The cardio row machine was once reserved for professional rowers. But not anymore.
These days, thanks in part to CrossFit, rowing is having a moment. Boutique rowing studios are thriving, and rowing machines are commonplace in plenty of gyms. Every CrossFit box has rows upon rows of Concept2 rowers, and rowing competitions are increasingly popular, too.
“It’s a total-body workout that uses most of the muscles in your body during every stroke with little to no impact,” says Lisa Niren, a group fitness instructor and CITYROW trainer. “It burns fat while providing extreme cardiovascular fitness and ridiculous muscular endurance.”
Compared to other full-body cardio sports-swimming and cross-country skiing, for example-you’ll build more strength and power while rowing, says Eric Von Frohlich, CrossFit Level 1 certified trainer and founder of EVF Performance and Row House NYC. “Rowers tend to be more muscular than other endurance athletes: their backs, shoulders and arms are thicker and stronger. A good, powerful row stroke is similar to a kettlebell swing or a deadlift because you have to engage your core so the power from your legs transfers to the handle.”
Rowing is also by nature a strength movement, essentially a blend of a deadlift and a barbell row. That’s an ideal combination that everyone should do, hitting all the posterior-chain muscles that can easily get weakened by all the sitting that takes place in 2019 society.
Rowing is also easy to program into any workout, because you can get plenty of oomph from a rowing workout in just 10 to 15 minutes, and you can easily work in other implements, mixing rowing with, say, kettlebell swings or some other movements to create well-rounded, full-body routines. Need a few examples? Check out the workouts below.
The 2000-Meter Mixup
Been getting a lot of DMs about what I do for “cardio,” or whether I do cardio at all. About time we rectified that. I do conditioning work or athletic work or just plain fun work 4-5 days a week. These workouts don’t need to be long…just fun and varied to hit the energy systems and tempos I don’t hit with my strength work. I’ll aim to drop 1 tight conditioning workout a week here; use it a few times a week. Still gotta play with the right presentation for this, so all ears if I can make this more useful. This week’s conditioning: -Row 2000 meters as fast as you can -weighted hollow rocks ladder every minute on the minute. Start with 5 at one min. Then 6, then 7 …etc until you’re through 2000 meters. #fitness #training #newrulesofmuscle #conditioningworkout
Set your rower for 2,000 meters, and set the timer. Begin rowing, using powerful strokes. This workout will encourage you to finish the workout that much faster; the sooner you wrap up, the fewer hollow rocks you have to do. Meanwhile, doing the hollow rocks will allow you to row with better aggression, creating larger and larger breathers between your rowing.
Additionally, the hollow rocks are a solid offset to the rowing work. Rowing teaches you to extend at the hip, while the hollow rocks force you to be in control of hip extension. The blend of moves creates a well-rounded overall workout.
- Set your rower for 2,000 meters and begin rowing.
- At the start of every minute (so when the rower hits 1 minute, then 2 minutes, then 3 minutes, and so on), get off the rower and do a weighted hollow rock ladder.
- The first time you get off the rower, do 5 hollow rocks. The second time you get off, do 6; keep adding one hollow rock on every time you get off the rower.
- Aim to finish in 15 to 20 minutes.
The Row and Burpee Challenge
There’s nothing quite like a burpee penalty to make you row your fastest. This rowing workout will encourage you to stay with your pace; if you’re off on your pace, you’ll have to do burpees as a result.
The game plan:
- You’ll do 5 500-meter rows. Your target goal: Finish each row in 1:40.
- Rest 5 minutes between each round.
- If you finish under 1:40, enjoy the rest. If you finish over 1:40, count how many seconds you’re over. You’ll do that many burpees. (So if you finish in 1:50, you’d do 10 burpees. If you finish at 1:42, you do 2 burpees).
Bobby Maximus’ Row to Hell
You’ll need a partner and a single rower for this workout from veteran trainer Bobby Maximus. The beauty of the workout: The rest period. Both you and your partner, if you’re evening matched, rest for about as long as you row, giving your body a chance to recover. That means you can push yourself at each distance, rowing as hard as you can and working to be explosive.
The rules for this one are simple. You and a partner are working a descending ladder of row work, providing each other with a rest period.
- Start by rowing 500 meters. Then get off the rower quickly and have your partner row 500 meters.
- Immediately get back on the rower and go 400 meters, then have your partner row 400 meters.
- Follow that by each rowing a 300, then a 200, then a 100, in the same rhythm.
The Calorie Count-Up
This workout starts out slowly but ends with a flourish. The best part: It has a natural built-in warmup.
- Set a rower to count 1-minute intervals. Your goal is to reach the required amount of calories before each minute is up.
- The first minute, you’ll row for 5 calories, then rest until the next minute begins. The next minute, row for 6 calories, then rest until the next minute begins. Continue working up the ladder.
- Aim to complete as many rounds as possible. The workout ends when you can no longer complete the required amount of calories in the minute.
- Try to make it through at least 15 minutes of work.
FROM THE GROUND UP WORKOUT
Directions: Warm up for five minutes. Then do the following exercises in the order shown.
Row, 100 meters
Bodyweight squat, 10 reps
Row, 200 meters
Bodyweight squat, 10 reps
Alternating reverse lunge, 20 reps
Kneeling biceps curl to overhead press, 10 reps
That’s 1 round. Do 3 total rounds, resting when needed.
PUMP AND ROW PYRAMID
Directions: Warm up for 5 minutes. Then do the following exercises in the order shown.
Row, 100 meters, as fast as you can
Bodyweight squat, 5 reps
Pushup, 5 reps
Feet-elevated mountain climber, 5 reps
That’s 1 round. Repeat for the following rounds, resting as needed, but adjust the number of reps according to the directions below.
Round 2: Row 200 meters, then do 10 reps of each move
Round 3: Row 300 meters, then do 15 reps of each move
Round 4: Row 200 meters, then do 10 reps of each move
Round 5: Row 100 meters, then do 5 reps of each move
Finish with a 60-second plank.
The 20-Minute Metabolic Thruster Blast
Man lifting kettlebells above head during workout
This total body blast will torch your legs as you work through the squat motion of the thruster and the deadlift-like motion that the row calls for. Get ready to break a killer sweat. You can do this workout with either dumbbells or kettlebells in addition to your rower.
Warm up for five minutes. Then do the following exercises in the order shown.
- Row, 500 meters, as fast as possible.
- Dumbbell or kettlebell thruster, 25 reps
- That’s 1 round. Do 4 total rounds, resting as needed between rounds and reps of thrusters. Aim to complete the workout in less than 20 minutes.
BURPEE BLAST CHALLENGE
Warm up for five minutes. Set the rower’s monitor to display calories. Row hard for 2 minutes. Remember your calorie score-that’s the number of calories you’ll aim hit in each subsequent row. Now do 10 burpees. Row until you reach your calorie score from the previous 2-minute row. Now, do 9 burpees. Row again, hitting the same calorie goal, then do 8 burpees. Continue this descending ladder pattern until you finish the round that has just 1 burpee. Try to complete the workout as fast possible, resting as needed throughout. Aim to finish in less than 30 minutes.