Indoor Training - Indoor Rowing for Runners

Indoor Training - Indoor Rowing for Runners

Rowing is a full-body workout and a great winter off-season training option for runners looking to maintain core, hip and leg strength. Rowing also is an easy to access indoor training option with equipment easily accessible in most gyms.  

Should rowing replace running in the winter?  Not entirely, but it is a great complement while you dial back outdoor running and don’t want to lose cardio fitness and body strength. Winter aside, rowing as a low-impact sport is excellent for injured runners.

With all this in mind, it would benefit any runner to hone some rowing techniques to keep in your back pocket for when you might need it.

Cityrow Sign


Just like most people don’t want to run mindlessly on a treadmill, the same goes for rowing.  To get the most benefit from a rowing session, structured sessions are the way to go.  

We interviewed Anna Rynders, General Manager of City Row - a new rowing studio group that expects to open over 50 locations nationwide in the next year. At each of their locations they take the guessing out of the equation with one-hour structured training on ergometers combined with strength/stretch workouts.  

“Rowing is a full body workout,’ comments Anna. ‘It’s a strong off-season training option for runners since it is leg dominant and great for hip flexors and core. Overall, rowing is a hard-to-beat, non-impact, cardio workout.’

Each session at City Row lasts one hour including time to warm up and cool down.  The instructors focus on technique in the classes where training is interval based with no more than 7 minutes on the rowing machine at any one time.  The intervals are mixed up with off-the-rower free weights, core and stretching to keep the body open.

If you’re not lucky enough to have a formal rowing studio opening near you, it’s easy to knock out a rowing session at your local gym or office gym setup from many of the rowing workouts found online to keep it both interesting and challenging.

Below we talk about the metrics and techniques of indoor rowing to make sure you get the optimal position on the rower for the most efficient use of your time.


Because you need to know the right lingo for a new sport, we consulted high-school competitive rower Sarah Golding. The correct term for an indoor rower is an ‘erg’ (ergometer) and you ‘go erging’ as a verb. So cast aside indoor rowing and get your ‘erg’ on if you want to hang with the cool kids. Shamed, this writer almost hit ‘find and replace’ on all the mentions of ‘indoor rowing’ in the previous paragraphs.

Runners used to interval training on the treadmill will find the concepts of ‘erg’ metrics familiar yet different. There are two key metrics to take into account: the split and stroke rate, and a third metric, watts for measuring progress over time.

Split: This is the average time it takes to row 500m and will usually be the largest portion of the screen.  Use this time to gage effort and progress as your strength and cardio increase.

Stroke Rate: You’ll probably max out about a stroke rate 30. According to the Concept2 website, for rowing, a stroke rate between 24 and 30 strokes per minute is typical for most workouts. After that you will lose form. If you can go over 30 consistently and efficiently, then kudos to you and we recommend quickly finding yourself a rowing team!

Watts: Should you care about watts? Yes, but mostly no!  Watts are the last metric to consider after split and stroke rate.  Where watts come into play is an occasional maximum watts test; the optimal way to measure improvements over a longer time period.  The test is to measure the average max power you can output per 10 strokes.

If you’re starting off ‘erging’ this winter season, gage the max power (watts) you can output for ten strokes at the beginning of the winter. Then, if you’re consistently rowing, measure every few weeks to gage improvements.

man using a rowing machine


For those eager to measure effort the key metrics you are looking for is the split time at different stroke rates.  When your stroke rate goes up, your split should go down if you’re keeping consistent.

As you become stronger and more efficient, your max stroke rate will probably stay consistent but the split time will decrease.


Running is an impact sport and joints and bones can benefit from an off-season. However, some runners fear the off-season for reasons of losing cardio fitness by dialing back the running miles and losing leg strength. This is where indoor rowing comes into its own as a key winter cross-training option for runners.  

The cardio engine required to power a rowing machine is high and it’s a full body winter workout to maintain and/or improve cardio fitness high coupled with a very low impact on the joints.  

Runners will rejoice that 60% of power in rowing comes from the legs, making it an optimal option for maintaining leg strength without the pounding of running.

woman at cityrow using a rowing machine


Rowing is quite an intuitive technique when you first get on a rowing machine. Anna Rynders from Row City advises you to consciously engage your glutes and legs and be mindful of completing the stroke for maximum range.

Anna demonstrates the correct position above at the completion of a full rowing stroke. Think of this final position as the torso being in an ‘11 o’clock’ position.  The goal is not to stop at a 12 o’ clock position but to lean back further to engage the core.  Not completing the stroke is a common mistake for beginners.

Once there, release the arms and slide back to the starting position ready to engage the legs and back for the start of the next stroke.


Average Cost
The cost of entry to your local gym! Most gyms will have at least one rower in their exercise equipment selection. When it comes to row-specific environments like Row City the cost of monthly class dues are comparable to most stand-alone gyms of the moment and many offer drop in rates which might suit those wanting winter-only access.

Optimal Training for Runners
The number of times per week for a runner to benefit from indoor rowing is based on how much running you still want to do over the winter season. Rowing is a great alternative to tempo workouts and for someone with good strength and fitness three to four times a week is an option. Less so if you are also incorporating other winter training options.

Intimidation Factor on a Scale of 1-10
The barrier to entry for indoor rowing for runners is like most new activities, learning the technique first.   While in a class setting, you have your ego to contend with rowing next to someone who might have a) been a collegiate rower or b) have their own ego in full force.  However, the indoor rowing machine is a great leveler and while your distance per 500m might be different, you’re on a stationary rower so no-one will ever know! Unless the classes display the stats on a screen, of course.


After a solid nine months of training limited to the three sports of triathlon, taking up with a new aerobic and strength-based challenge was a welcome change for my mind, as well as my body.

There is always the fear if you leave behind your chosen sport - or sports in my case - you will lose fitness and functional strength related to them. However, a few erg sessions proved to me that I can still have a powerful cardio workout and feel the strength benefits. Having googled a few rowing workouts, I have a repository to take to the gym for some direction. Like City Row classes, I do no longer than 7 minutes at a time on the erg and have a mat and weights beside me to transform the session into interval type training.


When it comes to the best athletic shoes for indoor rowing, what you choose depends on whether you're limiting yourself to rowing only or taking an interval training approach.  

With the former, grab your nearest pair (okay, maybe not your racing flats, you want to keep them fresh for race day) and head to the ergonometer.

For interval training incorporating rowing, the most appropriate shoe would be one specific to cross training that offers a solid base upon which to anchor your stance off the erg.  Bestsellers at are the Altra Solstice XT, Reebok Nano and the On Cloud X.

About Author

Melanie Mitchell

Transforming movement into adventure. Our Mission: To personalize the fit process, hand-pick the best products, and create unique experiences that grow active communities.

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