The Best Rowing Workout For Strength and Speed

A rowing workout may be an alien concept to some people. Rowing itself often is just one aspect of their fitness arsenal alongside other cardio activities such as running and cycling, but for some of us it is a sport that we want to master.

The main way to do is this through practice. Practice, practice, practice. Malcolm Gladwell, the author of the acclaimed book ‘Outliers’ wrote that to master any activity it takes 10,000 of practice. If you are rowing every day for one hour that means it would take 10,000 days.

Back to back. Now for most of us that seems impossible. So how can we improve quicker.

One area that is often ignored by the amateur rower is strength and speed workouts. To build up a more powerful rowing stroke, we need to build up power, strength and speed.

There are some exercises that can be completed at home using your own body weight, but this article will focus on specific movements that will require equipment found in any reasonably equipped gym.

Before we jump into the actual exercises, sets and reps, let’s take a moment to understand the different types of workout that we can do and how they will impact on our body.

The average Joe or Jane that walks into a gym is 9 times out of 10 looking to lose weight (they actually want to lose fat) and build up a toned foundation of muscle. Firstly to burn/lose fat we fundamentally need to be in a calorie deficit.

That means that at the end of each day we need to have used more calories than what we have eaten. If you can do that consistently for a week, then a month, then longer, you will lose fat. Simple as that.

This is why for general population just walking 10,000 steps a day and reducing your food intake will lead to noticeable fat loss.

To build muscle you need to go through a process called hypertrophy. This is where your muscles are broken down through exercise, then rebuilt stronger, leading to more muscle than before.

Whilst hypertrophy style workouts can be beneficial for rowers, we are not looking to put on muscle mass, we are aiming to become quicker, more powerful and stronger.

To do this we will be doing a different style of rowing workout.

Rowing workout

This workout will be broken down into repetitions (reps) and sets. Repetitions are the individual movements you will do, in other words, every time you contract your muscles. The sets are the groups of repetitions that we put together to fatigue the muscle.

So you will see me write down; Lat pulldown: 3 x 6. This would mean that you would be doing the Lat pulldown machine and you would be doing 6 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. We call this 3 sets of 6.

To build up elite level strength and power we are going to working in the lower rep ranges during this rowing workout.

This usually means between 3-6 reps and will help guarantee that your body is experienced enough physical stimuli to force it to change to meet these new requirements.

If this does not make sense you can always comment below, or get in touch with us on social media.

Warm up

Warming up for any activity is important and over the years the research has changed. Whereas maybe 10 years ago you would have maybe run on a treadmill for 10 minutes and then stood statically doing some stretched 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.

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

The second stage of the rowing workout moves onto having a leg and lower back focus. The Barbell squat and deadlift are the twin kings of any workout session and they will impact the majority of muscles in the body and give your central nervous system the kick into 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 stability needed to rip through the stroke using all of the required muscles.

2 x 10 warm up sets

5 x 6 working sets

4. Deadlift

2 x 10 warm up sets

5 x 6 working sets

5. Squat jumps

5 x 10 working sets

Cardio Workout

As with any rowing workout there needs to be a cardio element. This aspect of your workout can be more personally tailored to your training levels and needs.

It may be that you are in a specifically intense training cycle so you do not need quite as many miles on the rowing machine as when your training is not quite as intense. Remember that with cardio training we are looking to increase cardiac output and increase endurance.

Unfortunately during a strength and power training block it is not ideal to have cardio as part of the same gym session. To maximise the strength and power gains you need to allow your body the time and space to repair, so going and ripping through a 15km ergo is not going to help.


Remember that mastering rowing, like any other sport, is a journey. It’s about commitment, consistency, and most importantly, practice.

While the prospect of 10,000 hours may seem daunting, it’s essential to understand that progress is incremental and every minute spent in practice brings you closer to your goal.

The best rowing workout for strength and speed lies in the balance of persistence, targeted exercises, and strategic planning.

Yes, rowing may be just one aspect of your fitness arsenal, but with the right approach, it can become a key component of your journey towards better health and fitness.

Remember, it’s not just about speed and strength. It’s about discipline, resilience, and the satisfaction of pushing past your limits.

So, are you ready to embark on this rewarding journey? The rowing machine awaits your dedication, your sweat, and your unwavering resolve.

It’s time to rethink what’s possible, to challenge your perception of limits, and to truly master the art of rowing.

After all, the greatest victories aren’t just found at the finish line, but in the countless hours of practice that get us there.


Q1: Is rowing an effective workout for total body fitness?

Yes, rowing is an excellent full-body workout. It targets multiple muscle groups, improves cardiovascular health, and boosts strength and endurance.

Q2: How can I improve my rowing speed?

Improving your rowing speed depends on consistent practice, proper form, and incorporating strength training into your routine. Also, rowing at different intensities can help increase your overall speed.

Q3: Can rowing help me lose weight?

Absolutely. Rowing is a high-calorie-burning exercise. Combined with a balanced diet, it can certainly aid in weight loss.

Q4: How long does it take to see results from rowing?

The time it takes to see results from rowing varies for each individual. However, with consistent practice and a balanced diet, you may begin to notice improvements in strength and endurance within a few weeks.

Q5: Is rowing safe for people with back problems?

While rowing is generally a low-impact exercise, it’s best to consult with a healthcare professional if you have any pre-existing conditions, including back problems. Always ensure you’re using the correct form to avoid injury.