Weight Training Routines for Rowers

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According to Ed Nordenschild, M.Ed., CSCS and head strength coach at the University of Virginia, rowers will typically cover 2,000 meters on the water in six to seven minutes. “This requires about 200 or so full pulls on the oars,” wrote Nordenschild on the "Training & Conditioning" website. “Once a race starts, there are no breaks for foul shots, faceoffs or timeouts when athletes can catch their breath.” To sustain a high level of performance, rowers must train for strength, power and power endurance.

Strength Endurance

Implementing circuit training into the early offseason develops strength endurance, which increases aerobic capacity, overall strength and assists with preventing injuries as the program progresses.

Strength endurance is a muscle group’s ability to do repeated contractions against a force for a given time. Circuit training is a combination of high-intensity aerobics and resistance training with minimal breaks, which is optimal for building strength endurance and general fitness conditioning.


After general fitness is achieved, the rowing training program should shift toward improving strength. According to Nordenschild, the biomechanical motions of rowing are similar to the power clean and deadlift and should be incorporated with squats to target the prime movers for rowing: quadriceps, hamstrings, hips, upper and lower back.

Nordenschild also includes at least one pushing exercise into the program to strengthen the antagonist muscles and offset the over-development that can result from the rowing pulling motion. Athletes should focus on performing three to five repetitions per set of each exercise to build a strength base.


Strength training increases the potential for power development, which is necessary to perform rapid movements that demand a high power output. Jason Hartman, MS, CSCS and U.S. Olympic Committee Strength and Conditioning Coordinator, recommends incorporating Olympic lifts and plyometrics into the program and increasing the exercises' speed to convert strength into power.

Power training improves the rate of force production, converting maximal strength into explosive power. A powerful rower will exert greater force into the water for further propulsion.

Power Endurance

A strong and powerful rower will only benefit the team if she can maintain powerful strokes throughout the race and to the finish. To maintain the same amount of power with each effort with little or no rest, power endurance is required.

According to authors Tudor O. Bompa and Michael Carrera in the text "Periodization Training for Sports," power endurance requires 30 to 50 percent of maximum strength repeated rhythmically and explosively in reps executed 20 to 30 times nonstop.

Core Training

The core muscles include the abdominals, back, pelvic floor and hips. Powerful movements originate from the core and transfer to the arms and legs, making core stability essential for power output.

Although rowing is performed on an unstable surface, it is a misconception to perform core exercises on an unstable surface. Unstable surface training reduces peak power, force output and neuromuscular efficiency, thereby minimizing potential strength and power improvements. Stable surface core training enables greater loads and resistances to be used, which is optimal for developing a strong and powerful core.

Core Training Research

According to G. Gregory Haff, Ph.D., CSCS in the October 2006 issue of NSCA's "Performance Training Journal," research from the University of Waterloo suggests that a healthy adult receives no additional training benefit using an exercise ball compared to performing trunk exercises on a stable surface. Although using an exercise ball might be useful for a rehabilitation program, the use of an exercise ball by athletes does not offer any additional training benefits.

In addition, an article printed in the January 2008 edition of the "Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research" titled "Trunk Training: Stability Ball vs. Free Weight Exercises," research concluded that that stability ball exercises might not provide a sufficient stimulus for increasing muscular strength or hypertrophy. Performing squats and deadlifts were recommended for increasing strength and hypertrophy of the core because muscle activity was significantly greater than in stability ball exercises.