Cycling and rowing - complimentary?

If you recall having similar symptoms or discomfort prior to your cycling training years, it might suggest another cause - but surely improper cycling or rowing form might aggravate the issue over time. Hard to say and i’m not knowledgeable in orthopaedics.

A few years ago, I was experiencing pain in the area “behind” my knee, possibly from PCL or hamstring ligament. I met Dr. Keith Bush at the London Clinic who in addition to being an associate of the GB rowing team had the right specialty. At that time my only sports focus was rowing and weight lifting. Aside from the consultation and help I got (the pain passed after some time and rest) I do recall him warning me about deadlifts - which I eventually substituted for leg press exercises at the gym. I suspect my knee pain had to do with improper form given a steep load progression in the gym. Therefore i constantly come back to form. Like I mentioned above, rowing itself should not cause knee pain and so shouldn’t biking. Comparing them your feet and hips are in a far more locked position on the erg than on a bike. Therefore, in my humble opinion, there’s greater risk for improper form on a bike than on an erg. Yesterday’s TR workout incorporated some quadrant drills and Coach Chad’s subtitles mentioned something about being observant of knee discomfort, so it seems to be an omnipresent focus and very good that TR highlight form in their trainings. If you just find rowing boring over 20 mins, then there’s not much to do :slight_smile: pick something else mate!

Workouts: If you’re already on an intense cycling program, i wouldn’t substitute any of the intense cycling workouts with erg sessions. Choose a specialty and focus on it, be it rowing or cycling. However I find longer endurance sessions far more enjoyable on an erg than on the trainer, unless cycling outside of course. The Pete Plan was mentioned in this thread and it’s an excellent plan, however it would be far too taxing to combine with any TR program. Therefore I recommend the beginner plan. Make yourself an excel spreadsheet with space for up to 3x workouts per week. In the columns log Date / Goal Meters / Attempted Pace / Actual Pace / Total Meters Rowed. The pace will be your split time / 500m, on the upper-right corner of the S4 monitor - just make sure it’s over 500m and not any other distance. Stroke rate will be variable depending on workout. Start slow, i.e. 17-20 average to begin with and focus only on form. Gradually increase over time, when your body starts to “learn” the motion and form builds. I’m also using a Waterrower at home, and whilst the stats aren’t comparable with C2, all your rowing and progression is relative to the brand you’re using, although the C2 is probably more accurate to “real” rowing in how it measures things. The Waterrower is far more enjoyable to row on imo. You could get far better smartrow and omit the S4 montor, but maybe not worth it depending on your priorities.

If you just want to row sometimes, this is my hour workout: 5-10 min warmup in the 18-21 spm range. Then increase your stroke rate by 1 spm every minute, until you reach somewhere around 27-32. You need to evaluate your RPE to gauge how intense it gets and when to stop increasing, but don’t go into a too high zone (avoid messing with your cycling plan). Then back off the SPM in the same rate you increased it. Repeat for as many cycles as you like. I usually make 4-6 cycles or approx. an hour’s rowing. It’s a good workout as it incorporates low and higher intensity and trains your ability to maintain stroke rate. It requires some focus but isn’t mentally taxing.

Form: Dark Horse Rowing on Youtube has many good technique sessions. I prefer to row with low converse all stars on the Waterrower. Avoid wearing a shoe with a big drop, and start with a neutral position. Make sure to put the strap over the widest part of your foot.


Hi, thanks for all the info. Very helpful and motivating. I will look into all of it.

Whats do you mean by erg and trainer:
erg =rower? and trainer=cycling-trainer?

For indoors training I have

  1. a Waterrower for rowing and
  2. a Elite Quick Motion rollers for cycling.
    I sold my Kickr, did not enjoy ERG-mode too much

Maybe I am just looking for a way how to make it more interesting. I remember finding more than 1h cycling workouts on my rollers very boring, especially zone2 rides. Then I found a way of working out and no boredom at all anymore.

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Happy to help somewhat!

Yes, you’re assuming it right - rowing machines are colloquially called ‘ergs’. Trainer would be the cycling trainer, or rollers in your case.

My 1h workout mentioned above is quite stimulating comparing with a static rowing session and still allows me to watch a show on Netflix or YouTube whilst keeping focus, so it might keep you busy in a nice way. I even challenge myself by not watching the display and looking back at it after a while to check in how well I maintain the stroke rate, so a TV show complements it well :wink:

Another approach could be to have a cycling focus across the warmer months and then substitute it with a more intense rowing plan, like the Pete Plan, over winter. I did the Pete Plan from Dec last year until March when I got started with TR.

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Once again, thanks for the very valuable input. Did my first session following the beginners PetesPlan: 5000m

True, just by knowing there is a goal I have it is already more motivating.

I am Recording my HR with a Wahoo TickrX which I sync to Strava and normally this syncs my data right into TR. it does not sync my rowing results to TR though.

How can I sync my results? Does TR not sync Strava workouts other than cycling? I have defined my workouts as Rowing. Maybe this category spoils it?

(answer to myself: yes, workouts need to be categorised as cycling otherwise no sync from Strava)

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Well done!

Yeah you’ve answered it yourself. I usually don’t bother aside from logging the sessions in my spreadsheet (it’s important to benchmark your progression as laid out in the Pete plan/beginners plan). If you wear a Garmin it should have indoor rowing amongst other workouts, and the stroke rate is surprisingly accurate. That should sync to TR via Garmin Connect.

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I have a Wahoo TickrX and I remember I had some stroke rate data some while ago too in Strava.
Do I need to have GPS switched on? Or does it not matter?

Don’t know - I don’t use Strava. GPS shouldn’t matter.

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I am not on an intense TR/cycling training program anymore. During weekdays I was struggling to fit regular TR cycling workouts or a TR training plan into my daily life. So i was somehow on and off a regular workout scheme. Some week it worked, another week it did not.

What I will be trying now is to do rowing during the week, and cycling on weekends. i will try to follow PetesPlan from Tue-Fri and do long, endurance, low intensity outside cycling rides on Sat and Sun.

We will see how this will work out. I hope it is not too intense.

For now I will stick to the Waterrower S4 computer and my Wahoo TickrX+App for HR data.
I don’t think I will need the Smartrow upgrade.

But I have to admit that the S4 is really a weird device and I find it is the absolute opposite of user friendliness.
I forget quite often how to adjust it, the manual is always close by to re-check the setup.

Any Tipps on how to set the S4 up? Do you even use it?

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To be honest that is marketing BS. The author of the word document knows this, and to not discredit themselves says “could be”

Its not load baring, that is incorrect. Infact I took up rowing after Rugby and Running because it is NOT load baring.

I came from rowing to the bike before that Rugby, because as far as load baring goes (keeping it simple) its running (very high), rowing, cycling (similar, easier.) There is very little difference in terms of load baring between cycling and rowing.

I had a concept 2 rower for 12 years but it had to go due to space… wish I still had it in a way.

My highest results were 6th in the British Championships and a Silver Medal in the English Championships.

The concept 2 rower is great for general fitness.


Found some workout plans for waterrower:


FWIW - I hang with a group of time trial focused racers. Many of the guys have Concept 2 machines now. For winter variation to break up bike trainer monotony.

We haven’t done any proper studies, but several of the guys, self included, feel that seasons where we rowed more on the C2 during winter we also rode better on the road come spring. Several of the guys row all year round now. One stopped racing bikes altogether and ended up being competitive in 60+ at the CRASH-B’s.

Worse case, rowing is a great bang for the buck in terms of fitness and time spent. The Concept 2 is also a darn good value. Ours looks and feels like new and is 15 years old.

TL;DR - No data but I’d say for me rowing is absolutely complimentary to cycling.


Yes – it’s hip extension and it conditions your back well for cycling.
Yes – because of the lower cadences (18-30 strokes per minute) it does help develop some general CNS adaptations to increase your comfort pushing a big gear.
Yes – it has a general muscular endurance benefit because workouts tend to be in effort ranges (HR) that would correspond to Zone 3 or higher on the bike, at higher muscle forces

No – in that it’s rowing, not cycling; as Chad out, cellular adaptations are movement-pattern specific. Rowers cycle because more time with modern oars, or worse, more time on the erg, would wreck their disks and ribs. Cyclists don’t need the erg like rowers need the bike.
No – if you erg a bit too much and tweak your ribs, you’re back on the trainer (I’ve found that out, unfortunately – I’m enjoying six weeks inside right now, due to a rib stress injury). An hour is a short cycling workout. It’s a long erg workout. 90 minutes is a short cycling workout. It’s a really long erg workout.

After my rib is healed, I’ll be back on the erg for variety, but I need to hold myself to a 60min limit for the next year, I think (and start with 20min, build up slowly to not bother the bone). Erg is the garnish. Bike is the main course.

Jumping is 100% technique, hopping is 90% technique. (made up numbers)

True, but does shorter mean less effect? I am not sure. To me the “all muscles workout” aspect of rowing seems to give the body more positive stress in less time than a cycling workout which aims much more on the lower body
How did you injure your ribs?

Effect? That can mean a lot of things. Calories burned scales pretty well with percentage of VO2, and blah blah blah the bottom line is you’ll burn about as many calories on the erg as you would on the bike for the same HR for the same duration. Yes, you use more muscle, so the overall sense of fatigue is greater, but when people say things like “an hour on the erg is worth 90minutes on the bike” they’re full of it. An hour on the erg is an hour on the erg. 90minutes on the bike is 90 minutes on the bike.

As for ribs and rowing/erging –

If you didn’t have your abdominals, obliques, serratus anterior, lats, and rhomboids, your ribs would sheer in the rowing motion. Your obliques and serratus anterior pull against each other during the stroke, and that stress goes into your ribs. Too much erg + not enough recovery can cause rib stress injuries – and the nasty thing about them is that by the time your notice that your bone is sore, it’s too late, the microdamage has been done.

I had what I thought was a good base, and lots of push ups and serratus strengthening work, but when I started some VO2 intervals in March, the switch to speed work tweaked a rib. I laid the foundation for that injury during my base phase, when I was slowly putting more microdamage to the bone than it could recover from. The nasty thing about rib stress is that it feels like muscle soreness, and at the early stages it can go away quickly with a day or two of rest, only to return a few days later – like muscle soreness. By the time you figure out it’s not just muscle soreness, you’re looking at 4-8 weeks off.

I found out that this is not infrequent with on-water rowers. Base training (low stroke rate, long workouts), the change to speed work, or changing from erg to boat or boat to erg, can all trigger a rib stress injury. Using a dynamic erg (I use my Concept 2 on slides) can lessen the stress, but it’s still there if you do more bone damage than your body can remodel. I suspect that having the bones of a guy who has been cycling for 40 years (I’m 54) didn’t help, although I’ve always done some upper body weights.

You have to be doing a good bit of erging to get there, but like with a stress fracture from running, it can happen. My key will be to not reproduce the training errors that got there in the first place, and to do the therapy program that will focus on further strengthening the muscles around my scapula, and not letting my scapulae “wing out” at the catch.

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just a short update: I have now started my second week of the Petes Beginner Plan. I do 5 sessions a week and have cancelled all my cycling workouts for the time being. I have some knee pain after longer or more intense cycling sessions and will wait until I will have a fitting at the end of May and also see a doctor with it. I dont have any knee pain with rowing (so far).

I like the rowing very muchgf. It is indeed much more motivating to have a certain goal in mind (5000m, or a certain time/500m etc.) than just rowing for 20min or more. Very nice.

Let us see how I will fare in the upcoming weeks and how I will be able to combine rowing and cycling in a couple of weeks.

btw: i have now found an OK way to deal with the Waterrowers “Computer”. It is more than enough for loggin distance, time, strokerate and avg data. I dont think I need more.

Does anyone have a good app or sheet for logging the results?

(PS: I like it so much that I am wondering if I will even keep my TR subscription at this point)

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That’s great! Good sign you don’t feel any knee pain either.

Don’t end your TR subscription, it’s such an awesome platform and product. In my opinion variation is key, so once you’ve done one cycle of rowing it could be wise to get back on the bike. Since you have a scheduled fitting wouldn’t it be interesting to evaluate your “new” position on the bike?

Good work with your consistency, and nice motivation. Keep it up!

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I just watched a video by a rowing coach; he touched on some differences between training for rowing races, and training for cycling. I’m not sure I really understand the nuances, but it leads me to believe that using something like the Pete Plan (designed as a time-crunched training plan for the 2K rowing race) might not be ideal cross-training for cycling.

The coach thinks that rowing races – typically either 2K or 6K distance – require us to train at higher levels of power than the standard ‘long, slow distance’ power levels which we use for base training on the bike.

Why Zone 2 (aka Long Slow Distance) IS NOT IDEAL for Rowing - YouTube

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Yes, if you’re preparing for 2k races.

No, if you’re using the erg as a change from the bike.

Rowers need power per stroke, so their “low intensity” UT2 falls into what cyclists would think of as the lower half of Zone 3 in a power-based system.

A cyclist can just row with a noodle stroke at 60% of max HR. No problem. It’s all just cross training.


Happy to find this thread because I do both, well actually rowing has been my main sport for 10+ years and I started cycling during the pandemic. Rowers absolutely need a ton of base work. Most of my training is at quite low intensity, also because you need to build up technical skills into higher intensities. The main difference for me lies in the higher power requirements at lower stroke rates. So rowing builds up really good strength endurance that has absolutely helped me with cycling. Conversely, cycling has given me a really good engine but I have lost some explosive power. That’s why I’m currently really trying to crank up my stroke rate so I can capitalise on my currently good aerobic system. So basically rowing hells cycling a bit more than cycling helps rowing.