5 CrossFit Rowing Workouts to Become a Well-Rounded Athlete

If you’ve spent any amount of time in CrossFit gym, chances are you’re familiar with the rowing machine. Some of you love it, some of you despise it, but all of you need it. Rowing is a uniquely effective way to build endurance, muscle stamina, and power output with relatively low impact on the joints. Let’s talk about some simple, yet incredibly effective CrossFit rowing workouts that can help you become a fitter, more well-rounded athlete.


CrossFit Rowing Workouts Benefits

The rower is one of the most effective pieces of equipment for an athlete for a variety of reasons. It is a low-impact machine that allows you to train at a high volume without the wear and tear on the muscles and joints that you would get from weighted movements or higher-impact movements like jumping or running. CrossFit rowing workouts provide an opportunity for any fitness level to achieve a desired training stimulus due to the easy-to-learn technique and a very low risk of injury.

Rowing is also an extremely effective way to build mental toughness. These workouts can get difficult and usually it’s a choice to slow down before it’s physically necessary. With the low-impact, low-risk of injury, and minimal technique, it allows the opportunity to push yourself further than you could with other movements.

Lastly, and most importantly, CrossFit rowing workouts can be used in a wide variety of ways to target and improve specific energy systems that will translate into all other areas of fitness.

How To Use The CrossFit Rowing Machine

The difficulty of a CrossFit rowing workout can depend heavily on how efficient you are with your strokes on the rower. It’s important to start each stroke in the proper position aka the catch position.

  • Start with the feet securely strapped in with the balls of your feet in contact with the footpad
  • Your knees are slightly bent so that your shins are in a mostly vertical position, your torso is leaning forward so that your shoulders are in front of your hips, your back is straight, and your arms are fully extended with the handle firmly grasped (you can imagine this position as a deadlift set-up only in a seated position allowing for maximum leg drive and posterior engagement).
  • Initiate your pull with a strong leg drive. As your legs begin to straighten out, you’ll begin to lean back with the torso while pulling the handle into the lower rib area
  • The stroke finish position should be legs fully extended, torso leaning back slightly, hands tight to the body with the handle touching your lower ribs
  • To go into your next stroke, you’ll return to the catch position (start position) in reverse order as the pull
  • Initiate the return by extending your arms as you lean forward with your torso.
  • Once the handle gets to your knees you can begin to bend them until you are back in that good starting position.

Now that you better understand the effectiveness of rowing and how to efficiently perform the movement let’s look at 5 simple, but not so easy CrossFit rowing workouts.

5 CrossFit Rowing Workouts

1. Sprint Intervals (Max Effort)

Every 2:00 x 6 Rounds

20 seconds max effort row sprint

Sprint intervals are a great way to improve your power output and increase your lactate threshold which will allow you push a little harder for a little longer in your workouts. For this piece you’ll be working for 20 seconds and rest for 1 minute and 40 seconds. This will provide ample rest to repeat maximum effort. Over the course of the 6 rounds, you might notice your pace slowing down or the pain level increasing. This is how it should feel and where you will get the most adaptations.

2. Aerobic Power Intervals (EMOM)

1 minute rowing/1 minute rest x 10 Rounds

With aerobic training, repeatability is key. Unlike sprint intervals, it’s best to maintain about 85% output during the working intervals. 85% is generally a maximum pace that can be repeated several times consecutively using a 1:1 work to rest ratio. A solid goal for these intervals would be to achieve the same number of calories or meters for all 10 intervals with the difficulty increasing slightly throughout.

3. Endurance (10k)

10k row

Endurance training is usually performed for long continuous bouts of steady movement at a low intensity. A 10,000-meter row can take anywhere from 30-60 minutes depending on fitness level. To sustain your output for this duration it’s important to keep your heart rate lower and strokes smooth and efficient.

4. Metcon (CrossFit Jackie)

For time:
1000m row
50 thrusters
30 pull-ups

Women: 35lb barbell // Men: 45lb barbell

"Jackie” is a classic CrossFit benchmark workout utilizing the rower to fatigue the arms and legs and then go immediately into performing thrusters and pull-ups. Often in CrossFit training and testing, the row is used to create fatigue for other movements or vice versa. “Jackie” is a great example of this and way to train or test rowing with other movement patterns.

5. Chipper

For time:

50 calorie row
50 box-jumps
40 calorie row
40 box-jumps
30 calorie row
30 box-jumps
20 calorie row
20 box-jumps

Women: 20” box // Men: 24” box

Chipper workouts are used to train muscle stamina and aerobic capacity as the rep ranges are higher forcing you to spend a significant amount of time on each movement and building fatigue before moving on to the next. These workouts are longer in time domain and with the high rep schemes it feels like you’re “chipping” away at it, hence the name.

CrossFit Rowing Workouts: Takeaway

These CrossFit rowing workouts can be implemented into any training routine and depending on your weaknesses, you may do one style more than another. If you need to build aerobic capacity, you might spend more time doing 10k rows and chipper workouts. If you need to become more powerful you might spend more time doing aerobic power intervals or sprints. Whatever your goals are, CrossFit rowing workouts are a great way to improve your overall fitness and become the best athlete you can be.

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