The rowing machine is a great full body workout in itself and exercises something like 86% of the major muscle groups, but it's also beneficial to add some variety to your sessions which will give your body some different challenges and keep it adapting to new stimuli. In this Coaching Gold article we focus on some of the cross-training exercises that can complement your rowing training and which might help you get stronger and improve your personal bests.
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Exercises that complement rowing
One of the best ways to get stronger rowing is by not rowing. Yes, you read right. While we'd love to tell you rowing all the time is the secret, it just isn't always true. Eric Murray gives some insight on what to do to diversify workouts to build power and endurance, add variety, and give you options in instances when maybe you don't have access to an indoor rowing machine (maybe your at-home rowing partner is on the erg during your usual time slot - sharing is caring).
If you are training to improve your times, such as for a 2k race, you may find that cross-training can help. Cross-training can help to reduce repetition, giving your body a break from the rowing stroke periodically and helping to reduce the chance of injuries. Complementary exercises can also be valuable when recovering from an injury, where an exercise that avoids stress on the injured area of the body can be carried out, enabling fitness levels to be maintained when not able to row in an unrestricted manner.
Cycling is one of the most popular and effective exercises that complement rowing, it's a great exercise for the leg muscles and and of course you know by now that rowing is dominated by your legs. Cycling also has a low impact on the joints and is great for building or maintaining cardiovascular endurance fitness. If you are cycling outside it is great to get a change of scene into your training routine which can really help with mental health and wellbeing, especially if like many of us you are spending a lot more time at home.
Circuit-training and bodyweight exercises
Circuit-training in the form of free body weight exercises formed a big part of Eric's rowing training programs for many years. A huge advantage of this type of exercise is convenience, these can be performed at home, outdoors or almost anywhere - all you need is about 2 square meters on the ground and you are away and laughing. Eric's cross sessions would mix up a circuit of 20 reps of squats, jumps, burpees, press-ups, situps and more with the 'chorus' between each of those being running on the spot between exercises, 20 steps on each leg.
With the rowing stroke being primarily a pushing motion, some athletes like to focus on off-erg bodyweight exercises that are similar to that - squats, lunges, good mornings and presses.
Video demonstration of the Good Morning exercise, using a dumbell bar (a broom handle or pipe can also be used)
If you can't manage some of the other exercises then get out and run - it's one of the simplest and most natural things to do, with no additional kit required beyond a pair of training shoes. It is quite different to the rowing motion but it's good cardio. Running isn't as low impact as some other exercises, it can be tougher on the body, especially for the larger athletes, but again it's great aerobic conditioning and helps to break up the training you are doing and will improve general fitness and wellbeing. You can throw in some fartlek sessions (mixing up your pace, lower speed and higher speed intervals) to let you accomplish more in less time. Like cycling, running is also a great way to get out and about, see some different sights and get connected with the world.
Cross-country skiing offers many of the same benefits as running, with added benefits for the upper body, yet for most of us it's not quite as accessible an activity! Similarly, the Concept 2 Ski Erg is a great low-impact way to give yourself a full body exercise that complements your rowing training, it works your legs, body and arms (which will sound familiar to rowers) so you gain benefits for pretty much the full body, but as Eric says, watch out, it can destroy you!
Watch Eric share some of his thoughts on exercises to complement your rowing in the video below (3mins):
Eric Murray discusses workouts and exercises that complement rowing fitness
Putting your cross-training into practice
The (RE)COMMIT indoor rowing training program from asensei + Eric Murray is designed to improve your 2k time and features a number of 'athlete's choice' training sessions which can optionally be rowing sessions or non-rowing aerobic sessions such as cycling or running.
The asensei app is loaded with rowing workouts but did you know there are also loads of bodyweight exercises in the DARK HORSE OFF-ERG program that are themed around rowing - with dedicated pushing exercise sessions, pull exercises sessions, mobility and more. There are also exercises in the DRILLS AND SKILLS programs and on top of that hopefully this article will have helped you figure out what works for your particular circumstances.
Rowing is a great full body workout by itself, but by adding variety to your workouts in the form of complementary cross-training exercises you'll see additional benefits by keeping mind and body stimulated in different ways. From cardio to strength training there are benefits to be had from adding complementary sessions to any rowing program.
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