Number 1 Workout To Build A Stronger Back For Rowing

Welcome, fellow rowing enthusiasts! Today, we’re diving into a topic that’s crucial for every rower – building a stronger back. Your back muscles play a pivotal role in your rowing performance, providing the power needed to pull the oars and propel the boat forward. But how can you enhance this strength efficiently and effectively?

We’ve combed through countless exercises and consulted with top rowing experts to bring you the ultimate workout specifically designed to fortify your back. This is not just any workout – it’s a meticulously crafted routine that focuses intently on your back muscles, ensuring you get the most from each rowing session.

So, whether you’re a seasoned competitor or a casual rower, prepare to supercharge your rowing prowess. Let’s embark on this journey towards building a stronger back and taking your rowing performance to the next level!


The science of building stronger muscles

Before we begin looking into the actual movements, sets, and reps, let us take some time to understand the different styles of workouts that people can do and how they will change their bodies. The average Joe or Jane that walks into a gym is usually looking to lose weight (they want to lose fat) and develop a toned muscular look.

Firstly, to burn/lose fat we fundamentally need to be in a calorie deficit. This means that when you get in bed at the end of a long day you need to make sure that your body has used more calories than it has taken in.

The quickest and easiest first step for most people is to get out and walk more. 10,000 steps a day will help to burn those extra calories that you need to use up to maintain that deficit. All of the diets out there have the same goal. They all want you to eat fewer calories that use.


Now to build and grow muscle you need to go through a scientific process called hypertrophy. This is where your muscle fibers are ripped apart through exercise, then rebuilt stronger, this should lead you to have more muscle than before.

Hypertrophy workouts can be good for rowers, but we are not trying to put on muscle mass and overall size. We aim to become quicker, more powerful. To do this we will be doing a different style of a rowing workout.

Back workout

The workout will be split up into repetitions (reps) and sets. Repetitions are the single movements you will do ie. every time you contract your muscles. The sets are the groups of repetitions. So one movement may look like this; Lat pulldown: 3 x 8. This would mean that you would be doing the Lat pulldown movement awith 8 repetitions in one set.

You would then rest for 1 minute, unless stated otherwise, then you would do another set, then rest again for 1 minute, then one more set. This is 3 sets of 6.

To ensure we help achieve elite-level strength and power we are going to use lower rep ranges during this rowing workout. This means between 3-6 reps and will help guarantee that your body is experienced enough heavy physical stimuli to mean it needs to change to meet these new requirements.


Warm up

Warming up for any activity is important. We have seen a shift in ideas since the early 2000s. Whereas maybe 20 years ago you would have run on a treadmill for 10 minutes and then stood statically doing some stretching for another 5 minutes, we now understand that warming up for a rowing workout, is best done on the rowing machine or in the rowing boat.

10 minutes of rowing at a slow but consistent pace will bring enough oxygenated blood to the muscles to prepare them for maximum effort.

1. Bent-over row

A strong pull is the foundation of any elite rower. The bent-over row and lat pull down will help to develop pulling strength to shoot you through the water. Most exercises will start with 2 warm up sets of 10 reps to get the muscles ready for 5 working sets. The working sets should be hard, and by sets 4 and 5 you may well be failing the last reps of the sets. This is good and means you are giving all you can give. Remember a stronger pull is key.

2 x 10 warm up sets

5 x 6 working sets

2. Lat pull down

2 x 10 warm up sets

5 x 6 working sets

3. Barbell squat

woman lifting barbell
Photo by Li Sun on

The Barbell squat and deadlift are the kings of any workout session and they will impact the majority of muscles in the body and kick your central nervous system into the gear that it needs. As a rower, you need to have leg and lower back power to start each stroke. The squat and deadlift will give you the stability needed to rip through the stroke using all of the required muscles. More stability equals a stronger foundation.

So how does this apply to rowing? When we break down the rowing action we have the push and pull movements. We push hard with our legs to drive us backward which starts the stroke. Then we pull with our arms and back. Now I know this article is about developing a bigger and stronger back. Well, the barbell squat requires you to use a tremendous amount of muscles in your lower back. Especially for stability, which is key in rowing.

The first and primary movement is the leg push. So this should help show us the value of the squat. The muscles worked in the barbell squat can be listed as:

  • Gluteus Maximus, Minimus, and Medius (buttocks)
  • Quadriceps (front of the thigh)
  • Hamstrings (back of the thigh)
  • Adductor (groin)
  • Hip flexors.
  • Calves.

If we can strengthen all of these muscles with one movement then that will help with our efficiency as well. Go to your gym twice a week and both times complete 5 sets of 10 reps on the squat. Repeat this training week for 6 weeks. I guarantee that after this period of training you will come out of it vastly stronger, with a greater level of power, muscular endurance, and overall strength.

2 x 10 warm up sets

5 x 6 working sets

4. Deadlift

2 x 10 warm up sets

5 x 6 working sets

Developing a bigger stronger back is only going to help you with your rowing strokes. As rowers we are not looking to just ‘get big’, but we do want to have the required muscle mass to be as powerful as possible. Size does not necessarily mean strength!


Stepping off our virtual rowing boat, we’ve navigated the expanse of back-strengthening exercises and anchored on the most effective workout for rowers. This isn’t just about improving your performance; it’s about empowering you to take control of your rowing journey, ensuring you have the strength and resilience to tackle any challenge that comes your way.

Remember, a stronger back is the foundation of a powerful rowing stroke. It’s the engine that drives your boat forward, and with this workout, you’re well on your way to building a robust and resilient back.

So, as you integrate this workout into your training routine, remember the power lies in consistency and perseverance. It may be challenging initially, but with time, you’ll see the transformation – not just in your rowing performance, but also in your overall strength and endurance.

Here’s to stronger backs, smoother strokes, and more rewarding rowing experiences. Keep pulling those oars, rowing enthusiasts – every stroke is a step towards becoming a better, stronger rower. Happy rowing!

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