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…

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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.


I scored a set of slides for my Model D. They don’t quite have “boat” feel, but the moving platform (think InsideRide rollers) really takes pressure off of your lower back, and you have to get a good leg drive first as you would in a boat. You can’t cheat with a hard catch and early upper body engagement, like on a static rower (And as a result you won’t be sending load into your upper spine/rhomboids/neck).

They take up space, but I really like 'em.

Great topic, I have a Waterrower at home and actually enjoy the calming Water sounds and the no gadget analogue kind of training it encourages.

So I mostly dont even switch on the monitor on the WR, just watch my pulse and dont go longer than 20-30 min low intensity, 18-20 strokes/min…

for me it is meant to be relaxing as recovery sessions… with the water sound it relaxes even further :slight_smile:

Yup: don’t be afraid to set the damper rather low compared to what most youtube advice-givers tell you. Most ‘real’ rowers want the rowing machine to feel like their boat; but for the rest of us, a lower damper setting goes a long way towards making this a sustainable activity rather than something that wrecks you.

I think rowing is a good cross-training activity for endurance, but an hour on the rower will leave you feeling gutted until you get accustomed to it.

Good rowing technique is paramount to sustainability. Keep your cadence low (like 18 to 22 strokes per minute), and don’t try to reach too far with the upper body, think about the power coming from the legs.

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Good timing about the slides. I’ve been pondering getting them since I got a Model D late last year. If I’m only using my erg for cross training once or twice a week and never actually row on the water, do you think the slides are worth it? Does it make the erg experience more enjoyable? Or do you like the slides mostly because they require you follow proper form on the erg?

I use Inside Ride rollers indoors for biking and love them because the experience is much more engaging and complements outdoor riding than a standard trainer. But if I’m not rowing on water, I’m curious if you think slides for an erg are worth it.

I’m not worried about learning to erg on slides - I imagine it’s comparable to learning how to ride rollers. Do you feel like you can go as hard with the slides as you would with the static rower for shorter efforts? (Sort of how people complain they can’t do VO2 intervals on bike rollers)

I don’t row OTW (like I have 5 grand and garage space for a single…and there’s no club around here), but I think slides are much better than static erging for a cyclist.

  1. Core engagement – as you let the foot stretchers come back to you on the recovery, you really have to stabilize yourself with your lower abs and engage the hip flexors to get into a good power position to kick out with the legs on the drive. On the static erg, some of that happens passively due to the forward motion of the seat on the slide. I think that core engagement is complimentary for helping core stability on the bike.

  2. Legs, legs, legs. Take away the ability to “cheat the monitor” with a hard catch and loading the front end of the stroke, and you have to use the quads like you would in a boat. Can’t be a bad thing for a cyclist.

  3. Proprioception – you’re balancing as the erg moves underneath you. You balance as the bike moves underneath you (although in a very, very different way). I think slides just get you to function more athletically. I think the rollers vs. static trainer parallel is apt, here.

Combined with how they save on your back, and how in my opinion they make it a bit more enjoyable, I think they’re worth it. You may even use the erg more often.

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User recommendation for Grok Rowing tools – the Suspension Strap and the Compression Guide.

These helped me refine technique and get out of bad habits.

(I don’t work for Grok, btw)

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