weight training for rowing

hello all,

You may or may not recognize me, I was on these boards asking about a program to compliment my performance in rowing a year or so ago. I had a lot of mixed answers, most likely because people are not too familiar with the sport. It is a mix between sprint and endurance as a race will last 6-7 minutes depending on the type of boat that is racing. I understand that sport specific training is the #1 priority, but seeing how I am only 5’8" it would be in my best interest to make up for it with power. I am currently weighing in at 140lbs as I have to be under 63kg for my last race of the season which is in the beginning of August. After that competition I will be taking a week or two off to recover because I am been training without much break since last september. Once this September hits the fall season runs til Novemeber, then we row indoors til April, and our big season is May/June which is what we train all year round in order to peak towards. During fall and winter we pretty much do purely low, steady state aerobic workouts (60-90 minutes a day) and then start speed/interval work in the spring. I plan on racing the 158lb event next spring so I plan on using Fall and Winter to gain as much muscle as I can, without losing flexibility and while improving my aerobic base … pretty much by eating a lot of food. Every weight program that I have seen or been suggested contradicts one another, some say to train like a bodybuilder, some say use olympic lifts, some say to use bodyweight exercises and some say don’t lift at all. So I have come to the “Ask Us” sub-forum as I believe I can finally get a good programme that I will stick to,


Sorry, I’m not us, but I’ll take a shot. I work with rowing some, what level are you currently competing at? I don’t agree with your statement that making it sports specific is priority # 1.

There are many ways to skin a cat, and training is no different. The approach I would take if I were you is one of General & Specific.
I would strive to create a general adaptation from weight training that will create more potential. Then use rowing as the specific to get better. Unless you are advanced in weight training, you will get very good gains through this without going nuts worring about specifics.

Let weight training increase your general capacity. Then let rowing increase your specific ability.

As far as weight training, I would first get very good at body weight control. That is, be able to own and control your body in all basic patterns.
Second, get comfortable in the basic power lifts.
Third, either practice the O-lifts (if you pick them up naturally) or skip them all together and go lighter on the basic lifts, but do them very explosively.

Now, I would do all three of these things every training session (3 x’s per week) BUT, only emphasis ONE per main session, while practicing or maintaining the other two catagories.

I’d start with a bodyweight circuit (6 exercises) for 3 sets. That’s the main emphasis for that day. Then do light work of the basic lifts to maintain form and increase technique (4 exercises), 2 sets.

After a few weeks.

Switch the emphasis to heavier basic lifts, doing 4-5 sets. Then do the bodyweight circuit for only 2 sets and finish with 2 sets of light practice, explosive basic lifts.

After a few weeks.

Switch the emphasis to explosive basic lifts, dropping the weight down quite a bit. Do the bodyweight circuit light and maybe the basics heavy every third workout.

This kind of covers a lot of the methods that you were talking about and hopefully raises the potential of the system without any undo weight from unnessary hypertrophy(important for weight regulated sports) If you do want to gain weight, this will can be accompanied by greater food intake. Strive to keep you power ratio high still.

I hope this helped a little while keeping it simple.

I like this. Very applicable to other sports as well. Just change the “rowing” and insert your sport here:_________.

Bompa comes originally from rowing…
he has for rowers, after an anatomycal adaptation phase, a max strength phase and a long conversion to strength endurance phase, where you work with high reps and medium loads, in stage or circuit fashion.
Check “periodization of sport training” (or was strenght training??I have the translated work so i do not know the original), it contains the template and some sample training session for a rower.
Do not forget to periodize also your rowing sessions, but i suppose this will be your coach’s task.

Where are you based? I don’t know anything about rowing but if I wanted to learn i would start by contacting/finding out about the training of a few good rowing clubs starting with Oxford (http://www.oubc.org.uk/) I know Derek Clark there is an interesting guy from all accounts. I used to have a friend who rowed for them back in 1999-2002 and he said he was very good.

Wu Gong Heng,


I am currently going into my last year of highschool rowing, we are located in Ontario. I am not into advanced weight training so I’m pretty sure even a very general program would suffice. Thank you very much for the detailed reply, but unfortunatly I am a little lost. I am the kind of person that needs to see things to believe them, so if possible could you help me organize your thoughts into days?

ie (day 1 — exercise #reps/#sets)

If you would rather send me a PM that would be fine. Thanks a lot for your help

Doing higher reps isn’t going to do much, if anything more, for you since you’re already doing endurance work on the water or ERG. Work on increasing your absolute strength, something you probably haven’t worked on much, and lower percentage pulling (like when you row) will be easier. Christian T has worked with some Olympic rowers and he commented that he found this the best way to go.

I agree with this, however I am very unsure of the proper periodization. There is about 8 months to get strong, then I have to maintain for 4-6 weeks during competition phase leading up to our last race. Maybe someone could help me periodize the necessities?

thanks in advance

Get your butt to the Durham Rowing Club, 8 Old Rail Line, Port Perry ON, ASAP. We have a weight session tomorrow (Sun.) at 7 PM. Week nights at 6 PM. You missed this mornings session.


Just some added thoughts here …

I was re-reading a book I own called “High Performance Rowing” which was written by a former rower and GB national men’s lightweight coach. There is a chapter on training periodization, here it goes:

September: General endurance and conditioning
October/November : Hypertrophy (if you can afford to gain weight)
December/January : Maximum Strength
February/March : Power / Strength Endurance
April/May/June : Strength Retention

Does anyone agree with a schedule like this? Unfortunatly he doesn’t mention the specific details like types of exercises and reps. If anyone could help me build a program around these guidelines it would be appreciated.

*** The only thing about that periodization I wasn’t sure of is how to work power, something like plyometrics? Or lowered weight but reduced time for lifts (ie. focusing on speed). And also, I always heard it was pointless to work strength endurance in the gym.

----thanks again

any thoughts/opinions?

That looks like a good GENERAL template. But the fine tuning will depend on the individuals weak areas and that could comprise at least 50% of the whole program. It is impossible to coach long distance via the internet. You’re going to have to find yourself a lifting coach. Check out the Ontario Weightlifting Association for a club, coach or even a lifter near you. Most rowing coaches are not up-to-date or knowledgable about lifting or training.

Where in ON are you.


O.k. here is a basic training template that has exercises and numbers filled in for you. For the explosive catagory you use time instead of reps. Be smart and know your own body.

This is a Basic/ General Conditioning Phase. Use it for 2 Weeks.

Circuit [ bodyweight ]

inverted pull up
push up
side  pillar

ankle jumps
linear line hops

(high pull triple ext - barbell)

db bench press
bulgarian squat
1-arm, 1-leg row
rdl - dumbbells

For the next two weeks focus on the first catagory the most and try to improve your strength there.

bench press
bent over row

jump & land
lateral jump & land

 ( hang clean )

push up
inverted pull up
calf raise

For the next two weeks, follow this set up, dropping the weight and really focusing on being explosive.

box drop & jump
box drop & jump, s.s.

hang clean

bench press
reverse hyper
1-arm row

[ do explosively ]
split squat
inverted row
calf raise

For the sets, reps and progressions follow this.

The first set of reps/sets are for week 1, the second set of reps/sets are for week two.


Circuit: 12 reps/ 3 sets - 15 reps/4 sets
Explosive: 20 sec/ 3 sets - 30 sec/ 3 sets
Main: 10 reps/2 sets - 12 reps/2 sets

The the next two weeks follow this:

Main: 10 reps/ 4 sets - 8 reps/ 2 sets
Explosive: 30 sec/ 3 sets - 20 sec/ 2 sets
Circuit: 15 reps/ 2 sets - 12 reps/ 2 sets

For the next two weeks follow this:

Explosive: 20 sec/ 4 sets - 30 sec/ 5 sets
Main: 10 reps/ 2 sets - 12 reps/ 2 sets
Circuit: 15 reps/ 2 set - 15 reps/ 2 set

The second time through you can progress the exercises, either making the different or harder (more appropiate for you). If it is do taxing, simply drop the last catagory from each phase and only do the first two.

How can you recommend a program and advise as to how to progress through it, when you don’t even know if he can do a squat or hang clean or what it might look like. I wouldn’t try to coach a university level athlete this way much less a high school athlete. Distance coaching doesn’t work - at any level.


First off, I mostly agree with you.

Now, how can you possibly try to narrow this conversation down to “internet training doesn’t work”. Almost every section of this forum has people posting workouts, asking for advice on workouts and wanting workouts. It’s everywhere, not just this thread.

Of course there is no way to know if someone can do something correctly. That why I first posted a phase flow that can be customized for anyone, beginner to advanced. You can alter it, expand it or contract it, depending on you.

I then recieved a pm saying that he didn’t fully know how to utilize that and asked for exact exercises, sets, reps, etc. He was very sincere and eager to learn.

I then had 2 possible options:

Option 1; Ignore him because I don’t live next to him and/or tell him distance coaching doesn’t work.

Option 2: Give him a basic workout that he can do to the best of his ability. He will make progress on this. How much, depends.

Will he adapt better from a customized program given to him by someone who’s good, possibily. That might not be an option however.

I grew up in the middle of know where. There wasn’t a strength coach or even a basic gym to workout of. We built a gym in our garage. If this kid is in a similar environment, then it is just plan mean to ignore him be cause I can’t give him the absolute best daily coaching advice. Something is always better than nothing in my opinion.