Rowing: Training Ideas for Crossfit Athletes

The goal of this post is to offer a few thoughts on rowing-specific workouts for Crossfit athletes. All of the principles of athletic training discussed in a prior post apply here. In addition, because limitations to sport performance are not always physical, here is a list of a few domains to consider that contribute to sport success:

  1. Physical Fitness
  2. Sport-Specific Motor Skills (ie. Technique)
  3. Mental/Emotional Wellbeing
  4. Tactical Intelligence
  5. Social Dynamics

Good Technique

One of the initial requirements for rowing-specific workouts is good form. For Crossfit athletes, good rowing form ensures that back, arm, and other key muscle groups and kinetic chains are not excessively fatigued. Good technique means that muscle capacity is maintained for other exercises (such as the deadlift or pull up).

Common Errors

This is a great video highlighting common rowing technique errors. These technical errors decrease efficiency of the rowing stroke, and increase your risk for injury. Remember the previous post on common rowing injuries?

The Monitor

Before jumping into your workout, it’s helpful to understand the numbers on the screen. Check out this link from concept 2 for more information. The force curve is a great tool that can be used to give yourself immediate feedback about your stroke; here’s more information on how to train with the force curve. I highly recommend using the force curve to evaluate your efficiency on the rowing machine.

Another tool to keep track of on the rowing machine is drag factor or the damper setting. Here’s a link on how to view drag factor, and another link describing what damper setting means. A general rule of thumb is to set the drag factor to 115 for women and 125 for men. But, play around with it to find your personal preference. You may also want to increase the drag factor for shorter workouts.


A common question I get with rowing is, “how do I pace myself?” Taking a look at the graph below. The most common strategy I see used by athletes is to pace by effort (the dashed black line [higher dashed line]). For instance, an athlete may race at 100% effort from start to finish. Not a bad thing, but maybe not the ideal pacing strategy, because while effort may remain the same over the race, speed decreases (the solid black line). The other strategy is generally considered harder to implement, and involves maintaining constant speed (solid blue line). In this strategy, effort may be less in the beginning (dashed blue line [lower dashed line]), but increases throughout the interval as speed is maintained. Most pacing strategies fall somewhere between these two. The pace per 500m is a great unit to use to train your pacing on the rowing machine.

FullSizeRender (19)

A Few Workout Ideas:

—– Endurance (60-80% of workouts) —–

Focus on: consistency; establishing rhythm on the erg (or bike, treadmill, etc.)

  1. 4 x 20’
    1. 20’ bike, 20’ erg, 20’ run, 20’ erg (or any variation)
    2. no rest between pieces
    3. rate: 22
    4. goal pace: at a pace where you can still talk (hold a conversation), but not sing
  2. 3 x 10’
    1. rest: 3’
    2. rate: 24-28
    3. goal pace: tempo (a fast pace, but something you could hold for an hour)
  3. 15’, 10’, 5’
    1. rest: 3’
    2. rate: 24-26
    3. goal split: tempo (a fast pace, but something you could hold for an hour)

—– High Intensity (10-20% of workouts) —–

Focus on: maintaining smooth technique at the high rates

  1. 4 x [300m, 200m, 100m]
    1. eg. 300m – 2’ rest – 200m – 2’ rest – 100m – 2’ rest – 300m – 2’ rest – etc.
    2. rest: 2’ (between everything)
    3. rate: 30-34
    4. goal pace: 90-100% effort (maintaining constant per 500m pace)
  2. 2 x [400m, 300m, 200m, 100m] + 1000m (sprint the last 200m)
    1. rest: 3’ (between everything)
    2. rate: 30-34
    3. goal pace: 90% effort (maintaining constant per 500m pace; tempo for first 800m of 1000m pieces)
  3. 6-10 x 1 minute 
    1. rest: 3’
    2. rate: 30-34
    3. goal pace: 80-90% effort (maintaining constant per 500m pace)
  4. 3 x [8 x 20s ON/10s OFF]
    1. rest: 5’ between each set
    2. rate: 34 or greater for the 20 seconds ON; paddle with good form for 10 seconds OFF
    3. goal split: as fast as possible while holding good technique

Hope this helps! Happy rowing 🙂