Q&A: Are Rowing Classes a Good Form of Cross-Training?

Are rowing classes a good form of cross-training? Should I add in a short run before or after the class, or would the class be enough for one day?

The quick answer is yes, absolutely! In general, cross-training is always a good idea, as it puts unique stresses on your body (and develops subsequent adaptations) to promote strength that it won’t receive from your normal training routine. By sticking to one repetitive motion, like running, you put yourself at risk for overuse injuries that could often be avoided by augmenting with cross-training and strength training.

Rowing, specifically, has many added benefits that make it a great candidate for cross-training. To start, rowing is a low-impact sport. When you’re on a rowing machine, your feet are stationary and the seat moves, meaning your body can get a break from pounding the pavement while still challenging your aerobic system. In fact, rowing is one of the most challenging aerobic activities (second only to cross-country skiing), so you get the added bonus of a tough workout with less stress on your joints.

For these reasons, you can skip the short run before or after the class, as it is a suitable challenge for your cardiovascular system. You do, however, need to make sure you warm up properly before the class. A good instructor should provide an appropriate warm-up, but if not, consider a dynamic warm-up.

If it’s your first time in a rowing class, or you feel you’re being inappropriately challenged, consider the following:

First, rowing is primarily a lower-body sport. While you will use your back and your arms to finish the stroke, most of the power comes from your legs, so make sure they’re working.

Second, use the correct fan setting, which is located to the right of the flywheel. In general, a fan setting of three to five will most closely mimic water and will give you an ample workout. You can try different fan settings, but start on the lower end and then work your way up.

Finally, and most importantly, sit tall! While rowing is great for your joints, some people experience low-back pain. To limit your risk of back injury, make sure to sit tall during the class and don’t round your back. As the class goes on, even experienced rowers will start to slouch due to fatigue, so remind yourself to keep your head and chest high while keeping your shoulders relaxed.

Ultimately, rowing is an incredible workout and a great form of cross-training for runners. Look for a good class with an experienced instructor who can cue your technique for both safety and efficiency.


Aaron Karp

Aaron Karp, MS, ATC, CSCS is a sports performance specialist at the Tisch Sports Performance Center at Hospital for Special Surgery. He received his bachelor’s in kinesiology from UMass Amherst and master’s in athletic training from Texas A&M University, and is both a certified athletic trainer and certified strength and conditioning specialist.

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