Rowing: Strength

Why Strength Matters in Rowing

What’s the point of all this, anyway? Take a look at the research and maths and see why increasing your force may be the difference between the podium and the “also-rans!”

Basics of Strength Training for Rowing

  1. Understand that periodization is necessary to adequately train all qualities necessary for success in rowing.
  2. Keep your rowing-specific training to the erg and on the water and use the weight-room for strength training and injury prevention.
  3.  “Fatigue masks fitness,” so adjust your training volume to match each season’s focus so that you are at your fittest and fastest when it matters most.

Free Preview of “Rowing Stronger: Strength Training to Maximize Rowing Performance”

Read the first two chapters for free. Published by Rowperfect UK, this is the only comprehensive strength training resource published JUST for rowers. It contains everything you’d need to know to write a program from start to championship finish, stay healthy and injury-free along the way, and carry that strength over to improved rowing performance in the boat. Rowing Stronger is 77 pages with illustrations, graphics, specific exercise prescriptions for rowing performance and injury prevention, the exact taper cycle I used with WWU rowing in 2014, an example of an annual periodization plan, and full bibliography.

10 Best Strength Training Exercises for Rowing

If I could only do 10 lifts for injury prevention AND rowing performance, what would they be? Here’s my list and my case for each exercise.

Peak Power Training for Rowing

  1. Peak power may be a limiting factor for many rowers, not aerobic fitness or muscular endurance.
  2. Given attention to exercise selection and proper form, weight-training is a highly effective way to develop power applicable to rowing.
  3. In a 2009 article, renowned strength coach and Rowing Faster contributor Ed McNeely posited that aerobic fitness becomes less of a limiting factor and more of a baseline standard for rowers as rowing’s competition level increases and talent pool widens. In the world of competitive sports, the game-within-the-game is how to gain a lawful edge over your opponents in training or competing. According to McNeely, excellent aerobic fitness has lost that edge and is now just a baseline requirement for competitiveness in the sport. McNeely cites several studies that support his claim that, “outside of technique, the one physical factor that is emerging as being the best predictor of rowing performance is peak power.”

Two Free Summer Training Programs

Check out how to put your training together using the principles of the General Preparation Block to build a broad base of aerobic endurance and strength to set you up for the rest of the year.

Summer Training Bundle: The General Prep Block

A collection of my articles to guide your summer training in the general prep block. Note that the seasonal outlines are designed with the spring 2k rower in mind. The methods are the same, but your arrangement of training blocks will be different if you row in a different competitive season (eg. summer competitive masters rowers).

Fall Training: The Specific Prep Block

General vs. Specific Block differences and how to design this block of training to produce the best results for you and your annual rowing performance goals.

Low Back Pain in Rowing: Stretching Sequence

9 times out of 10, when one of my rowers says, “coach, my back hurts,” a few sessions of this stretching sequence plus some general foam rolling of the lower body has them right before their next workout. This is also a great 10-minute mobility series during heavy training times and as general prevention of low back pain in rowing.

Why I Hate the Bench Pull

The bench pull is the single most overrated and dangerous lift in rowing. It has low specificity to rowing, is a known cause and risk of rib stress fractures, and there are too many other exercises superior to the bench pull to make it worth doing.

Core Training for Rowing

  1. Full Tension Plank
  2. Pallof Press
  3. Lying Pallof Press
  4. Compound Exercises

5 Lifts to Make You a Better Rower, Part 1

Lower body lifts: Front Squat, High Pull, Romanian Deadlift, Banded Good Morning, Single Leg Squat

5 Lifts to Make You a Better Rower, Part 2

Upper body lifts: Pendlay Row, Face Pull, Batwing, Overhead Press, Inverted Bodyweight Row

How to Train Your Rower: The Squat

Most rowing programs are fortunate to have one strength coach, let alone a sufficiently sized coaching staff to adequately instruct 20+ athletes all at once. This is the system I use to teach a large group of rowers the basic exercises in a manner that is both time and space efficient while making sure that athletes receive quality instruction.

FAQ: Squatting for Rowing

  • Front squat, back squat, or single leg squat, does it matter?
  • Don’t squats hurt your knees?
  • How often should I max out? If I don’t max out, how will I know I’m improving?
  • Is it better to go heavier or go deeper? How deep is deep enough?
  • Should my stance be as narrow as it is in the boat? Is it OK if I turn my toes out?

How to Train Your Rower: The Deadlift

The deadlift is one of the best exercises out there for rowing performance. Correctly executed, the deadlift teaches the rower to apply force through the legs while maintaining a braced torso to transfer power through the arms to lift the barbell. The deadlift also requires great torso strength from the abdominals and back, making it an excellent exercise for the entire trunk stabilizing muscles. Finally, the deadlift forces the rower to go through a full hip extension cycle, something that doesn’t happen in the normal rowing stroke, and using the hip muscles through a full range of motion is great for injury prevention. Swap out the barbell for an oar and you’ve got an athlete who knows how to put power down with the legs while keeping a tight braced torso and putting all of their strength to work.

FAQ: Deadlifts for Rowing

  • How should I set my stance? Should I do sumo deadlifts?
  • Should I use straps, double-overhand, or mixed grip when deadlifting?
  • Should I wear a belt?
  • Should I reset every rep or do touch-and-go?
  • Should I do 25+ reps for endurance or 1-rep maxes for strength?

Mastering the Hip Hinge

The hip hinge is a key basic athletic movement that must be mastered to perform many strength training exercises in the weight-room. Squat, deadlift, push press, and Olympic lift variations are all highly reliant on this fundamental ability, plus, a rock-solid hip hinge has numerous benefits to whatever sport you play. The hip hinge is the basis of the fundamental athletic position. Building strength and endurance of the back, glute, hamstring, quad, and calf muscles involved in hip hinging will make you powerful in many elements of your game.

How to Train Your Rower: Overhead Press

The overhead press is one of the best upper body exercises for rowers. Not only will it help you go “up and over heads,” the overhead press is a great exercise for scapular function and strengthening the whole upper back and shoulder muscles. However, this lift is often executed incorrectly in ways that fail to reap the rewards of this great exercise and have the potential to cause injury. Quality execution is critical in all exercises to gain the full benefit of strength training.

FAQ: Overhead Press for Rowing

  • What do I do if I have a mobility restriction?
  • Why should I OHP instead of just bench or incline press?
  • Strict OHP vs. Push Press
  • Is barbell OHP the only option or can I use dumbbells or kettlebells?

Exercise Selection for Athletes

  1. Embrace and enjoy the process. Be comfortable putting the work in early in the process to reap the rewards later.
  2. Make sure your training is appropriate for your sport and your level. A proper training program will address your personal needs and the demands of your sport to make you better at your sport and more durable with injury prevention.
  3. Sports training, whether on the field or in the weight-room, is all about mastery. Master the basics before moving on to more complex training methods.

Effective Circuit Training for Team Sports

  1. Training with weights doesn’t have to be time-and-space-consuming if you have pre-planned workouts and structure within the weight-room.
  2. Implementing effective circuit training can improve safety, team unity, and quality of session.

Maximize Your Off-Season

  1. The off-season is an important time to heal any injuries and restore bilateral symmetry from muscle imbalances caused by competitive sport.
  2. Having a structured off-season away from a primary sport helps maintain long-term enthusiasm in that sport.
  3. The off-season is a critical time to set yourself up for the next season by correcting bad habits, improving movement patterns, developing muscle size and strength as well as aerobic conditioning and speed in ways you cannot while competing in your primary sport.

Staying Fit for Rowing Away from Training

It’s summer time and many of us are thinking of time away from the boathouse, ergometer, and spin bike. Often, this is out of our control, such as in the case of the high school student who has a summer job that conflicts with open gym or boathouse times. Sometimes this is in our control, such as a planned vacation or conscious choice to move rowing to the backburner for a few weeks or months and focus on other activities. The competitive athlete will never want to give up an edge to their competition, so while there is no true replacement for time in the boat or on the erg, here is how to stay in as good shape as possible to make smooth the transition back to specific training.

5 Reasons to Hire a Strength Coach

Lifting weights is not as easy or simple as turning a group of athletes loose in the gym, or handing them a program and saying “go ahead.” If you’re a sport coach or an athlete, ask yourself: what would happen if we tried that system with sport practice? As a strength coach as well as a sport coach, I see a great disconnect between the two, almost as though many sport coaches believe that simply being around a weight-room will confer benefits of greater strength and power for their athletes. Here are my main reasons that athletes should work with strength coaches for at least part of the competitive year, if not year-round.

Periodization: Better Training, Better Performance

“Periodization” sounds like a complex idea, but the term simply means having a system or organization to your training. Most programs follow some sort of periodization system, though some are easier to recognize than others. The exact names and systems aren’t as important as making sure that you have some sort of logical progression and organization for your training. One thing that all periodization systems share is a process of prioritizing one goal over another, whether it’s for the short-term (workout-by-workout), medium-term (week-by-week), or long-term (months at a time). The advantage of periodization, as opposed to a do-everything-at-once-ization, is the ability to focus on one main objective at a time.

Rowing Faster After 50

The following is an excerpt of the Masters Rowers chapter from my e-book, Rowing Stronger: Strength Training to Maximize Rowing Performance, available now published by Rowperfect. This is the only comprehensive strength training resource just for competitive rowers. Learn basics of strength training programming, how to taper for peak performance on race day, specific injury-prevention exercises for rowers, and how to make boats go fast! This isn’t a “print-and-go” program to be accepted blindly. You’ll learn how to program for yourself and maximize your own training for performance on the water.

Strength Training for Masters Rowers, Part II

The previous excerpt from “Rowing Stronger” discussed training and strength training at a broad level for masters rowers with topics of recovery, exercise progression, and injury prevention. After I got a shout-out from renowned masters coach Marlene Royle on a recent Rowing Chat podcast, I received several questions from masters rowers about specifics of strength training and how to start training if you are 50+ years old and have never really lifted before. Here’s my advice for how to start strength training for a male or female masters rower.

A Better Deload Week for Rowing

What is a deload, why is it valuable in your training plan, and four different options to find the best deload week for you.

Lifting for Retired Athletes

What do you do in the gym when you aren’t training for a sport anymore?

Building a Home Gym for Rowing Training

My four required pieces of equipment plus four recommended pieces, and videos for what to do with all of them.

Safe Supplementation for Athletes

How do you know what is useful and safe from what you should avoid when considering sports supplements?