Characteristics of the Sport

Rowing events are held over 2000 metres and typically take 5.5 to 7 minutes depending on the class. Classes are distinguished by the number of members in the boat (single, double/pair, four/quad, eight), whether there is a coxswain steering, and whether the boat is sculled (two oars per person) or rowed (one oar each). Rowing involves lightweight and heavyweight competition. In the lightweight division, male athletes are not permitted to exceed 72.5kg with a crew average of 70kg. For lightweight females, the maximum individual weight is 59kg with a crew average of 57kg. Rowing places great demands on both the aerobic and anaerobic energy systems and requires great power and strength. Nutrition plays a key role in both training and competition phases.


Rowing requires a unique mix of technique, power and endurance of both the aerobic and anaerobic energy systems. This requires long hours of intense training even though events only last 5-7 minutes. Elite rowers train upwards of 11 months of the year with the training stimulus varying markedly depending on the phase of season. A typical rowing session covers upwards of 20 km with 1-2 sessions being held on the water each day, depending on conditions. In addition, rowers undertake gym sessions 3-4 times per week to develop strength and muscular endurance. Additional aerobic cross-training is also regularly scheduled. Road cycling is particularly common, as are rowing ergometer sessions, especially when weather conditions are not inviting on-water. Altogether, rowers often undertake two or more sessions a day, hence ensuring optimal fuelling & recovery are a high priority throughout a training week.

Physical Characteristics

The technical requirements of rowing favor athletes who are tall with long levers, while the force generating requirements encourage very muscular athletes with low body fat levels. Because of this, elite heavyweight rowers tend to be much taller than both the general population and sub-elite rowers. While elite lightweight rowers may be similar in height to the general public, they are more muscular and carry very low body fat levels to assist in achieving body mass limits. Heavyweight rowers are typically ~ 10 cm taller & 15-20 kg heavier than their lightweight counterparts.

Training Nutrition

Heavyweight rowers have high energy and carbohydrate requirements to support training loads and meet body mass and strength goals. All rowers need to work hard to recover between training sessions. A high-energy, high-carbohydrate, nutrient-dense diet is essential throughout the season. Some rowers (particularly male heavyweights) struggle with the sheer volume of food they need to consume, especially when training, work and study commitments can encroach into typical snack times. The use of compact, energy-dense foods (cereal bars, flavoured yoghurt, fruit loaf & bread with thick spreads of peanut paste, jam or honey) or drinks (sports drinks, juice, flavoured milk, liquid meals) are often necessary between meals to keep the volume of food manageable and are also valuable as pre-training snacks prior to early morning training sessions. Rowers need to pay particular attention to recovery after training and organise themselves to have high-carbohydrate snacks on hand immediately after training sessions are completed.

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Cardiovascular Challenge on the Rowing Machine

If you don’t have access to a track, or need the cardiovascular challenge without the impact on your legs, rowing is a great solution. It takes roughly the same time to cover distance in running and rowing, so workouts can be easily transferred.

Rowing is like running in that you are in complete control of the intensity. To get a faster running time, you have to make yourself run faster. To get a faster rowing time, you need to make yourself row faster. This means using your legs, back/core and arms to generate as much power as you can.

The Workout

Workout Goal
Simulate a track workout without the pounding.

Workout Details

1. Row easily for 5 minutes to warm-up; get off and stretch briefly if you want to.
2. Row 2 sets of (4 x 400m) as follows:
1. Row 400m at moderate intensity.
2. Row easily for 1 minute.
3. Repeat for a total of 4 400’s.
4. Row easily for 3 minutes.
5. Repeat for another set of 4 400’s.
6. Row easily again for 3 minutes.
3. Row easily for 5 minutes to cool down.
4. Stretch.

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Basic Rowing Machine Guidelines

High vs. Low: What Drag Factor Works Best?

It is important to note that, unlike weight lifting, the goal is not to use a higher drag factor as a means of achieving fitness on the indoor rower. It is much better to work with lower drag factor settings (110–140) while improving your speed, form and muscle coordination. Many of the world’s top heavyweight competitors use settings in this range.

Damper Setting & Workout Intensity

The best damper setting for a great cardiovascular workout is in the range of 3–5. Rowing with the damper setting too high can be detrimental to your training program because it may reduce your output and increase your risk of injury.

Workout Intensity

* The damper setting is like bicycle gearing. It affects the feel of the rowing but does not directly affect the resistance. With a little experimentation, you will find the damper setting that gives you the best workout and results. We recommend a damper setting of 3–5 for the best aerobic workout. This is the setting that feels most like a sleek, fast boat on the water. Higher settings feel more like a bigger, slower boat.

Anaerobic Threshold

What is the anaerobic threshold?

The anaerobic threshold (AT) (also called the lactate threshold) is the level of exertion where your body must switch from aerobic metabolism to anaerobic metabolism. Aerobic metabolism burns oxygen and produces carbon dioxide as a by-product. Your lungs provide the oxygen and get rid of the CO2. This is the metabolic pathway that provides most of the energy we use in our daily activities. Anaerobic metabolism kicks in when the preferable aerobic system can no longer keep up with the demand for energy—when we cross the AT. At this point, the lactate cycle starts to provide the needed additional energy, burning stored sugars for fuel, and producing lactic acid as a by-product. When lactic acid builds up in our bodies, it causes discomfort like cramping and general distress.

Can training affect the AT?

Yes. Through training, we can have some effect on our anaerobic threshold. We can train our bodies to be more efficient at aerobic levels so that we can go longer and harder before the anaerobic system kicks in and starts hitting us with lactic acid. In other words, we can train to raise our AT.
What is the best kind of training to do to raise the AT?
It is generally agreed that you need to do high quality aerobic work to improve your aerobic efficiency and thus raise your AT. This means training at a level close to but below your present AT. Based on our own experience, we recommend (see box above) workouts that are long sub-maximal intervals, with roughly equal rest.

How often should I do AT training?

This will vary from person to person and may depend on your present level of conditioning; how often you train; where you are in your training year; and how old you are. AT intervals should be done at least once a week during the 2-3 month period before your competition. The fitter person will be able to do these more often, but it is still important to allow recovery time. Older athletes may find the recovery to be slower than it used to be. Listen to your body.

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Benefits of Rowing

Whether you already row or are considering rowing to keep in shape, lose weight, cross-train for another sport, compete on the water or rehabilitate from injury or surgery, rowing is the complete exercise for you.

Arms, legs, chest, back, abs—even your mind. Your whole body gets a complete workout from the efficient, rhythmic motion of rowing. Rowing is such a great exercise in so many different ways.

* Low-impact (easy on the knees and ankles)
* High calorie burner (because it uses so many muscle groups)
* Great for joint health (joints move through a wide range of motion)
* Upper body (completes the stroke)
* Lower body (the legs initiate the drive)
* Works the back and abs too!
* Superb aerobic fitness (great for cardiovascular fitness)
* Relieves Stress (for overall health and well-being)

This is different from the rowing you may have done as a kid in a rowboat. The difference lies in the sliding seat. Your legs compress and extend with every stroke—in addition to the more obvious work being done by the back and arms.

Legs: You begin each stroke with your legs compressed and your shins vertical. You initiate the drive with the powerful muscles of your legs, and finish with your legs fully extended. Rowing promotes both strength and flexibility through this wide range of leg motion.

Arms: At the catch, your arms are outstretched; at the finish of the stroke, they have pulled the handle into your abdomen. As with the legs, this range of motion promotes both strength and flexibility.

Core: chest, back, abs: At the start of the stroke, the power of the legs is connected to the handle by means of the arms and the core muscles of the body. Then the back is more fully involved as it swings open through the middle of the stroke. Finally, the body is stabilized at the finish by the abdominal muscles.

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Rowing Machine Benefits


Muscle Workout
Rowing machines work on a large group of muscles at a single stretch. Hence, during rowing machine exercise there is a significant emphasis on the thighs, stomach, hips and torso, along with the pelvis that comes into act. This way, while exercising with rowing machine, the whole body gets toned up. Rowing machine benefits are also visible on the back of the upper arms and shoulders.

Strength Training
The most important benefit of the rowing machine is that it helps to strengthen the core muscles, that is the upper body muscles. While exercising on a rowing machine, a significant amount of resistance is placed on the upper body muscles. Hence, regular workout on a rowing machine adds strength to muscles in the chest, forearms and shoulders. Rowing machine also builds up the calf muscles to a certain extent. Rowing machines are also beneficial for strength building of heart and lung muscles as well.

Calorie Burning
Movement of the body helps burn the calories and since rowing machine requires a lot of movements of the body, it certainly helps to burn the excessive calories from the body. Calorie burning certainly helps to lose weight to a significant extent. Rowing machine burns out the calories and reduces lean muscle mass. Hence the body gets leaner and free from those added calories. This way those who are overweight can enjoy the benefits of a rowing machine.

Low Impact Machine
Rowing machine is very soft on the various joints since it is a low impact machine. Hence, no added stress is applied on the knees and elbows, like some of the other exercise equipments. So, even elderly people can benefit a lot from the rowing machine exercises. One can adjust the resistance, as well as the speed of the rowing machine as per the requirements so that the body doesn’t get overstressed.

Stress Reduction
Exercise, especially with rowing machine is a great stress buster when done on a regular basis. This is also an important yet underrated significance of the rowing machines. Exercising regularly on the rowing machine reduces anxiety disorders and stress to a great extent.

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