There’s a reason why we combine rowing with resistance-based strength exercises in our signature Grow class – the two complement each other incredibly well. Here, we list some of the top exercises that help to optimise your rowing form, power, speed and endurance.
All of these exercises work the “posterior chain”, a term that refers to the muscles that run down the back of your body, including the calves, hamstrings, glutes and erector spinae (lower back). This group of muscles is key for maintaining good posture and for carrying out daily activities like bending to pick things up from the floor.
Crucially, these muscles should follow a particular firing pattern to ensure optimal movement. This pattern is glutes first, followed by hamstrings and then the erector spinae. However, as a result of our sedentary lifestyles and resulting poor posture, many of us are losing the ability to fire in the correct order, leading to excess pressure being placed on the lower back and hamstrings. To ensure optimal firing, “waking up” and strengthening the glutes is hugely important. As the largest muscle group in the body, they can generate huge amounts of power, notably in the hip extension movement which is critical for the rowing movement.
Start prone on the floor, knees up and feet flat, with a dumbbell resting in between your hips supported by your hands. Lift your hips, imagining a straight line being drawn from your shoulders (which remain flat on the ground) to your knees and squeeze the glutes at the top of the movement.
When you’re accustomed to the movement and feel ready to up the weight to build up more strength in your glutes, you can progress to barbell hip thrusters.
Holding a dumbbell or kettlebell close to your chest, under your chin. Squat down, making sure to keep your back straight, chest open and head up. Pause at the bottom, before driving up through your heels to return to the starting position, taking care not to let your knees cave in and squeezing your glutes at the top of the movement. To make this more challenging, you could add a resistance band around your knees.
Holding a pair of dumbbells with an overhand grip, hinge forward at the hips with slightly bent knees, lowering the weights to a point just below the knees. Straighten back up into the start position, making sure to keep your back straight and your core engaged throughout the movement.
The key thing to master to nail the deadlift is the hip hinge. Think about sitting back, not down, with the movement coming from your hips instead of your knees. Your back should remain straight and the weight should stay as close to your shins as possible.
This is a staple exercise for building a strong back, and its similarities to the rowing stroke make it a perfect exercise to optimise your form on the rower. With a dumbbell in each hand, bend your knees slightly and hinge your torso so that your back is as close to parallel to the floor as you can get it, with your arms hanging perpendicular to your body. Keeping your back in this position, bring the dumbbells up by driving the elbows behind the body, focusing on retracting your shoulder blades. Squeeze at the top of the movement, then slowly lower the weights back down in a slow and controlled manner.
Another way to hit the posterior chain by targeting the hamstrings, erector spinae and core muscles is through good mornings. To do these, stand with your feet hip-width apart, holding dumbbells at your shoulders. With slightly bent knees and a straight back, hinge at the hips and lower your torso until it is parallel to the floor. Pause then return to the starting position – that’s one rep. It is a very similar movement to the deadlift, except for the placement of weight.
Other exercises you can try include pull ups or pull downs – both of these hit the lats and biceps which are key to really lengthen that stroke at the end of the rowing movement. If you’re new to pull ups, try doing the eccentric version of this exercise first to build up strength: jump up chest to bar and then very slowly lower yourself down over 20-30 seconds, then jump back and repeat 5 times.
To hit the lower body, box jumps are also a great exercise to do that will help you to enhance your rowing technique. These can be done anywhere and are a fantastic way to build the explosive power needed at the toughest part of the rowing stroke, the Drive (find out more about the rowing stroke here).
If you have any questions about anything covered in this blog, don’t hesitate to chat to one of our trainers – they’d be more than happy to help!