Rowing has been a favourite activity of the upper-middle class for the majority of the last century. Since early 2000, it has become much more accessible to people from other backgrounds.
Whilst the majority of rowers are doing it for general cardio fitness, for fun, or to maybe burn some extra calories, some rowers want to break into the elite category of athletes.
Elite rowers such as Olympic hero Sir Steve Redgrave and Matthew Pinsent are arguably some of the fittest people to have walked our earth (in their field of expertise).
To reach this level of fitness they would have needed to work hard in the gym for not just strength and power, but endurance and stamina also.
The Science of Endurance and Stamina
So let’s dive into it. What are endurance and stamina? How are they the same? How are they different? In most situations the terms endurance and stamina are interchangeable.
Stamina is the physical and mental ability to continue physical exercise or movement for a long period of time. Most people use the word stamina to refer to how they are feeling during a workout and their level of perceived energy.
Having a good level of stamina can be very different for different people. A professional rugby player may need enough stamina to get through a full 80 minutes of rugby without any dip in performance, whereas a 75 year old grandmother may just need enough stamina to play with her grandchildren for 10 minutes at a time.
Endurance is referring to your bodies physical capacity for exercise. There are two parts to endurance, muscular endurance and cardiovascular endurance.
Muscular endurance is the ability of your muscles to keep working for a period of time without getting tired. Cardiovascular endurance is the ability of your lungs and heart to drive oxygen rich blood around your body.
Both of these aspects of endurance can be objectively measured. You could measure cardiovascular endurance by putting your athletes through a 1.5 mile time trial and you could measure muscular endurance by setting them maximum push-up test (this would test upper body endurance).
Mark is a male 41 years old who lives a largely sedentary life. He always complains of feeling tired and has been to the doctors to ask what he should do.
The doctor has advised that he start exercising regularly. Mark begins a 12-week couch-to-5km regime.
Once the 12 weeks are finished:
- Mark feels that he has much more energy during the day and does not get as tired (improved stamina)
- Mark scores better in a 5 minute run test that he completed at the start and end of the training regime (improve endurance).
The SAID principle
SAID stands for specific adaption to imposed demands. It basically means that your body will get used to whatever level of stimulus that you usually put it through.
So if you usually spend 90% of your working day sat in a chair then that is what your body will be physically prepared to do. Likewise, if you are a Olympic weightlifter at the end of a heavy training cycle, then your body will be priming itself multiple times a day to explosively lift heavy weights.
I bring this principle up, because if you are a rower who wants to improve their overall stamina and endurance, then you need to be putting your body through workouts that go beyond what you are currently capable of.
Remember that we are not just focusing on cardiovascular endurance, we also want to increase the muscular endurance too. Yes we can row for longer distances and for longer times to increase our cardio capacity, but how do we impact on our muscles specifically?
Rowing workouts for Endurance and Stamina
This workout will be in direct comparison to our previous article: The Number 1 Rowing Workout for strength and speed. In our previous article we were looking to build elite strength and power which mean that our rep schemes were in the 5-6 range. In this workout we are trying to work a different element of fitness, so we will be working in the 12-20 rep range.
Although the machines and exercises may be the same or similar from our strength workout, the overall feel of the workout will be very different. To allow maximum strength to be tested you will take long breaks and have lots of energy.
To test endurance and push stamina forwards, breaks will be limited to 30 seconds between sets and 2 minutes between exercises. That way your heart rate should stay high for the entirety of the workout. Remember the SAID principle. We must push our body to get used to this new stimulus. This is when we will encounter growth.
Warm Up: 15 minute row
Although we are completing a muscular focused workout, we still need to ensure that the correct amount of oxygen-rich blood gets to our muscles before we start using them.
On top of that, as we start to exercise our body sends signals to the different areas of our body and the cartilage around our joints start to release synovial fluid. This fluid helps to grease our joints to stop any extra friction from damaging your bones as you workout.
Bent over row: 5 x 20 reps (5 sets of 20 reps)
The bent over row is a supremely taxing exercise. To properly feel the exercise working in your upper back and Lats, you need to build a rock solid base.
A shoulder-width stance and a locked-in lower back will set you up ready to lift the weight aiming for 2 second contractions (lifting up), then 2 seconds as you lower the weight back down to the floor. 100 overall reps of this exercise will really get the blood pumping ready for the next exercise.
Barbell Squat: 5 x 12 (5 sets of 12 reps)
The barbell squat is the king of all exercises. In just one movement you will require cooperation from most of the muscles in your body.
For this exercise you want to have your feet slightly wider than shoulder-width and be facing them slightly outwards, or whatever feels most comfortable. You do not want to go too deep with your squats in this workout, but make sure that you are hitting parallel reps to get full extension and contraction of the muscles.
Bench Press: 5 x 12 (5 sets of 12 reps)
The bench press may seem like a bizarre exercise to prescribe for rowers, but remember you always want to focus on body health and optimisation. This workout focuses a lot on the pulling power of the body.
To help balance that out we need to add into our workout some pushing and there is no better activity than the bench press. The bench press will help you to stabilise your joints and tendons and balance your shoulders after all of the rear-deltoid focused work.
Hack Squat: 5 x 20 (5 sets of 20 reps)
Each exercise in this workout requires a good amount of time to get through the reps and sets. For that reason I won’t be adding in extra exercises for the sake of it. All of the movements have a purpose.
The Hack squat requires as much mental toughness as it does physical endurance. Although you do not need to stabilise the weight as you did with the barbell on your back, the weight from the hack squat comes from a different angle.
Choose a weight that you know you will be able to hit the 20 reps. This exercise is to fatigue the muscle and push your mental stamina.
Lat Pulldown: 5 x 20 (5 sets of 20 reps)
Just like with the bent over row we are focusing on the upper back. With this movement we want to increase the endurance of our stroke pulling. A good wide grip with help the inner muscles of your back contract. As this is our last exercise you’ll want to focus on breathing deeply and count the seconds for each rep. Do not try and cheat the reps at this stage.
Cool Down: 20 minutes
To cool down I recommend using the treadmill. Set it to a 4-6% incline and aim for 5kmph. Breath deeply and slowly and allow your heart rate to come back to its normal range.
Rowing, once a pastime largely enjoyed by the upper-middle class, has evolved into an accessible sport for individuals from all walks of life. Whether you row for fun, fitness, or to burn extra calories, there’s no denying the holistic benefits this activity offers.
For those aspiring to reach the elite rank—akin to the likes of Olympic heroes Sir Steve Redgrave and Matthew Pinsent—understand that their level of fitness was achieved through dedicated hard work, not just in strength and power, but in endurance and stamina as well.
These athletes are shining examples of the heights one can reach with determination, discipline, and a comprehensive training approach.
So, whether you’re a casual rower or have ambitions of becoming an elite athlete, remember that every stroke brings you a step closer to your goals. Keep pushing, stay consistent, and let the journey of rowing bring out the best in you.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
1. What does it take to become an elite rower?
Becoming an elite rower requires a combination of strength, power, endurance, and stamina. This is achieved through a balanced training regimen that includes gym workouts, on-water practice, and recovery periods. Most importantly, it requires dedication and consistency.
2. Can anyone become an elite rower?
While physical capabilities play a significant role, the desire and commitment to train consistently and push past comfort zones are crucial. With the right mindset and training, it’s possible for dedicated individuals to reach high levels of performance in rowing.
3. How long does it take to become an elite rower?
The timeline varies greatly depending on the individual’s current fitness level, the intensity of training, and their ability to adapt to the demands of rowing. It requires years of dedicated training to reach the elite level.
4. Is rowing only for the upper-middle class?
No, rowing has become far more accessible in recent years and is enjoyed by people from various backgrounds. Whether you’re rowing for fun, fitness, or competition, the sport offers benefits to everyone.
5. What are some benefits of rowing?
Rowing is a comprehensive workout that engages all the major muscle groups, providing both cardio and strength training. It also improves endurance, flexibility, and coordination. Additionally, it’s a low-impact sport, making it suitable for people of all ages and fitness levels.