Rowing for Fitness, or “Staring at the Wall”

Posted: November 2, 2012 in Gym, In Transition
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I have set a new short term goal for myself while I – impatiently – wait for the soft tissue damage in my left foot to get with the program: I am going to row a half marathon on Christmas morning in lieu of my customary long run.  Yes, I realize that this will be committing myself to sitting on a stationary ergometer for nearly an hour and a half (maybe longer) staring at the wall at my local YMCA when I could be gorging on holiday yum-yum’s, but at least it’s keeping me active and working towards something in the meantime instead of sitting on the couch feeling sorry for myself.  I’ve had a month of that already, thanks.

As it turns out, rowing is actually a pretty valuable cross-training tool for triathletes.  In fact, if done properly, it might even help me find power in my puny withered muscles that I didn’t even know I had.  And given that my first few sessions on the erg left me pretty much completely spent, I’m not terribly surprised either.  Honestly, it was some pretty lung-searing stuff the likes of which I experience on any other intense run or cycle workout.  However, when done properly in one continuous motion, rowing will pretty much engage my legs, core, back and arms; it’s the complete full body workout!  I usually have the stability of a bowl of Jell-O after a good rowing session which, in my mind, validates this strength building quality to rowing.  The downside is that it’s about as boring as watching paint dry.  As it is, the erg at my gym faces out a window overlooking the local skate park.  So, for 30-35 minutes at a time I get to play ‘Rear Window’ to a bunch of purple mohawked teenagers as they pass around doobs while performing ‘ollies’, ‘grinds’, ‘kicks’, ‘flips’ and God knows what else.  It’s not terribly mentally stimulating, brah.


Who knew I’d ever miss running?  Lord knows I never saw that one coming myself.

One of the chief benefits of rowing I’ve learned is that it teaches good posture.  I’m sure my current running posture is pathetic; somewhere between an arthritic orangutan and an oil-laden pelican trying to take off.  Rowing, helps runners develop robust mid-line stability to help shift running from smaller, weaker muscles such as hip flexors to more powerful muscles in the hip themselves.  Properly performed, rowing offers a solid blast of cardio work, ab work, core and lower back while even developing flexibility in the hamstrings and calves.  Boo-yah!

Over all, there is one huge advantage that I can find in rowing lately:  rowing allows me to do a non-impact form of endurance training.  Don’t get me wrong, if I want to be a better runner, I have to actually run.  But while I’m still on the sidelines with this stupid injury, then rowing is the next best thing to keep my endurance up (or build it up, as the case may be) in the meantime.  Likewise, I’m burning calories like a mofo while rowing and that simply has to be a good thing as I’ve been working through a large bowl of Halloween candy recently.  And since my major goal this year is to get fast, loosing weight needs to be – hands down – the main focus in the coming months.  Therefore, I am using a few suggested rowing plans each week to prepare for this half marathon in little under two months.

500m Repeats

4x500m with 2 minute rests between each.  This is similar in nature to the feel of running 800m  speed intervals at a moderately high intensity on the track.  I use the memory function on the erg’s computer to log my workout.

Long Sprints

8×45 seconds hard with 15-second easy recovery periods between each interval. Just good old fashioned, short, high intensity interval training…no muss, no fuss.

The Time Ladder

Ten minutes nonstop: four minutes, three minutes, two minutes, one minute, building up intensity in each transition with no rest in between. The four minutes should be at a relative base tempo with the one-minute intervals at high intensity. I have to remember here to have enough in the tank to make moves at each time transition.  I equate this to specific pace training during any of my moderate medium-distance runs.

The Long Haul

45 minutes straight (and then adding 10% each week).  This is the granddaddy of the weekly workouts building up my endurance to sustain a 2:10/500m  pace over 90 minutes of continuous rowing.  This is the equivalent to my weekend LSD runs where time, not distance, is the over all focus.  Eventually, these sessions will give over to  my normal distance runs once I begin transitioning back into my normal training schedule.

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