Run for the Journey

Run for the Journey

3 Rowing Workouts For Beginners

Following on from his first blog post: Why Rowing Will Make You A Better Runner, rowing coach George New shares 3 indoor rowing workouts, along with tips and tricks to improve your technique and maximise results.

Indoor rowing training can not only be a pathway to participating in rowing as a competitive sport, but it also an excellent form of aerobic exercise in its own right. The low-impact, cardio focused, fat burning, muscle building benefits of the rowing machine are unique, and so it comes as no surprise that it’s popularity has spread recently beyond rowing clubhouses across the country into mainstream gyms as well as CrossFit.

3 Rowing Workouts For BeginnersThe rowing machine is the most effective piece of equipment at the gym, beating back the most advanced treadmill and cross trainer workouts. 

As a rowing coach, I often break down indoor rowing (erg) workouts into three categories: low-intensity mileage, middle distance pace work and high-intensity sprints. The former two of these workouts are predominately designed to mirror work done on the water throughout the winter and spring parts of the season; whilst the latter is focused on building speed and lactic tolerance for the sprint regattas that form the summer regatta season.


Below is a non-specific workout designed to offer you all three of the elements I listed above. You can either just use them as standalone workouts or try it in one block, in which case it will take you about an hour.

1. 3 x 10 minutes at rate* 20-22 with 2 minutes rest in between. 
The focus here is on low intensity. Instead of trying to build up a sweat, rowing at a low rate will allow you to make sure that you are getting that rate correct.

Objective: This longer, low-intensity workout gives you the time to focus on technique, whilst gradually building up your base cardiovascular fitness.

*Rate refers to the number of strokes you take per minute.

2. 3 x 5 minutes at rate 26-30 with 3 minutes rest.
A medium intensity workout, here you should start to feel more of a burn in your lungs and legs as the effort from the workout produces lactic acid. Although more effort is being expended, you should still be able to stand at the end of it.

Objective: This workout focuses on your power output during the strokes, as well as building up muscle.

3. 5 x 1 minute on 1 minute off.
Dreaded amongst even the toughest rowers, this workout is not for the faint-hearted! Plan to go off as hard as you can and try and beat the numbers of meter’s you did in the previous minute's work. A great finisher to the workouts above, or to any of your other workouts.

Objective: This high-intensity workout will blast fat and increase your anaerobic threshold (i.e. you will burn more calories and fat both during and after your workout).


For those first sitting down on the rowing machine, it can be quite a daunting experience. For starters here are some basic technical elements to remember when first mounting the metal monster:

1. Push don’t pull: One of the common misconceptions with rowing is that it’s a ‘pulling sport’. Yes, our arms play a part in the rowing stroke, but they should only contribute about 10% of the overall effort. Our backs, glutes and thighs are the biggest muscles in our bodies and it’s by engaging these muscles correctly that you can get the most out of your rowing stroke. Instead of trying to pull the handle towards you, think about sitting up at the front of the stroke and squeezing your bum, pushing your heels through the footplate (where your feet are strapped in) and using the full force of the legs to drive yourself back, then follow through with the arms and hands. 

Use the full force of the legs to drive back, then follow through with the arms and hands. 

2. Breathe: Like running, breathing is key in rowing for number of reasons. Firstly, it can help you pace yourself throughout your workouts, enabling you to monitor how hard you're working even if the numbers on the monitor resemble the hardest of mathematical equations. Second, breathing in the correct places allows you to engage the correct muscle groups whilst relaxing others. Inhaling at the catch allows you to sit up taller and engage your glutes, whilst exhaling at the finish legs flat, body rocked back and the handle brought into your chest stops you from trying to ‘pull’ with those smaller muscles such as your arms and shoulders and relaxes you on the recovery for the next stroke.

Breathing in the correct places allows you to engage the correct muscle whilst relaxing others.

3. Engage your core: In rowing, we consider the legs the powerhouse. But the core muscles support a powerful drive, allow you to hold your posture, protect your back and reduce the risk of injury. Engage the core at the catch and keep it engaged throughout the stroke, right to the finish. Relax the core on the recovery. 

Engage the core at the catch and keep it engaged throughout the stroke. 

4. Be patient: Rowing, when done correctly, feels like the most efficient and effective use of self-propelled body movement. However it can take years to master the technicalities of the rowing stroke. The simplest way of doing this is by setting yourself small goals. Whether it be working on a facet of your catch, drive or finish or just trying to get one stroke where all the different body elements work in conjunction together, you’ll soon find that it’s not just the workouts that are enjoyable and addictive but also mastery of the stroke as well.

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    George New

    Head Rowing Coach

    George is Head Junior Coach at Team Keane Sculling School based in Chiswick. Team Keane is a community-charity club that emphasises rowing for all, whether it be an athlete targeting Henley Royal Regatta or simply someone looking to try something new/supplement their training regime.