Why Runners should Row – It makes perfect sense!

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“There’s not one body type that equates to success. Accept the body you have and be the best you can be with it.”

As I had written in one of my previous posts ‘Best Cross Training for Runners‘ the Indoor Rowing machine is one of the best Cross Training tools you can use and in this post I’m going to explain exactly why runners should row.

But Rowing just Works your Arms!!!!

So lets get this misconception out of the way straight out of the gate. For anyone who has rowed correctly they will know that is so far from the truth it’s crazy.

Of course if you don’t know how to row correctly then yeah! your arms are probably getting pretty sore and quickly.

Seriously, rowing is more of an all over body workout and the following muscles will be utilised if done correctly. It works the Glutes, hamstrings, quads, core, back, shoulders and, of course, arms.

So why should I Row if I Run?

There are a number of reasons that runners should consider rowing:

  1. It’s good for injury rehab due to the low impact.
  2. It’s a great Cross Training workout.
  3. Rowing offers a low-impact aerobic (or anaerobic) alternative to running, with most of the fitness gains transferring easily.
  4. It can be good for recovery workouts or for hard intervals.
  5. Rowing works all the different major muscle groups.
  6. The dynamic range of motion that comes with the rowing action helps develop functional flexibility — something most runners are lacking.
  7. You will be stronger for running.

Since I started using the Rower as part of my training I have noticed huge improvements in my hill running strength, my endurance and how strong I feel at the end of a long run. I am going into the Exmoor Trail Challenge this week feeling stronger than I ever have before – I believe the rower has played a big part in that.


So how do you use the Rowing Machine?

It’s easy right?? Just sit on it, grab the handles, pull and your off!!


One of the most important things to remember right away is that it is about power and not speed. So if your walking out of the gym with a sore back or arms then you are doing it wrong.


Focus on using those powerful lower body muscles the glutes, hamstrings, quads to push yourself out and then gently glide back in.

3 Steps to a perfect Row

  1. Master Leg Isolation

Start by holding the oar with arms extended, knees bent, and weight on the balls of your feet (this position is called the “catch”). With back straight and core engaged, push back using only legs, rolling through feet so they are flat when legs are extended. Keep arms extended throughout.

2. Add arm isolations

After you are used to pushing with your lower body, practice arm isolations. With legs straight, pull oar toward chest. Bend elbows out to sides and touch oar just under chest. Hold the oar lightly and use upper back (not shoulders or biceps) to pull oar toward you. Engage the same muscles as you do for a push-up or bent-over row.

3. Row with Perfect Form

It’s time to put everything together! With back straight, core engaged, and balls of feet firmly in straps, push back first with lower body then use upper back to pull hands toward chest. Next, release arms toward the base and bend knees so you glide back to starting position.

5 Common Rowing Mistakes (and How to Fix Them!)

The Mistake: You hunch your back.

This usually means you’re letting your shoulders do all the work.

The Fix: Start with perfect posture.

In catch, push shoulders back (to open chest) and down (so there’s no tension around neck). Keep back straight by engaging core and breathing deeply (it’s hard to take deep breaths when you’ve got bad posture).

The Mistake: You make a scooping motion as you row.

If you bend knees before arms are fully extended on the return, you’ll need to make this scooping motion to avoid hitting legs with the oar. Rowing is a chain reaction, so one poor form choice can lead to another.

The Mistake: You raise your arms too high.

Don’t decapitate yourself with the oar! Pulling the oar all the way up to your chin isn’t just bad form; it probably means you’re using more energy than what’s required.

The Fix: Bring oar to rest just below your chest.

Use upper-back muscles to pull the oar toward chest. At the end of each row, elbows should be bent more than 90 degrees and forearms should be even with rib cage.

The Mistake: You let your knees drop to the side.

We love relaxing but letting your knees flop wide is a bit much for a workout. It likely means you’re not engaging inner-thigh muscles or activating hip flexors.

The Fix: Finish with knees in line with hips.

Use inner thighs to keep knees close together or think about zipping up your legs as you push away and glide in.

The Fix: Put the strap over your big toe joint.

Another way to keep your knees from flopping? Strap in your feet correctly. The adjustable strap goes over the joint at the base of your big toes. Toes should bend comfortably so you’re able to push off balls of feet.

The Mistake: You have a death grip on the oar.

There’s no need to wrap your thumbs around the oar or hang on as if it’s a pull-up bar. Chances are a grip like this will create unnecessary tension in your forearms.

The Fix: Hold the oar with 3 fingers.

Place your hands on the outside of the oar (not the center). Float pinky fingers off the end and rest thumbs on top (don’t wrap them around). Hold the oar with the first, middle, and ring fingers of each hand.

Every time you pull back, remember to use your upper back, not shoulders and biceps. This will help take the pressure off your hands.

So before we get to the workouts there’s a couple of bits of terminology to get your head around – purely so you understand what you are looking at on the rower plus what’s stated on the workouts.

Strokes per minute: How many times you row (stroke) in 1 minute.

Split time: The amount of time it takes to row 500 meters. To increase your pace, push out with more power; don’t just pump your arms faster.

The Workouts

Now we have the form mastered it’s time to add in some of those all important workouts. Remember, these should be scaled based upon the ability of the person.

Workout 1 – Simulate a track workout without the pounding.

  1. Row easily for 5 minutes to warm up; get off and stretch briefly.
  2. Row two sets of (4 x 400m) as follows:
    1. Row 400m at moderate intensity.
    2. Row easily for 1 minute.
    3. Repeat for a total of four 400m.
    4. Row easily for 3 minutes.
    5. Repeat for another set of four 400m.
    6. Row easily again for 3 minutes.
  3. Row easily for 5 minutes to cool down.
  4. Stretch

Workout 2:

Two sets of 2,000-meter rowing. Each set is followed by four minutes of relaxed, easy rowing. Execute each 2,000 meters at the following different stroke rates while keeping the same pace (speed):

  • 1,000 meters at 22 strokes per minute
  • 500 meters at 24 spm
  • 250 meters at 26 spm
  • 250 meters at 28 spm

 Workout 3:

Three sets of eight minutes rowing at a consistent high effort. Each set is followed by four minutes of easy rowing.

So there you have it, how to master and use the rowing machine and incorporate some workouts into your running routine. These will help improve your overall strength and endurance.

Have you used a rower before? Do you have a specific workout you like to use? Please feel free to comment below or ask a question.


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