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Katie Wang teaching a row class

I’m a Peloton Row Instructor and These Are My 5 Go-to Strength Exercises

Make cross-training a priority to get more power on the rower and collect a few PRs, too.

By Katie WangMay 18, 2023

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Peloton Row instructor Katie Wang shares why strength training for rowing is key to making every stroke count, plus, her favorite exercises to become stronger on the rowing machine.

Rowers know how to get the most out of every sweat. That’s because rowing itself is a multi-tasking, full-body workout. It combines low impact, cardio, and strength, working 86 percent of your muscles all at the same time. But just like runners need to incorporate strength training to get stronger and faster on the road, rowers need strength training too off the rowing machine (that’s why I love a good Row Bootcamp!). 

Here's the scoop on why strength training is so important and the top strength training moves rowers should regularly do to condition their muscles. Consistently cranking these out in your training will help push you to the next level when you hop the Peloton Row

Why is Strength Training for Rowing So Important?

One of the great things about rowing is that it combines strength and cardio—but why stop there? Additional and targeted strength training will help you with muscular endurance for your long rows and explosive power generation at the catch so you can get stronger with every stroke.

There’s another reason strength training on top of rowing is important: It helps prevent injury. I love seeing my rowers on the Leaderboard and you don’t want to tap out because you overused certain muscle groups that are now hurting. 

One of the common misconceptions is that rowing is an upper body-focused workout. In reality, rowing is 60 percent legs. That means if you struggle with feeling the lower body burn when you are on your Row, there is a good chance you are overcompensating with upper body strength. This is where focusing on some lower body strength workouts in addition to some extra core work will give you a noticeable shift when you get back on the rowing machine.

The Best Strength Training Exercises for Rowers

My fitness philosophy is when it comes to a strength routine, or any workout, you have to do what works best for you or that you enjoy the most. Some people like to know the exact muscle group they want to train that day, while others prefer knowing that they're going to lift for 60 minutes and hit their full body. I find if you pick the approach you like you will adhere to a routine and that is crucial when building strength. 

This means that if you prefer splitting these moves up into mini sessions during the week, great! Or, if you want to knock them all out at the same time once a week, that works too! As with anything, consistency is key, so find your flow and stick to it. These are the exercises I rely on to improve my fitness and rowing. 

1. Deadlifts

I love an exercise that hits your legs, body, and arms all at once, and this is one of them. You’ll see this move in many Bootcamps, including Row Bootcamps.

Katie Wang doing a deadlift

How to do it: Pick a heavy set of dumbbells (start with anything between 15 lbs. and 30 lbs.). 

A. Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart and place the dumbbells horizontally between your feet. 

B. Keeping your back flat and spine long, bend at the knees into a squat. 

C. Pick up the dumbbells with straight arms as you straighten your legs, coming out of your squat. Your dumbbells should stop at your shins. 

D. Slowly lower dumbbells back down as you squat again and repeat. Aim for 10 to 15 reps or see how many you can do in 30 seconds without sacrificing your form.

2. Thrusters

This is another exercise that’s going to work your legs, arms, and body (like your core) all at the same time. It’s great for rowers because it really helps to complement your stroke.

Andy Speer doing dumbbell thrusters

How to do it: Beginners may want to start with a lighter weight (10 lbs. to 15 lbs.) to make sure they have the form down for this move first. If you’re used to strength training, try a heavier weight (15 lbs. to 20 lbs.). 

A. Grab your dumbbells and rack them on your shoulders with your elbows pointed slightly out and feet shoulder-width apart. 

B. Come down into a squat with a flat back and as you press up, push the dumbbells up, keeping your arms close to your ears into an overhead press. 

C. Lower the dumbbells back to your shoulders before doing your next squat. Aim for 10 to 15 reps or see how many you can do in 30 seconds without sacrificing your form.

3. Dumbbell Swings

I do this move regularly because it improves your rowing technique while working to give you more explosive  power in your legs and arms. Don't underestimate the importance of training lower body. I used to hate it (I’ll be honest, it’s still not my favorite!), but by focusing on lower body and back strength, I've noticed a huge difference in my stroke and endurance.

Tunde Oyeneyin doing dumbbell swings

How to do it: 

A. Stand feet shoulder width apart with a heavy dumbbell in your hands.

B. Squat down, bringing the dumbbell between your legs.

C. Thrust your legs up, swinging the dumbbell to up chest height. To make this move more difficult, hold the dumbbell with one hand and as you thrust, swap the dumbbell over to the other hand at the top before your next squat.

4. Plank Variations with a Lat Pulldown

I love planks as a way to strengthen your core, but when you pair it with a lat pull over it’s an absolute core crusher!

Rad Lopez doing a plank variation with lat pulls

Move 1: 

A. Start in a high plank position on palms. 

B. Lift one hand up and pull your elbow in towards your side, stopping at your ribs, as if you’re doing a single lat pull. Repeat on the other side. 

Move 2: 

A. Start in a side plank with feet staggered one in front of the other.

B. Bend your knees, bringing the knee that is behind you toward the ankle of the front foot. Keep the arm that’s on the mat stretched out in front of you. This causes the bent arm that's on the mat supporting the plank to stretch out into a lat pull. Repeat on the other side.

5. Bent Over Rows

On top of always working on my core, I've been working on strengthening my back. I find it helpful for my form, particularly on any longer endurance rows I have. 

Erik Jäger doing bent over rows

How to do it: 

A. Grab a medium pair of dumbbells in each hand and slightly bend from the waist, bending your knees slightly and keeping your back flat. 

B. Pull the dumbbells up toward your ribcage, squeezing your shoulder blades together as you pull. 

C. Slowly and with control, lower dumbbells back into starting position. Aim for 10 to 15 reps or see how many you can do in 30 seconds without sacrificing your form.

The Takeaway

If you’re nervous to start strength training, Row Bootcamps are a great way to incorporate more weight training. I find that the floor sets help deepen that mind-muscle connection so that when you return to the Row you can activate the right muscles to generate more force with every stroke. It is such an efficient way to get a cardio and strength full body workout in.

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