Friday, 26 October 2012

Rowing Machines Part 3: Programs

One of the greatest things about ergos is that you can use them in almost any type of workout. Want to focus on your cardiovascular fitness? Great, jump on, keep the rating at a medium speed, and go for a long time. Need to build some muscle? Crank up the drag to 10 and try power strokes. Want to do a circuit? Add in a 250 sprint, or 25 stroke burst as one of your stations. See, so many options!

Having said that, I do not recommend making up your own exercise technique such as lying on the seat on your stomach, gripping the handle behind your back and using it for weird squats... yes, I've seen someone try this!

Today I'm going to look at some great tools for developing a rowing program, and then look at some preset programs that are for the keen to very keen.

Image courtesy of photostock /

Please note that even done correctly, rowing can put a lot of strain on your back if you haven't developed the muscles properly, which can lead to back pain and injury. Please build up slowly and don't just jump into a program developed for well trained athletes. 


One of the first things you should get into if you are at all interested in rowing machines is the Concept 2 website. There is both a UK and a US version to the website. I'm going to be citing from the UK site, but the US is just as good. 

Start by checking out their training guide. They have information on absolutely everything you would want to know. 

Particularly note the preset training guides if you are looking for a system to follow. They offer guides for a range of goals: basic conditioning, 20min and 40min programs, 2,000m race training and marathon training programs. (Yes, people complete and compete in half marathon and marathon length ergos. I've done the distance of a half marathon, but took a 2 min break every half an hour. It is one of my goals for the next few months to do a half marathon without a break).

One thing to note about these programs is that they can look complicated until you have worked out their notation (you might need to rewrite the workouts so you can understand at first) and you need to workout out your heart rate for their bands (Refer to my previous post on Heart Rate Reserve for the list of their bands.)

Here is an example of their 20minute preset workout.

Table 5.3
20 Minute Fitness Programme, 3-5 Sessions per Week
SessionLight WeekMedium WeekHard Week
Preparation Period
11 x 20' UT1 20spm1 x 20' UT1 22spm1 x 20' UT1 24spm
22 x 8' UT1 22spm2 x 8' UT1 23spm2 x 8' UT1 24spm
31 x 20' UT1 20spm1 x 20' UT1 22spm1 x 20' UT1 24spm
42 x 8' UT1 22spm2 x 8' UT1 23spm1 x 20' UT1 24spm
51 x 20' UT2 18-20spm1 x 20' UT2 18-20spm1 x 20' UT218-20spm
Development Period
12 x 8' AT 24spm2 x 8' AT 25spm2 x 8' AT 26spm
21 x 20' UT1 20spm1 x 20' UT1 22spm1 x 20' UT1 24spm
33 x 5' AT 26spm3 x 5' AT 27spm3 x 5' AT 28spm
41 x 20' UT1 22spm1 x 20' UT1 23spm1 x 20' UT1 24spm
51 x 20' UT2 18-20spm1 x 20' UT2 18-20spm1 x 20' UT2 18-20spm
Consolidation Period
13 x 4' TR 28spm3 x 4' TR 28spm3 x 4' TR 30spm
26 x 1' AN 32spm6 x 1' AN 34spm8 x 1' AN 36spm
34 x 2' TR 30spm5 x 2' TR 32spm6 x 2' TR 32spm
42 x 8' AT 24spm2 x 8' AT 26spm2 x 8' AT 28spm
51 x 20' UT1 20spm1 x 20' UT1 22spm1 x 20' UT1 24spm

Notes for Table 5.3
  1. 1 x 20' UT1 20spm means row for 20 minutes in your UT1 heart rate range at 20 strokes per minute.
  2. 2 x 8' UT1 20spm means row for eight minutes in your UT1 heart rate range at 20 strokes per minute, with a short rest of three to four minutes, then repeat.
  3. 6 x 1' AN 32spm means row one minute intervals in your AN heart rate range, with at least one to two minutes rest between each piece of work, repeat six times.
  4. 4 x 2'TR 30spm means row for two minutes in your TR heart rate at 30 strokes per minute with 30 to 90 seconds rest, repeat four times.
  5. Sessions 1 to 3 are fairly hard workouts as they are designed for people only completing three training sessions each week. The less training you do each week the harder the individual sessions need to be so that cumulatively you are doing enough work for it to be beneficial. As you complete more sessions per week the training load of the extra sessions can be reduced. Therefore sessions 4 & 5 are lighter workouts. When completing more than three sessions a week we recommend you adjust the sequence of the sessions to give a more balanced mix of light and hard sessions throughout the week.

They also have lots of good information on how to develop your own program. 

However, my favourite feature of their training guide is their interactive training programs. You can chose from 2,000m, Fast Track Fitness or Weight loss. You put in your details, how often you want to train and the results you want, and it will make up a training program for you. Awesome, no? 

The tricky bit is then going to the gym and doing it, but Concept 2 have thought up ways to help with that too! Their online training log is really useful. Not only does it let you record your workouts, you can then see where it ranks against other people in your age group doing the same distance/time etc. On the side bar there are interested things like the work out of the day to give you new ideas. Also, if you want to get really enthused, they have teams you can join, and challenges throughout the year.
The final thing from Concept 2 which I want to point you towards is the forums. There are threads on almost any topic you could want to know about, and if there isn't one already, start it and you will get a great response. 


For anyone who want to get serious results and are prepared to put in the effort to get them, the Wolverine Plan is for you. It was devised for the University of Michigan's women's crew by Mike Caviston. 

Note that it was designed for athletes, and works on the basis you are going to do 9 workouts a week on the ergo or water and two weight sessions. If you have not worked at that level before, DO NOT START HERE! But, if you are ready for a challenge, and want to get into peak condition, this could be for you. 

The plan is very details and sort of complicated. For an understanding of how the plan developed and its purpose, see the interview with Mike Caviston on row2k. The actual program is a PDF and you can download it from (among other places, this was just the neatest).


9 sessions of rowing a week a bit too much for you? But you still want a very similar plan? Then the Pete Plan is for you!

It was created by Pete Marston who started following the Wolverine Plan but found it had too many sessions and he didn't like the long, slow sessions (especially since most of his sessions he was doing in his lunch hour at the work gym). So he tinkered with it to create something that worked for him. It has since become rather famous. 

The big difference which I want to recommend between the two programs is that the Pete Plan is MUCH easier to understand and use.

It is based on a three week cycle, with six sessions a week. There are three types of sessions: speed intervals, “anaerobic threshold” intervals, and distance or endurance training.

The basic plan is this:

Monday - Speed intervals; 3 weekly rotation between:
8 x 500m, 3:30 rest
4 x 1k, 5min rest
250/500/750/1k/750/500/250 pyramid (1:30 rest per 250m after interval)

Tuesday - Steady distance (8 to 15k)

Wednesday - Steady distance (8 to 15k)

Thursday - Distance intervals; 3 weekly rotation between:
5 x 1500m, 5min rest
4 x 2k, 5min rest
3k/2.5k/2k, 5min rest

Friday - Steady distance (8 to 15k)

Saturday - Hard 10k

Sunday - Rest

He has also created a 'beginner' version with three core sessions and then two optional ones for those looking for something a bit less intense.
The thing a lot of people say against the Pete Plan is that as there are only three weeks, you get used to the work outs pretty soon, and come to loath some of them. It's pretty hard to make yourself go to the gym if you know you are going to be doing a work out you hate. However, that is largely an attitude problem, which you can turn around by seeing those as your own personal challenge to overcome. (And usually it is the workout that you loath the most that is the best for you.) 
For more discussion on the plan, see the Concept 2 forum thread with Peter Marston himself answering questions about the plan.

There are hundreds of different workouts that you can do on your rowing machine, and I hope this has given you just a taste. 

I thought I would finish with a link to this article I found, on why all runners should be rowers

Now get out there and try it!

1 comment:

  1. nice blog
    thanks for sharing information.
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