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home gym for rowing

Building a Home Gym for Rowing Training

I’ve been living the home gym lifestyle for a few years now, enjoying the flexible hours, dog-friendly policies, whatever equipment I need for my goals, and no lines waiting to use it. Here is my list of priority and preferred equipment, as well as some tips and tricks for building your home gym for rowing and strength training for rowing. I have also included links to additional resources and exercise demonstrations for specific pieces of recommended equipment.

Key Points: The biggest question of home gym equipment is determining what you will actually use. There’s no point having the best equipment just to turn it into a clothes hanger. If you’re open to my recommendations, my first priority is some sort of weights for adding external load to strength training exercises, plus mats to cushion the weights and a power rack or squat stand to support heavier barbell training. Resistance bands are great for a wide range of exercises from inexpensive, storable, portable equipment. If you have the space and budget for additional equipment, a trap/hex bar, dumbbells, kettlebells, an adjustable weight bench, a TRX or gymnastics rings, and a glute-ham raise are all on my list of worthwhile acquisitions for rowers.

home gym for rowing

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Why I Hate the Bench Pull for Rowing

I hate the bench pull for rowing strength training. I can see a justification for most other exercises, but the bench pull is one of the few exercises I’ll do everything I can to avoid using in my strength training for rowers. This is a controversial opinion in rowing, especially among more “old school” coaches and rowers who remember the lift with mythical status of the 1970s, 80s, and early 90s. I’ll use this article to state my case for why the bench pull should be left behind in the modern era of rowing, what exercises I use instead of the bench pull, as well as how to modify the bench pull to be a more effective, safer exercise for those who must bench pull.

Key Points: Bench pull rowing enthusiasts usually tout the exercise’s specificity to the rowing stroke, but I see it as anything but specific. Rowers rowing on the water or on ergs do not lie facedown on a solid object and pull with their arms in a straight line against a static object. Rowers execute a refined movement to place the blade in the water (a dynamic target), initiate force with the lower body, transfer it through a torso in the hinge position, and complete the stroke in a dynamic, smooth motion with the upper body muscles. My biggest problem with the bench pull is the direct pressure on the ribcage as a known risk factor for the common and costly rib stress injury. Rowers should use other horizontal pull exercises like bodyweight rows, single-arm rows, and a few more variations rather than take on such risk for such little benefit as the bench pull for rowing performance.

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Mastering the Hip Hinge for Rowing

hip hinge for rowingThe hip hinge for rowing is a key basic athletic movement that must be mastered to perform many strength training exercises in the weight-room to improve rowing performance. Squat, deadlift, push press, and Olympic lift variations all rely on the fundamental ability to hip hinge. Plus, a rock-solid hip hinge for rowing is the key to achieving reach in the stroke and power on the drive through the hips, rather than through the spine. The hip hinge is key to improving rowing performance as well as reducing low back pain injury, and it can even help reduce risk of rib stress injury. But more on that later! The hip hinge is the basis of the fundamental athletic position, but many rowers miss this part of early training and have to learn it for the first time later in their career.

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Staying Summer Fit for Rowing

It’s summer time and many of us are thinking of time away from the boathouse, ergometer, and spin bike. Often, this is out of our control, such as in the case of the high school student who has a summer job that conflicts with open gym or boathouse times. Sometimes this is in our control, such as a planned vacation or conscious choice to move rowing to the back-burner for a few weeks or months and focus on other activities. The competitive athlete will never want to give up an edge to their competition, so while there is no true replacement for time in the boat or on the erg, here is how to stay summer fit for rowing so you maintain as much strength and fitness as possible to make smooth the transition back to specific training.

A Rowperfect reader asked, “I’m unable to row for the next month and I can only really use the erg (and for that matter, weights) a few times a week. Other than that, what are good methods for keeping rowing fit?

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core training for rowing

Core Training for Rowing: Research and Practice

Rowers love “the core,” but what exactly is the purpose of this muscle group in rowing performance and how can we train it most effectively for faster times, better technique, and reduced risk of injuries? The purpose of this article is not to convince you to do core training for rowing, because you probably already are! Instead, we’ll discuss some key features of core anatomy and training, explore some relevant rowing research, and I hope to introduce you to a few exercises beyond planks and crunches to add to your core training for rowing.

Key Points: “The core” includes more than just the “six-pack” rectus abdominis muscle and core training for rowing should include movements for the other abdominal muscles and the posterior trunk muscles around the lumbar spine. Static plank holds are fine for an entry point into basic strength training, but the core muscles do not act statically in the rowing stroke. Rowers need to progress to exercises involving more movement at the extremities and hips with a stable spine for core strength to carry over to improved performance and reduced risk of injuries. Watch detailed video demonstrations of the TRX/gymnastics ring suspension trainer core exercises and my favorite core exercise for rowers, the seated rockback. These exercises offer many different variations and progressions to keep core strength training engaging and effective for rowers of all ages, types, and levels.

Table of Contents

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ankles rowing mobility

Ankle Mobility for Rowers

This is the final installment of mobility for rowers, where we’ll cover the importance of ankle mobility for rowers and how you can improve flexibility and strength in the calf and shin muscles for better compression, cleaner catches, and stronger drives. In Part 1, we discussed what “tightness” really is (and what it isn’t), why mobility is so much more than just flexibility alone, and how to address mobility restrictions in the thoracic spine. In Part 2, we broke down the big bad hip flexor muscles. In Part 3, we went to the posterior hip and dug deep into the glute muscles. The goal of mobility training is to improve flexibility, strength, and stability in major muscle areas to improve rowing performance and reduce risk of common rowing injuries. Knee, hip, and low back pain often happens as a result of something going on at the start of the kinetic chain. Ankle mobility for rowers is crucial to set the rest of the body up for great performance and to minimize excess force on other structures.

ankle mobility rowers

Restriction: Calf muscles (gastrocnemius, soleus), shin (tibialis anterior), bottom of the foot

Location: Calf area, shin area, feet

Test: Power Rack Test

Rowing fault: Poor compression, splayed legs at the catch, poor leg drive at the catch from being in an unstable position

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glutes rowing mobility

Glute Mobility for Rowers

In Part 1, we discussed what “tightness” really is (and what it isn’t), why mobility is so much more than just flexibility alone, and how to address mobility restrictions in the thoracic spine. In Part 2, we broke down the big bad hip flexor muscles. We’ll now discuss the hip flexor’s counterpart, the glute muscles of the posterior hip. The glutes are super important muscles for rowing. Not only are they responsible for a serious amount of power in the drive, but they are also major stabilizers of the hips and spine in all parts of the stroke and daily life. Much like the hip flexors, glutes can get fatigued, sore, and achey without any acute injury or condition, and are well worth the time in preventative massage, flexibility, mobility, and strength training for rowers to enjoy healthy bodies, good performance, and long careers.

glutes rowing
Restriction: Gluteus medius, gluteus maximus, piriformis

Location: Posterior hip, “the butt muscles”

Rowing fault: Poor compression at the catch, poor leg drive, shortened reach during recovery 

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mobility for rowers hip flexors

Hip Flexor Mobility for Rowers

In Part 1, we discussed what “tightness” really is (and what it isn’t), why mobility is so much more than just flexibility alone, and how to address mobility restrictions in the thoracic spine. In Part 2, we discuss the big bad hip flexor muscles. Hip flexors have become a popular one to smash on, and with good reason for rowers, but there’s good reason to understand this muscle group, what it does for you in performance, and the specifics of how you can care for it. Rowers use the hip flexors almost all the time in training, so even if there isn’t a specific injury or condition, this muscle group can really benefit from a little extra care to facilitate recovery and effective training.

hip flexors rowing
Restriction: Hip flexor

Location: Anterior upper thigh

Test: Test hip flexor tightness using The Thomas Test

Rowing fault: Poor compression at the catch, poor reach during recovery

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mobility for rowers thoracic spine

Thoracic Spine Mobility for Rowers

With its unique demands as a seated sport and a taxing repetitive motion, rowing requires an informed and specific mobility regimen to maximize performance and minimize risk of injury. In this four-part mobility for rowers series, you’ll learn how to effectively target common problem areas with a combination of self-manual therapy, dynamic stretching, and static stretching for improved performance and longevity in the sport. Ideally, you’ll implement these routines before you experience pain, restriction, or another problem. Each area only takes 10-15 minutes to work through, so these are great to incorporate into your training as a regular part of your recovery plan. Simply taking care of your body with a little extra attention goes a long way toward preventing minor aches and pains through a hard rowing season.

Part 1: The Thoracic Spine
Part 2: The Hip Flexors
Part 3: The Glutes
Part 4: The Ankles

For most athletes, practicing and competing in their sport is a daily break from the usual routine of sitting necessitated by the lifestyle of a student or desk-bound employee, but not so for rowers. While mobility work is important for all athletes, it is especially important for rowers to maximize performance and minimize risk of injury in both the short-term and long-term. Rowing is a difficult repetitive motion requiring great flexibility, stability, and strength. If you lack range-of-motion to even achieve basic positions of the stroke, how can you expect to generate and sustain race-pace force from those positions? 

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rowing peak power training cover picture words

Rowing Peak Power Training

Rowing peak power is the main training goal of the pre-season or pre-competitive block of training. This phase of training occurs between the off-season and race prep or the in-season phase of multiple races. We take the base of general strength, muscle mass, and aerobic fitness that the rower developed in the prior off-season training phases and turn it into boat-moving, flywheel-spinning peak power for fast starts, power moves, and sprints.

This article is Part 3 in my annual programming series. Read “The Basics of Strength Training for Rowing” for the general overview of the annual strength training plan, and then individual block-by-block articles for Part 1 Off-Season/General Prep, Part 2 Specific Prep, and Part 4 In-Season/Race Prep.

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