Strength and Conditioning Exercises to Improve Your Workouts On The Indoor Rower

Written by Concept2 NZ on May 24th, 2018.

If you are new to training on the Concept2 Indoor Rower, you may have noticed that it doesn’t take much to work up a sweat. As well as being technically challenging, the rowing movement coordinates all major muscle groups in a strength based, cardio-inducing repetitive movement that is enough to make 10 minutes of training feel like 30! The good news is, once the body adapts to the new motion and key muscle groups begin to develop, things start to become more natural and sustainable, taking you on a path to a whole new level of fitness. Regular training on the Indoor Rower is one way to reach proficiency, but for those eager to get there quickly, supplementing rowing training with the following exercises is a great way to upskill targeted muscle groups and prepare your body for more time on the Indoor Rower.

The Legs

One of the biggest misconceptions about rowing is that it is an ‘upper-body’ sport. Yes, the arms do play a key role in the rowing, but it’s the legs that provide the most power and acceleration through the rowing stroke. To strengthen and condition the legs for rowing, it is important to focus on exercises that recruit both the glutes and the quads- the two biggest muscle groups that provide the most power. Luckily, there are plenty of options that can help you do this, either in the gym, or in the comfort of your own home.

Back Squats: Start with just your body weight (you can opt to add weights to a bar if you have one available). Be sure to position your feet shoulder width apart, and as you bend into the squat allow the weight to move down through the glutes to your heals (avoiding tipping forward onto your toes). At the bottom of the squat, your knees should bend to approximately 90 degrees. On the way back up, activate the glutes to initiate the return to standing position.

- Try 15 consecutive reps to start.

Lunges: Similar to back squats, lunges are another great way to exercise both the glutes and quads. You can either use lunges in a walking pattern, moving forward on one leg followed by the next, or you can return to standing between each lunge. Either way, be sure to steady yourself between each lunge and make sure your front knee travels forward in line with your second toe. Just like the back squat, always engage your return to standing from the glutes first to ensure you maximize conditioning of your biggest muscles. Lunges are a great way to help you identify if you have even strength on both legs, or if there is an imbalance that needs to be addressed.


- Try 20 consecutive reps on each leg to start.
The Core

Just as they are essential to any exercise, the core muscles (those through your abdomen, down the side of the torso, and in the lower back) are particularly important for rowers for both technical proficiency, strength, and injury prevention. The best thing about core exercises is that they can be done anywhere, and only 10-15 mins of core work 3 times per week can make a big difference to your performance on the Indoor Rower.

Sit-Ups: Perhaps the most widely known exercise, the sit up is a great way of developing strength in the lower, to mid abdominal muscles. Start by lying on the floor with your knees bent and feet flat on the floor. Place your hands on either side of your head, or with your arms straight and palms flat on your legs. Rock your body off the floor slowly starting from the head and shoulders, through to your lower back, stopping when your body reaches approx. 45 degrees. Lower your body back to the ground slowly, with your back reaching the ground first, and your shoulder and head last. You do not need to rush to do a lot of sit up reps, they are more effective if done slowly and deliberately

situp tick

- Try 20 consecutive reps to start.

Oblique Holds: The obliques are the core muscles that run down the sides of the torso and play an important role in stabilization. Start by lying on your side with your feet together. Position your forearm beneath your shoulder, leaning on your arm to lift your hips off the ground in a line that connects your shoulders to your feet. Hold this position for 30 seconds-1 min. Switch sides and repeat.

side hold

- Try holding for 30 seconds on each side to start.
The Arms

The arms have the job of accelerating the rowing stroke into the finish and leading the recovery- a key role in creating a sense of rhythm in the stroke. While the arms are very much secondary to the legs in terms of power muscle groups for rowing, it is still useful to spend some time on strength and conditioning in the upper body for overall muscle balance, as well as getting that extra bit out of the end of the stroke.

Press Ups: A great exercise for shoulder and tricep conditioning. Depending on your upper body strength, press ups can be done effectively either balanced on the toes, or at the knees. Keep your hands shoulder width a part and begin with your arms outstretched. Slowly bend your elbows, bringing your face down to 1cm above the floor. As you push back up, keep the pressure through the back of your shoulders- try not to let your shoulders lift towards your ears.

press up

- Try 10 consecutive reps to start.

Pull Ups: These are a great way to focus on conditioning for the exact pulling motion of the arms during the rowing stroke. You will need to find a firmly fixed bar to hang from, with enough room underneath to avoid resting your feet on the floor. Start by hanging off the bar with your arms straight. As you bend your elbows to pull your body up to the bar, focus on using your shoulders and biceps to draw your bodyweight up until your chin is above the bar, resisting the temptation to create momentum by swinging your legs. Lower yourself slowly back down, feeling the weight come off your shoulders and arms. Rest at the bottom before going again.

pull up

- Try 3 - 5 consecutive reps to start.

All of these exercises are easy to do at home or at the gym and are a great way to keep developing strength in your rowing muscles. You can include these as sets on their own, or into an interval session on the rower- check out our article featuring our Top3 PM5 Games for inspiration on how you can mix up your rowing workout with fun exercise intervals.