The warmup is a critical time to set you up for the best and most productive rowing or weights training session possible with the least risk of injury. Most rowers are great about doing warmups for rowing training, because it’s naturally built into the practice. A short erg or jog, running oars down, some dynamic stretching, walking the boat down, and then skill-and-drill by pairs, fours, or sixes, provides 20-30 minutes of excellent warmup time. The first important thing a good warmup accomplishes is gradually increasing heart rate and circulation. This is important to lubricate joints, increase blood flow to muscles, and prepare the lungs and heart for pumping a lot of oxygen and blood during training. The second thing a good warmup accomplishes is priming the muscles for efficient, precise movement. Both of these things play a vital role in reducing risk of injury as well as improving performance in training and competing.
Warming Up for Strength Training
The best rowers will treat all parts of their training just like they treat rowing training. You or your coach spends hours planning your rowing training, you read rowing blogs, do rowing mobility exercises, you think about technical elements of the stroke, physical elements of on-water training, maybe you even do mental skills for your rowing training, and of course, you spend hours actually executing the training. The very best athletes apply this same level of focus, dedication, and consistency to their strength training, nutrition, and recovery.
This should take you no more than 20 minutes from the time you walk into the gym to starting your first working set. If you don’t have 20 minutes to safely and effectively warm up, you don’t have time to train. It’s as simple as that.
#1. 5 minutes of low-stress aerobic activity
To erg or not to erg…
In general, I’m fine with rowers using the erg as their warmup, but I can see the counter argument as well.
Many rowers have bad habits or movements on the erg that we’re trying to use strength training to fix. If a rower opens their body early on the stroke, having them erg a bunch before deadlifting increases the chance of them carrying that error over to the deadlift. Many rowers also don’t know “easy warmup speed.” Put two rowers side-by-side and more often than not, the 5-minute warmup will turn into a battle paddle.
The warmup can also be a great time for cross training and maintaining some athleticism. Jumping rope, for example, is good for that eye-hand-foot coordination that rowers so quickly lose if all they do is row.
Ultimately, the goal of the 5-minute warmup is to increase heart rate, circulation, core temperature, and joint lubrication. You can use the erg, jumping rope, light jogging, stationary biking, or even something like shooting a basketball and moving around the court to accomplish this.
#2-8: Dynamic Stretching & Targeted Activation
Check out my video below for seven mobility and strength exercises you can do to stretch, activate, and prime muscles for explosive and accurate movement when strength training.
#9: Gradual Progression of Weights
Another area I often see athletes go wrong is working up in weights once the actual lifting starts. I’ve seen athletes take two sets to work up to 185lb working weight for squats, going straight to 135lbs for 20 reps and then 185lbs for their work sets. Your body simply isn’t ready to work at your working weights after 1-2 sets, your technique and performance will suffer, and you run a higher risk of injury.
Take smaller jumps in weight performed for lower repetitions with full focus on technique. Such high-rep sets introduce a lot of room for technical error as well as muscular fatigue before even getting to working weight, which means less effective training and higher risk of injury. Low-rep sets performed with full explosive intent and attention to technique are both more effective for performance, by limiting fatigue, and for reducing risk of injury, by maintaining focus on technique. ALWAYS start with just the bar and then try:
- 45 x 5
- 65 x 5
- 95 x 5
- 115 x 5
- 135 x 5
- 155 x 5
- 185 x 5 (first working set)
Take 1-2 minutes of rest between each warmup set. This is enough time to get a sip of water, add weight, and prepare for your next set or let your training partner work in. By the time you get to 185, your muscles will be warm, ready to work, and your technique will be primed for a productive session.