The Simple Rower Workout

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Simply put, the rower is awesome. If you’re looking for a workout that burns calories while making you feel like a rockstar, look no further.

Years ago, sprinting use to be my go-to mode of exercise for conditioning. Or if I needed to drop a few pounds. I had several distances marked off of my street and I would chug away as fast as I could. All my grunting probably disturbed my neighbors as I ran past their house like a lunatic.  But as I’ve gotten older I’ve really fallen in love with the rower. It has nothing to do with my joints – a huge part of my affection for it probably stems from the fact that the rower is in my garage. I now have this old man radar built in that makes me crankier the farther away I get from home. Why run half a mile away from the house when I can stay put in my garage?

It’s that practical experience on the rower that allowed me to develop decent to good rower workouts. Coupled with the fact that rowing requires over 80 different muscles, along with how it allows one to really crank up the intensity, and you have a pretty stellar workout. In sport science circles the word intensity doesn’t mean screaming your head during a training session; but rather how hard you’re working to your maximum effort.

Think of it this way: let’s say the max speed you can run on a treadmill is 10 mph. Running at 7.5 mph is 75% of your maximum and thus more demanding on the body than 6.5 mph. Only occasionally should you work at 100% of your maximum. But training at a level close to maximum is sorely missing from many workouts. 

Common with many exercise prescriptions is the duration – you might see something that says “ run for 20 minutes at a heart rate of blah, blah, blah.” The exercise becomes dependent on the time and thus many cling to the notion that longer is better. With the rower, the duration is totally up to how hard you work. We can do this by alternating the distance that you row. That’s why I like things like 500, 750, and 1,000 meter distances.

Oftentimes people turn the rower into a dinky exercise. They just kind of sit on it for 30 minutes while they watch TV. But by using time trials – trying to get to a specific distance a fast as you can- you turn the rower into a conditioning powerhouse.  

Keep in mind that simple doesn’t mean easy. The workout is simple because I don’t have to use a formula to set up paces and distances. Just row 500 meters – got it. Even I can remember to do that. But easy goes out the window once I’m on the clock for those 500 meters.

If you can get your hands on one, I highly recommend rowing on a Concept 2 Rower. It’s a delightful machine that makes you feel like you’re in a Ferrari….that was designed to sit in a gym and row. Most gyms worth their salt have Concepts, or you could reach out to your local CrossFit establishment and ask them if you can do an open membership so you can have access to their rowers. However, any rower that measures distances will do.

The simple rower workout looks like this:

Round 1 – Row 1,500 meters. Rest 4:00 minutes

Round 2- Row 1,000 meters. Rest 3:00 minutes

Round 3- Row 750 meters. Rest 2:30 minutes

Round 4- Row 500 meters, Rest 2;00 minutes

Round 5- Row 250 meters, DONE

Here’s the real kicker: you need to time the whole thing. Since we’re not lowering the rest intervals, the only way to beat your time is to try and row faster. Once you beat your overall time TWICE you can add in more work (or decrease the rest). Again, we’re looking at intensity, so keeping you on the clock means you’re not going to putz around on your phone inbetween rows.

Of course there’s someone out there who thinks it looks too easy, so I offer you the advance version:

Round 1- Row 1,500 meters, 250 skips on the jump rope

Round 2- Row 1,000 meters, 200 skips on the jump rope

Round 3 – Row 750 meters, 150 skips on the jump rope

Round 4- Row 500 meters, 100 skips on the jump rope

Round 5- Row 250 meters, 50 skips on the jump rope

Your rest intervals will be shorter, along with the fact that your rest is not passive. You’re not going to be fully recovered to row again but that’s why the next round is shorter. All this means for you is a higher heart rate and chance for fatigue to set in before you finish. Should that be the case, you need to scale down to the first version.

I’m experienced enough as a personal trainer to know that many like to use the “my workout is boring” excuse to skip out on sessions. Since variety is the spice of life, you can also do this:

Round 1- Row 250 meters, 50 skips on the jump rope

Round 2- Row 500 meters 100 skips on the jump rope

Round 3- Row 750 meters, 150 skips on the jump rope

Round 4- Row 1,000 meters, 200 skips on the jump rope

Round 5- Row 1,500 meters, 250 skips on the jump rope

I’m a “just rip the Band-Aid off” person, so starting with the shorter distances is something I despise. But to each their own.

The simple rower workout takes any guess work out of your training. Knock out the distances as fast as you can, rinse, repeat, and get in great shape in the process.

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