Variety is apparently the spice of life, and as far as developing fitness and performance goes I am inclined to agree. Of course if you want to be a more efficient runner then you absolutely need to run. Same goes for cycling. HOWEVER, by adding complimentary forms of exercise there can be both a motivational advantage as well as physiological one.
Personally I love rowing machines (both for myself and clients). Here are some suggestions as to why you might want to consider it too…
But first the downside
At the risk of starting with a negative – you are going to need access to a rowing machine… Which might present a bit of a challenge.
As I write this many parts of the world are still in lockdown due to the pandemic and consequentially gyms are shut. Therefore even if you had a gym membership, that route of access may be closed to you.
If you have space at home and you are serious about your training then you might want to consider purchasing your own machine. Whilst treadmills are a more common feature of the home gym… I would replace a treadmill with a rower every time, less space and more versatile. The supply shortages that we saw in 2020 is mostly now resolved so access to equipment is less of a problem.
Assuming you can arrange access to a machine, what are the advantages?
As runners, particularly on road, we all appreciate the high impact nature of our sport. Complimentary activities that can help us achieve training load and goals whilst reducing impact on our joints are to be welcomed right?
Taking care of your hip, knee and ankle joints now is going to pay off in the long term by extending your running career. Whilst you might be young fit and healthy (or old but hanging in there like me!) none of us are going to outrun joint issues forever… Therefore it makes sense to do what we can to put off the onset of problems. Incorporating low impact exercises into our weekly routine makes a lot of sense.
Fitting in training, particularly as our plans and goals become more demanding can be a big time challenge for many people. Therefore ways of achieving the required training effect in a shorter training session is to be welcomed. Ultimately, if you are an Endurance Athlete then you are going to have to put in the long sessions (the clue being in the title “Endurance”), but there is a balance to be struck here and value to be gained from shorter but more intense sessions.
Rowing is a compound exercise (involves moving multiple joints through large ranges of motion). This leads to a very helpful exercise pattern for us runners, increasing the metabolism (more calories) and spreading the load so that force isn’t hitting just one or two areas. Some studies suggest that 86% of all your muscles are used in rowing (but you know about statistics right!!). That aside you certainly are working some of the large muscle groups that we depend on as runners and cyclists (quads, hamstrings, glutes and lats).
As if all of that was not enough value, rowing also enables you to target different energy systems (by changing the intensity of the activity). So you can do some low aerobic work by keeping the stroke rate down and focusing more on the quality and range of movement. Take it up a notch and work on your upper aerobic capability by in creasing the stroke rate (or speed per 500m if you use that metric) and putting in the equivalent of “cruise intervals”. On a rower, somewhere between two to five minutes depending on your fitness. Finally, if you have ever done a flat out sprint on a rower you will have no doubt that you can very effectively hit your Lactate Threshold and go into an Anaerobic session. To do this you can look at a series of short reps (20 to 60 seconds) at your fastest stroke rate with 60 to 90 second recoveries. Such sets will do a lot to build your raw speed and explosive power.
And Of Course Variety
Which is where we started from!
One of the reasons that your training might start to become more of a chore than a pleasure is that your body is going through the exact same movement patterns over and over again. As a result, you’re loading the same joints, muscle groups, ligaments, and tendons day in and day out, which can lead to overuse injuries, chronic tightness, and other repetitive strain-related issues. In addition it does little to keep you mentally engaged.
Rowing provides new movement patterns. Developing upper body and core strength helps with better posture when running (remember that we run with our whole body not just our legs) and enables us to maintain an aero position on the bike… For hours if that is your thing! But of course you need lower body power too and that is developed with rowing as well. One of the big biomechanical advantages is that you go through a large range of hip flexion and pull that can be absent from many other exercise modalities.
Remember one of the basic rules of training is that we adapt in response to training stimulus, but over time adaption decreases if you only ever apply the same stimulus.
Rowing Session Ideas
It is often easier to get started if you have an idea as to what you are going to do! Here are three suggestions for you to get you going with.
Low Intensity / Low Aerobic
Work at around 16 to 24 strokes per minute
- 3 x 15 minutes
- 2 x 20 minutes
- 15 to 30 Intervals as : Effort 1:40 / Recovery 20seconds
Medium Intensity / Upper Aerobic
Work at around 25 to 30 strokes per minute
- 4 x 8 minutes
- 3 x 3000 meters
- 1 x 5000 meters
High Intensity / Above Lactate threshold & Anaerobic
Work above 28 to 30 strokes per minute
- 6 x 500m
- 10 Intervals as : Effort 1min / Recovery 2mins
- 4 x 1000m
Ed Stivala is an England Athletic qualified Event Group Coach specialising in Endurance Events. His practice specialises in performance coaching for runners & cyclists. He also hold qualifications in Personal Training, Nutrition and Swim Instruction.
When not Coaching, he competes in Duathlon and plays golf very badly!