Training ideas

The real question is: Why not? Hundreds of studies have confirmed the benefit of cardiovascular and strength training for almost all people. Whether it is for better vascular, mental or general health, exercise is good for you. A recent study proved that vascular disease begins in children as young as ten years old if they are sedentary and overweight, but the changes were reversible with exercise. The same may well be true for adults.

Put simply: Exercise makes us feel better, function better and look better.



In broad terms rowing training can be divided into four categories:

  • ENDURANCE TRAINING – 20 minutes or more at generally lower stroke rates, with the aim of increasing muscular and cardiovascular endurance, or resistance to fatigue

  • ANAEROBIC THRESHOLD TRAINING – 6-12 minute pieces at higher intensity, rating say 22-30 strokes/minute(SPM) with the aim of increasing the body’s ability to use as much oxygen as possible

  • SPEEDWORK – Short pieces at high stroke rate (32-40+ SPM) which aim to train the body to dispose of lactic acid, and train the nerves and muscles to function optimally in a race

  • POWER STROKES (and other resistance training) – Training against an increased resistance load to strengthen the muscles and other structures (ligaments, tendons, even bones) Pieces of between 10 and 50 strokes. A high proportion of resistance work, perhaps 75%, should target the neuromuscular system in exercises using movements as similar as possible to the actual sport (“Sport Specific”). The exact proportion of loading is often argued about, but the well-known swimming coach Gennady Touretsky believes that a figure of around 10% above the load encountered in the actual event trained for is optimal. This happens to be the exact difference between the heavy (left) and “normal” (right) drive cog on the Rowperfect

Before any physical activity program is undertaken you should consult a doctor. If in any doubt about your physical health, a medically supervised stress test is a wonderful idea.

There is abundant evidence to show that 3 aerobic exercise sessions every week is a good long-term strategy. Rowing is probably the best total body exercise you can do, utilizing virtually all the major muscle groups, and using less cycles per minute of exercise than any other activity (put simply: less wear-and-tear for your joints) With practice, you can get even greater benefit by monitoring your breathing pattern (as described below under Measuring Lactate)

Rowperfect’s unique dynamic action makes your training safer while giving you the true rhythm of a lightweight single scull floating on water. Other rowing machines actually simulate a boat which doesn’t move at all – almost the definition of a pointless activity.

Before any exercise, warm up with general stretching, and I strongly suggest including 40-100 “BICYCLES” lying on you back followed by some lateral raises with each leg while lying on the floor. These exercises will improve core strength and proprioception.


When we exercise, we use two major energy systems.

The first type is the aerobic (with oxygen) system, which is very efficient, and produces only carbon dioxide and water as by-products. Exercising aerobically means exercising at a level where the aerobic system is the predominant system. It is where most of us should exercise, most of the time.

The second system is the anaerobic (without oxygen) system. It is twenty times less efficient than the aerobic system (that is, it uses 20 times more fuel for the same energy production) and produces lactic acid (lactate) as a by-product Too much anaerobic exercise is potentially dangerous – the body’s energy reserves are rapidly depleted, and high acid levels in your blood probably directly damage your white blood cells, the body’s defence against infection. Taken together, it is easy to understand the illnesses which occur in over-trained people, especially if combined with inadequate rest.

Measuring Lactate

In reality, both energy systems are always working, but when we go past a certain point (the Anaerobic Threshold) the use of the anaerobic system greatly increases, and the aerobic system is already at maximum capacity. This point can actually be measured in a number of ways. One method involves collecting a blood sample during or straight after exercise. The blood lactate level can be measured, and values above 4 millimoles per litre of blood indicate the anaerobic system is activated During vigorous exercise, values as high as 20 mmol/l are not uncommon.

A much easier method of measuring your personal anaerobic threshold involves learning to monitor your own breathing pattern. With practice this is actually quite easy. When your exercise intensity pushes you beyond the AT, you will rapidly “lose control” over your breathing – it becomes fast and irregular. You may also feel the muscles of your face contracting, as your body tries to open your airways (which include the nose of course) as wide as possible. At this point, simply drop the intensity, or even rest completely, until you feel your breathing pattern return to a controllable level. Most people find they can learn to monitor and control their breathing pattern within a very short time, despite never previously being aware of it at all!

How do you identify when you have passed your AT?:

Your breathing rate suddenly increases, and you rapidly feel uncomfortable. So – begin to use your breathing pattern as a guide. If it is deep, steady and regular, you are OK. Try to hold this breathing pattern for as long as possible. When you can no longer avoid rapid uncontrolled breathing, break down the effort until your breathing recovers properly. Once you are accustomed to monitoring your breathing this way, it will become a habit, and you’ll never lose this ability to monitor your exercise intensity.


This may sound unusual, but I believe most sessions should be done without electronic feedback – or with only sporadic use in any case. Too many of us are “addicted” to constant numerical based assessment of our progress – we need to stop competing with machines (we can never win) and learn to train mostly using rhythm and perceived exertion as our feedback. We have the most sensitive monitor ever built within our own body – why not use it? This is especially true of longer sessions, where the danger of over-training is greatest.

Nevertheless, we all like a structured approach to training at least as a guide, so here are some suggestions:


As a general rule, aim to maximize the ENERGY PER STROKE (Which is the work done every stroke). That way, you will achieve maximal strength gain for every stroke done. By changing the rate you row at you can then vary the intensity of every workout or part thereof. The intensity is best measured by the POWER produced.

For example: Rower 1 at rate 20 (1 stroke every 3 seconds), averaging 600 joules per stroke, is producing 200 Watts, (600/3=200)

Conversely, Rower 2, also averaging 600 joules, but rating 30 (1 stroke every 2 seconds) is producing 300 Watts (600/2=300)

The bad news is that there is no absolute rule here – you will have to experiment to find whether you are a “diesel” (low rate/big strokes), “petrol” (high rate, smaller strokes), or somewhere between. The only way to really find out is to do the hard work – but at least the above examples give you a starting point.


Proprioception is best described as how things “feel”. It is the combined feedback from our bodies which tells us the tension in our muscles/joints/tendons, and the inertial forces we are experiencing (balance and momentum transfer in the case of rowing, but more complex in a diver in the middle of a twisting triple!). Proprioception is a combination of General System (effectively tension and pressure receptors in the muscles, tendons and ligaments) and Special System (middle Ear receptors – balance/momentum). The proprioception benefits of he Rowperfect are particularly obvious in the sport of rowing, but there is abundant evidence that development of proprioceptive systems is beneficial for other sports: If you can learn to row a particular Force Curve on the Rowperfect, it really could improve your ability to control your golf swing/kick a football/land after leaping to take a high mark. May seem implausible, but it is true.


Bilateral deficits are very common – most of us have one. A bilateral deficit occurs when one limb is stronger and/or more coordinated than another, and of course most of us know that the hand we use most is stronger and has better fine control than the other.

What we often don’t realize is that one leg is also stronger than the other – we use it differently, stand on it preferentially and so on.

The Rowperfect, perhaps more than any previous exercise machine, can be used to identify AND CORRECT bilateral deficits

Whether with or without the interface, row using one leg at a time (rest one leg on the floor).You may quite quickly realize that one leg is definitely stronger – you may be shocked at the size of the discrepancy . However, by regularly doing 20-30 strokes one-legged before each session (whether on- or off-water session) you should rapidly find the strength evens up. You may find that as a result of the increased awareness you have developed, that your general posture improves.and this alone has been known to improve some longstanding lower back problems. The Rowperfect, especially with the Force Curve demonstrated by the interface, can both identify and (with qualified direction) correct BDs. BDs are implicated in the development of chronic back pain and certainly eliminating them is likely to improve the performance of any athlete, especially if that athlete happens to be a rower who has been subconsciously applying unequal pressure with his feet, or a tennis player who favours one leg, and so on.

CROSS-EDUCATION/CROSS-LATERALISATION – using the Rowperfect to aid recovery after injury, or surgery

– Both terms describe the effect whereby when one limb is exercised the contralateral (“other side”) limb is also stimulated by the equivalent nerves on its side. The un-exercised limb will gain both strength and coordination – not as much as the exercised limb, but very significantly more than would occur had it not been stimulated. The implications for recovery after injury or surgery are enormous: not only can the person maintain their aerobic capacity after say a knee injury, but when the knee recovers enough to be used again, it will be supported by muscles which are far more advanced in their recovery than would be the case if he/she had not used their Rowperfect during the rehabilitation process. And of course the inertial forces acting on that rehabilitating knee will be up to six times less than would be the case if the rower was using a stationary rowing machine.


A recent study showed that power output in athletes involved in aerobic exercise may increase by up to 7% when music is included in a training session. Imagine a supplement which could achieve a similar improvement – it would sell better than hotcakes! Experience tells me that figure is correct, and I would encourage anyone to include music in almost any session, particularly for longer pieces. Personal experience tells me that live recordings work well – but we are all different, and you should use whichever music you enjoy – if you actually enjoy it at all.


ENDURANCE 20 minutes up to 90 minutes

  • 1. Continuous (with self-monitoring)
  • 2. 3’firm 1’light (or similar variation)
  • 3. 2’@16-2’@18-1’@20x5-10
  • 4. Counting strokes: Start at 10 firm 10 light, gradually increase the number of firm as fitness improves
  • 5. Pyramids: 1firm, 1 light, 2firm, 2 light etc - up to 35 firm and back down (maximum 20 light)
  • 6. Music: row firm during a song, and light or total rest between songs

For general health and cardiovascular well-being —should form about 75% of your total training load in one form or another

POWER STROKES *Using the smaller cog, or a substantially smaller disc than the one normally used *Advanced rowers only – suggest at least two months of regular rowing training before attempting these sessions

Various combinations between 10 to 50 strokes at maximum pressure, with equal or greater rest between sets. Total number of strokes between 150 and 600 depending on intensity

For more advanced rowers. Aim is to at least partially replace resistance training with weights, though an increasing number of successful rowers now use it as their major or even sole form of strength training.


E.g. 3x10’; @20/22/24/26 (4’,2’.2’,2’)

The most effective way to increase the VO2 (Maximal oxygen uptake, with the added benefit of encouraging greater stroke efficiency—the rower strives for greater speed by whatever means from a limited resource: his or her body!


15 to 60 stroke pieces at high (>30SPM) rating A good variation is a pyramid of racing stokes from 1-35 with equal rest

Neurological training—efficiency of movement as well as physiological training—increasing tolerance of high blood lactate levels. *Should form probably the smallest component of any training regime—utilizes large amounts of energy via the anaerobic system, and thus very stressful.