I spent four years as a three-sport college athlete, running upwards of 90 miles a week. After college, I made the U.S. Triathlon National Team, and for years, spent six to eight hours of my days swimming, cycling, and running. I’ve had cancer and open-heart surgery. All this is to say I’m no stranger to hard work, and I’m always, always game for a physical challenge.
The hardest physical feat I’ve faced to date? Rowing 2000 meters at max effort. Don’t believe me? Just hear me out.
I was first introduced to rowing in high school. Coming from a running background, it was a completely foreign concept to move in perfect sync with my teammates, and I was fascinated by the concept. A lot of people have the misconception that rowing is all about arm strength, but in reality, it’s a full-body workout that engages nearly 90% of the body’s muscles. The combination of strength training and cardio rowing required makes it challenging but effective; when done properly, rowing is perhaps the most efficient whole-body workout out there, allowing you to burn up to 400 calories in a 20-minute session.
These days, I row on the water five days a week, filming on-river workouts for , a Boston-based company that streams live and on-demand rowing workouts powered by Live Outdoor Reality (LOR)™. And while I’m in arguably the best shape of my life, there’s nothing that takes my breath away quite like a 2000 meter sprint on the water or on a rowing machine.
So for those of you out there looking to find a fun workout that comes with results, here’s a 30-day breakdown of how to utilize indoor rowing as your go-to workout. We’re ultimately going to work towards a 2000 meter test. You’ll do a pre-test at Day 14, and your final test on Day 30. If you follow this program closely, you’ll be amazed at just how far you can push yourself.
Days 1–4: Lay the Foundation The first few days are all about one thing: perfecting your form. Rowing is a fantastic low-impact workout, but doing so with poor form can actually lead to serious injuries, or exacerbate existing issues. Proper rowing form is really simple. It’s really just three steps, repeated and then reversed. At Hydrow, we call this “1,2,3–3,2,1.” Start in a seated position. Step one: arms come away. Step two: swing your core over your hips. Step three: Your knees come up. Then you reverse it. Knees come down, core swings back, and your arms pull in. Ask a trainer to watch your form and make the necessary adjustments. Take the time upfront to ensure your form is accurate and consistent before worrying about power or metrics. Days 5–7: Build Endurance + Strive for Consistency.
- Day 1: 10 minutes of rowing. 2 minutes on, 30 seconds rest. Repeat five times
- Day 2: 10 minutes of rowing. 2 minutes on, 15 seconds rest. Repeat five times.
- Day 3: 15 minutes of rowing. 5 minutes on, 1 minute off/easy. Repeat three times. Try to maintain the same split/power for all three 5-minute pieces.
- Day 4: REST
Week 1 is in the books! Congrats. You’re probably sore as hell! Hopefully in your glutes, hamstrings, and lats. If you followed this routine, I promise Week 2 will be better. Days 8–14: Power and Rate Work
Day 5: Start with 5 minutes of easy, form-focused warm up, followed by 4 x 500 meters with 1-minute rest. Finish with a 3-minute cooldown of easy paddling. Concentrate on replicating the same split for all 4 intervals. Day 6: Crosstrain. When starting anything new, moderation is key in preventing soreness and/or injury. Go for a run, spin your legs on a bike, swim or take a class you enjoy. Day 7: 20 minutes rowing, no break. Think of this workout as a “long endurance row.”
Days 15–22: Quality not Quantity
- Day 8: 20 minutes of rowing. Yes, again. This time, break it into 2 x 2000m. We will start getting into more distance-focused workouts in order to help gauge effort with meters. Row 2000 meters at 70% effort. Then take 3 minutes rest, but still rowing. Then try to repeat that first 2000 meter time (or a second faster)!
- Day 9: REST
- Day 10: 4 x 5 minutes. Take 30–60 seconds rest in between. The purpose of this workout is to hit certain “stroke ratings” or rhythms, as we refer to them at Hydrow. The first 5 minutes should be at a controlled 20 strokes per minute. The second 5 minutes should be 2 beats higher at a 22, with the third 5-minute interval at a 24. The final 5 minutes at a 26. Your split will naturally get faster as the stroke rate increases. Again, focus on hitting the splits is the second metric to rowing.
- Day 11: 15 minutes straight through. Play with the rates. One minute at a 20. Next minute at a 24. Then back to a 20. Then up to a 28. Rotate through these three rates.
- Day 12: Cross train. Perhaps some yoga.
- Day 13: 20 minutes rowing, broken up however you like. Just keep moving and rowing for 20 minutes. All of it easy, easy pressure.
Day 14: Pre-Test Workout! Start with a 5-minute warmup with 4 x 10 strokes at max effort and at a 28 or 30 stroke rating. Focus on keeping form consistent especially at higher rates. Next, you’re going to go for 6 x 500m with 1-minute rest. The goal here is to have the exact same split per 500m effort. Finish with a 3-minute (500m) cool down.
- Day 17: 4 x 5 minutes rowing. Do a minute of core work (2 x 30-second exercises) in between rowing. Yes, get off the machine and do abs. Then get back on for 5 minutes. Repeat 3 times.
- Day 18: Cardio Day. 3 x 10 minutes with 2 minutes of rest in between. Stand up, grab water, catch your breath. Do the first 10 minutes at a 20, the second 10 minutes at a 24, and the third 10 minutes at a 28. Maintain your split.
- Day 19: Active rest. If yoga wasn’t your thing, try something else. Even a walk.
- Day 20: 20-minute row. Alternate 1 minute at 22, then 1 minute at 26 for the duration. 10 days to go ’til your 2000 meter test!
- Day 21: Speed work! 30-minute row. By now, you should have a warm-up routine. Go ahead and start with that. Then you’ll do 30 seconds at 90% effort, followed by 90 seconds of easy rowing. Repeat 15 times. The goal is to crank through the 30-second efforts hard and at the same rate. Know that you will have plenty of recovery time so hit the 30 seconds at 90% or greater effort.
- Day 22: REST
Days 23–30: The Fun and Anxious Week!
What can you expect after 30 days?
- Day 23: 27-minute workout. Do 10 minutes at 80% effort at a 24 stroke rate. 5-minute rest or full recovery. 10 min at 85% effort at a 24 stroke rate. 5 minutes of rest or full recovery, followed by 7 minutes at 90% at a 26 stroke rate. The purpose of this workout is to make that final 7 minutes of work, while tired, harder than the first 20.
- Day 24: 15-minute flush-out. Easy effort and 18–22 stroke rate.
- Day 25: Pyramid Speed Work! Stroke count-focused work at a high stroke rating (at least 28).
- 2 x (5 x 10 strokes) at max effort; 15-second rest in between.
- 2 x (4 x 20 strokes) at max effort; 30 second rest. Try to keep the split within 3 seconds of the 10 stroke pieces.
- Day 26: Active Recovery. 10-minute flush-out row.
- Day 27: 4 x 5 minutes. Shoot for 20, 24, 22 and 26 stroke ratings, respectively at a 50% effort. Stroke rating focused here.
- Day 29: 20 minutes rowing. Max effort for 30 seconds at 6-minute, 13-minute, and 19-minute marks. Make sure you take time for a proper cool down and stretch afterward.
- Day 30: 2000 Meter Test! This is all our effort for 2000 meters. Things to think about: Break it down into 4 x 500-meter pieces. Have a ‘race’ plan (i.e. what split are you aiming for [which means what goal time] and at what stroke rating?) You should aim for 28 average throughout the entire workout. Know that the third 500m will be the hardest; your form will start to go and your split will get slower. Suck it up and see what you are made of.
You will feel stronger, more fit, and more able to produce more power with your increased lung capacity. Don’t be afraid to push into that pain zone. As I mentioned, the 2000 meter rowing test is one of the hardest physical tests out there, but I promise it will be worthwhile. Knowing that you did everything you possibly could to row 2000 meters (at a max effort, no less!) is a feeling that you won’t forget.
There are many ways to fall into an easy routine or lack thereof with fitness and workouts. Risk is the tariff you pay when leaving the shores of predictable misery. How much are you willing to spend?