How Charles Regatta rowers train

The Boston University team’s workout has a lower-body emphasis.

On October 20 and 21, more than 10,600 rowers from 24 nations will race on Boston’s Charles River for the 54th Head of the Charles Regatta. The three-mile course qualifies as an endurance race by rowing standards, and training for it is much like prepping for a marathon.

“You do a lot of miles focusing on patience and building rhythm, then every once in a while you go all-out for a sprint to see how fast you’re able to move,” explains Matt Murawski, an LA-based Equinox group fitness instructor and former competitive rower.

If you think rowers’ workouts prioritize the arms, you’d be wrong. “It’s a lower-body-dominated sport, but the core is also very important as all the power channels through your trunk,” says Alex Perkins, assistant coach for the men’s rowing team at Boston University who rowed for the University of Washington (and won the national championship title) every year from 2012 to 2015. These athletes concentrate on big muscle groups like the glutes, quads, hamstrings, core, and lats.

Here’s what a typical day of training looks like for the men’s BU Terriers team, who are competing at this year’s HOCR in championship eights, club eights and club fours events.

The Warm-Up
Practice starts at 6:30 a.m. with an easy 15-minute run or rowing session on the machine. After that, they spend seven to eight minutes on active stretching and core work like planks, sit-ups, and push-ups with shoulder taps.

The Water Workout
“We get out on the water for two hours,” Perkins says, starting with 20 minutes of drills. Then, they row in teams of eight or four and compete against one another in both distance and timed segments. “We usually do three days a week of shorter stretches at race pace (around 30 strokes per minute), then three days building fitness over longer distances,” Perkins adds.

The Land Routine
Twice a week, the team trains with a strength and conditioning coach. For the BU crew team, the main lifts are front squats, trap bar deadlifts, hang cleans, weighted pull-ups, and core work. They work more on explosive power through Olympic lifting than they do on building muscle. “We want the guys to be efficient and have a high strength-to-weight ratio,” he says, but cardio fitness is just as important as strength. It’s typical for teams to do hill work, stadium running, cycling, swimming, and cross-country skiing.

The Recovery
Each practice ends with stretching and foam rolling, mostly focusing on the hip flexors and back.

Test yourself
Try this 45-minute workout from Murawski (or take an Equinox class like Ropes and Rowers or Shockwave to compete against other people) to gain the fitness needed to row on the water and on land. For the strength moves, go as heavy as you can without sacrificing form, Murawski says.

Dumbbell cleans:Complete 3 sets of 12 reps.
Barbell deadlifts: Complete 3 sets of 12 reps.
Seated upright rows:Complete 4 sets of 10 reps.
Rowing machine: For 24 minutes, alternate between 1 minute of rowing at full pressure (up to 28 strokes per minute) and 1 minute of rowing at paddle pressure, like an easy jog (about 16 strokes per minute).