 2-3 sets of 12-20
  • Core

READ: Training Program for Masters Rowers

Both of the above training programs should be easily combined with erg training, sculling, or cross-training to build the aerobic base. Many make the mistake of thinking that gaining muscle necessarily means sacrificing aerobic training and a low bodyfat percentage, and this myth is propagated around the Internet that paints cardiovascular training as a “gains goblin.” This is the furthest thing from the truth, and as a rower, you will regret every ounce you gain if it isn’t accompanied by maintenance of your aerobic system. Only gain weight you want to (and are able to) pull around come fall season on the water.

3 comments

    1. Hi Ian,

      Yes, the days are broken up and labeled “day 1” “day 2” or “day 3.” The letters denote the order in which you do the exercises on each day.

      “A” exercises are main work and should be performed after a warmup with 2-3 minutes of rest in between sets.

      “B” exercises are primary assistance exercises and should be performed with 1-2 minutes of rest between sets. If you see a “B1/B2,” that means to superset the exercises. Perform B1, then B2, then take 1-2 minutes of rest before doing the next set.

      “C” exercises are minor assistance exercises and should be performed with about 1 minute of rest between sets. “C1-C3” should be done as a circuit. Do C1, then C2, then C3, then rest 1 minute before doing the next circuit set.

      Make sense?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *