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Exercises to become a stronger rower

Rowperfect recently received the following question from a reader: “I’m a new rower and I compete in school … read more

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Rowperfect recently received the following question from a reader: “I’m a new rower and I compete in school regattas. I was wondering what exercises I could do to become a stronger rower?”  Emma Shaw is one of our guest bloggers and has written this answer

Here are a few suggestions for developing the kinds of strength needed for successful rowing:

Weight Training

A great way to complement your work in the boat and on the erg is through weight training. You can focus on a few motions and exercises that complement the rowing stroke and will help you build power for lowering your scores and the time it takes your boat to cross the line.  For a complete strength training program read Will Ruth’s book, Rowing Stronger.

Exercise #1: Deadlift

This may be the best single weights exercise for rowing as it mimics the motion of the slide. You begin with your knees bent and your chest upright, drive your legs to lift the weight off the ground, swinging your back slightly as you extend, and setting your arms and shoulders back as you finish. is a link to a video that breaks down the motion. It gives you a front and side view so you can see how the motion resembles the rowing stroke and ensure you are using the right techniques once you try it yourself.

Exercise #2: Back Squat

The back squat is another excellent exercise for increasing leg strength, which will help make your drive more powerful. It requires some of the same body preparation as the deadlift, such as a tight upper back and upright chest. You can view another video for the proper squat form.

Exercise #3: Body Row

Completing a body row makes use of some of the same muscles you use toward the back end of the stroke and will help develop these and keep you upright and powerful in the boat. provides an example of a good form, and gives you an idea of how to make the motion more challenging as you get stronger.

Exercise #4: Pull Up

Perhaps one of the more dreaded exercises doesn’t have to be! Pull-ups simply involve pulling yourself so that your chin is above what you are holding onto with your

palms facing away from you. It engages your back muscles as well as your arms, which translates to strong and consistent finishes in the boat. If you have never done a pull-up, you can start by grabbing a bench or stool, holding onto a pull-up bar, jumping up so that your head is above the bar, and lowering yourself as slowly as possible. This is called a pull up negative and will build the same muscles required to lift yourself above the bar. Try this if you have not yet progressed to a full pull up and gradually ease yourself from jumping up above the bar to engaging your back and arms to lift yourself above it.

For all of these exercises, you can start with a few sets of repetitions, or reps. Several reps make one set. If you do “three sets of three,” you are doing three of the exercise in a row before taking a standard amount of time to rest – say one minute – and then repeating this process two more times.

Beginner weightlifters can start using the bar itself for weight as they get comfortable with the motion, and can add weight as they get stronger. A benefit to getting started is that you may be able to rapidly increase the amount of weight at the outset before ‘plateauing.’ A great way to continue increasing strength is to grab your friends and make them your lifting partners so you all push each other to get stronger.

If you are looking for further focuses on boosting stroke power through sample drills and workouts here is a great e-book from the Faster Masters series.

Erg Training

There’s no getting around it; part of what makes a strong rower is time spent on the erg. You may already have an erg training plan from your coaches, in which case you may not want to add workouts to your regimen. However, you can make new goals for yourself to improve for each piece or workout. Try keeping an erg log if you do not already, record your meters and splits after your sessions and then set goals to improve upon these the next time you try that workout. Even a 0.1 improvement is significant and will give you the mindset of making yourself better every time you are at practice.

If you do not have a regimen and want one, it helps to mix up the type of workouts you complete. Five hundred meter pieces will improve your speed and lung capacity, and 5000-meter pieces will push your endurance, strength, and concentration. Include long and short distance pieces in your training plan for the best mix of aerobic and anaerobic capacities.  Buy a new or second hand RP3 Indoor Rower – the best for training rowers how to row well.

Mental Training

  • Mental toughness is not always training that you can log, but it is exercised every time you attempt a workout. Some training sessions require more resolve than others, and you can improve your ability to focus on the task at hand and perform your best in how you approach them. Giving yourself goals is a great way to channel your energy into performance rather than succumbing to anxieties about how the workout will go. For long workouts, goal splits help maintain focus when it would be easy to go through the motions without applying good technique or power. Check in with yourself and ask what motivates you and come back to those thoughts when a piece is especially tough or you’re feeling more fatigued than usual. Every time you complete a workout – even if you have not set a personal record – you have improved yourself by sticking with the training plan and ensuring that you stayed motivated for the next session. Your teammates and coaches will appreciate your drive and you will have more confidence on race day knowing how much training you have put in, even when it didn’t feel good or required all your mental energy to stay focused.

There are lots of other forms of training that make a good rower – technique sessions, team building, cross training, good nutrition, and rest. We are here to help with anything else you may need, but we hope these three ideas give you an extra boost for the coming season.

The Mind’s Eye is a great book if you are looking for further intel on mental training. And also listen to Kirsten Barnes Rowing Psychology expert on RowingChat podcast.

Good luck and happy rowing!
Emma Shaw

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About Rebecca Caroe
Rebecca is the host of RowingChat podcast and is a masters athlete and coach. Passionate about helping others enjoy the sport as much as she does. View all posts from Rebecca Caroe

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