8 drills rowers swear by

Power clean

This move mimics the motion of a stroke since it requires explosive power and hip drive, says Philip Doyle, a professional double rower from Banbridge, Ireland. “It’s technically challenging and requires coordination, timing, and strength.” He does power cleans as part of his functional weight training three times per week.

How to do it: Stand behind a barbell with feet at hip-width and grab the barbell with an overhand grip. Simultaneously press through the feet to straighten your legs and lift the bar off the ground. Once it’s above the knees, stand tall and pull the bar up to your shoulders (turning the palms up). Carefully return the weight to the ground for one rep. Complete 5 sets of 5 reps.


Another exercise rowers do on land to imitate their form on the water is the sculler, Ribacoff says. It’s actually named after scullers themselves, who row with an oar in each hand, because it so closely imitates their movements in the boat. (Sweep rowers, meanwhile, use a single oar on one side of the boat.) 

How to do it: Sit on a mat with knees bent, arms at your sides, and feet planted. Raise your knees to lift your feet off the ground and lean back slightly, balancing on your glutes with an engaged core. This is your start position. Lean back and extend both legs forward and arms out to the sides. Hold here for 3 seconds, then return to start for one rep. Complete 3 sets of 20 reps.

Split squat

Sweep rowers often have strength imbalances because of the sport’s single-sidedness, says Emily Regan, US Rowing team member and 2016 Olympic gold medalist based in Buffalo, New York. She does split squats to keep things even. “They can be really difficult even with just your body weight,” she says. “Sometimes I’ll hold dumbbells or add plyo jumps for more of a challenge.”

How to do it: Stand tall and step the right foot forward as if doing a lunge. Raise the left heel, then squat down until the left knee is just above the ground. Press back up to standing for one rep. Complete 2 sets of 20 reps per side (or 3 sets of 8 to 12 reps per side if adding weights or jumps).

Barbell front squat

This is another favorite squat variation among rowers, in part because of the heavy load it puts on the lower body. (About 60 percent of the muscles activated during the sport are in the legs, Ribacoff says.) “I prefer front squats to back squats because they force me to keep my elbows high with my thoracic spine in a stable position,” Doyle says. 

How to do it: Stand with feet slightly wider than shoulders, toes turned out, holding a barbell at your shoulders with palms up and elbows out in front of you. Squat until quads are parallel to the floor, never letting your knees pass your toes. Rise up to start for one rep. Complete 5 sets of 5 to 8 reps. 

Bench press

Though the lower body does most of the work in rowing, the upper body is still responsible for the remaining 40 percent. Bench presses strengthen the muscles needed to pull the oar out of the water and start the recovery of the stroke, says Matthew Tarrant, two-time World Champion on the GB Rowing Team who’s based in Shepperton, England. 

How to do it: Lie face up on a bench and lift the barbell out of the rack, gripping it with hands just wider than your shoulders and arms extended straight up. Lower the barbell to the bottom of your pecs, with elbows bent just past 90 degrees. The bar should barely graze your chest at its lowest point. Press up to return to start for one rep. Complete 3 sets of 10 reps.

Bent-over row

Another upper-body area that’s important for strong strokes: the lower back. You can bolster yours with bent-over rows, Ribacoff says. 

How to do it: Stand with feet at shoulder-width, knees slightly bent, holding a barbell or dumbbells in front of you with arms extended. Keeping a flat back and abs engaged, hinge forward from your hips. This is your start position. Lift the barbell or dumbbells to your chest, pressing the elbows behind you. Lower the weight to return to start for one rep. Complete 3 sets of 15 reps.

BOSU push-up

For rowing speed, you need to be able to produce power from your shoulders. Doing push-ups with an instability element activates those muscles and the core more so than regular push-ups do, Regan says. 

How to do it: Get in a high plank with feet together and grip the sides of a BOSU ball (dome side down) with each hand. Lower into a push-up until your chest barely touches the platform. Press up to start for one rep. Complete 3 sets of 10 reps.

Tabata rowing intervals

The sport isn’t all about power. The standard World Championship distance of two kilometers takes about five to seven minutes to cover, which is long enough to require endurance. Murray builds stamina with indoor HIIT intervals. “They enable us to maintain a high intensity for up to 20 minutes,” says Murray of himself and his coxless pair partner, Hamish Bond. He recommends using the Concept2 rower, like those in Equinox clubs. 

How to do it: Warm up with 5 minutes of easy rowing. Then, perform 9 all-out sprints lasting 1 minute and 40 seconds each with 20 seconds of recovery in between. (The exception: Recover for 2 minutes after the fifth sprint.)

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