Incorporating rowing into training plan

Hello All,

There are a few threads here on Rowing but mostly on the technical challenge of linking to TR or the relevance of rowing as a complementary form of training. With Zwift having just announced that rowing is coming in a couple weeks, I’m assuming, the technical side is about to get much easier. With regards to complementarity, given my focus is general fitness (with biking faster as a side benefit) I’m not fussed about it being perfect.

My question is how do I best fold in rowing sessions into my training plan. Can I just straight substitute the workouts, taking into account a likely different FTP on the rower? Can I just layer on additional rowing sessions without compromising my cycling training? Some other approach?


Workout length. Sessions on the erg longer than 30min have been linked to lower back issues. Some college programs limit their rowers to 30min sessions. Some limit to 30min pieces with stretch/rest breaks. Some do 60-90 min erg sessions. Use your own best judgment, but bear in mind that if your technique gets spotty while you’re fatigued, you could be setting yourself up for injury.

Gross mechanical efficiency. Some athletes who have a lot of experience in both sports can match 1-20min power on the bike and the erg. Most of us cannot. Not even close. Don’t try to match bike power on th erg. Better to go by HR.

You can put rowing on top of cycling, but go easily. If your legs are fatigued from cycling, trying to do much more than steady, nose-breathing endurance work will probably lead to cheating with your back to compensate for leg fatigue, or you’ll start pulling with your arms too early, or other technical errors that will send load to your back muscles and spine.

Given the technical demands of getting the erg stroke down (which is not nearly as real rowing!) and the possiblity for injury, I’d say just use some rowing sessions as low intensity calorie-burning filler. After a few months getting the technique down and gaining some base fitness on the erg, maybe substitute a tempo session of the bike with some upper HR zone 2 work (what rowers call UT1), but I don’t think it would be a good idea to try threshold or VO2 (what rowers would call Transport) work. Too much chance for tweaking your back for too little gain, I’d say.


Wow I din’t know this. Thanks. My wife and I just bought a rowing machine and I thought I was sort of wimpy only doing 30 minute sessions…

Thank you for such a complete and thoughtful response. Much appreciated!

the other thing – set the damper low. the lever on 4 will give you a drag factor of 100-110, which is about right for most cyclists.

these technique videos are great.