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Indoor Rowing Drills & Workouts for Beginners by Our Expert Rower

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Indoor Rowing Drills and Workouts for beginners by Laura Tanley Certified Rowing Trainer

Hello, everyone, I’m Laura Tanley, a certified indoor rowing coach and erg instructor, an experienced on-the-water rower, and a licensed physiotherapist. Today, I’m going to talk about the basics of indoor rowing workouts and the best rowing drills for beginners.

New to rowing? Getting back into fitness? Whether your goals are related to weight loss, improved cardio health, or just overall fitness, the following workout plan or indoor rowing drills may just be what you need! Time to get off that couch and start rowing!

Rowing 101

Watch my video above on basic rowing techniques

This 3-week series of indoor rowing machine workouts will help you to:

  • First, develop proper form and create the necessary muscle memory to row safely and efficiently while you learn consistency with your stroke rate (SR)
  • Second, build up your rowing endurance to tolerate longer steady state rows
  • Third, begin to row with more pressure on every stroke for a more challenging workout

The plan is based on rowing 3 days per week with 30-45 minute workouts. You can make some modifications, such as, repeating certain workouts for weeks if you find them a little too challenging and don’t feel ready to move on. They can also be used as individual workouts.

If you haven’t already, check out my previous article and videos on proper rowing technique. Get familiar, practice, and when you’re ready, jump right in.

Just a little reminder, you can adjust the Damper or Drag on your rower. No sense starting off rowing upstream against the current, right? On the Concept 2, a damper setting of 4 is a good starting point. You can read more about the damper setting here.

Week One: All about Form, Muscle Memory, and Consistency

Day 1

Watch my video above on the Rowing Pick Drill 

WEEK 1 – Day 1
ACTIVITIES
Warm up with a modified pick drill (8 minutes)
  • Monitor Settings: “Just Row” or none – all you need is a timer and your stroke rate
  • Begin at the finish with Arms-only rowing x 30 seconds
  • Add in body (Arms/Body only, Legs stay extended) x 1 minute
  • Add in half slide rowing (Arms/Body/Legs halfway up the slide) x 1 minute 30 seconds
  • Progress to Full Slide (Arms/Body/Legs to full catch position) with stroke rate of 16 SPM x 3 minutes (Slow and deliberate, making sure proper form is maintained throughout)
  • Begin moving your body a little quicker, increasing stroke rate to 18 SPM x 2 minutes. Rest
Beginning Intervals
  • Monitor Settings: Intervals/Time – 3 minutes rowing, 1.5 minutes rest (Intervals not an option? no problem. Make Stroke Rate and Timer visible.)
  • Interval 1- Stroke Rate 16 SPM x 3 minutes followed by 1.5 minute rest
  • Interval 2- Stroke Rate 16 SPM x 3 minutes followed by 1.5 minute rest
  • Interval 3- Pause Drill (Form correction/perfection)
    1. Pause at the Finish x 3 seconds on each stroke x 30 seconds
    2. Pause at Arms Away x 3 seconds on each stroke x 30 seconds (Body should be back in finish position, legs extended, arms extended)
    3. Pause at Body Over x 3 seconds on each stroke x 2 minutes to finish out the interval (Arms extended/Body over/Legs extended). Followed by a 1.5-minute rest.
  • Interval 4- Stroke Rate 18 SPM x 3 minutes followed by a 1.5-minute rest
  • Interval 5- Stroke Rate 18 SPM x 3 minutes

You did it!!

My Personal Tips:

Laura-Tanley-Author-Bio-www.rowingcrazy.com_.jpg
Laura Tanley Certified Erg Trainer
  • Rest during the interval rests, take a drink, even stand up and stretch if needed. 
  • Do not be concerned with your split/power (yet). Let’s develop your form and proper technique first. Create good habits!
  • Don’t worry about your stroke rate during the pause drill. It may drop as low as 11, and that is OK. Perfect that form!
  • If you had difficulty with this workout or feel you need a little extra work on your rowing technique, repeat it once or twice.

Day 2

WEEK 1 – Day 2 ACTIVITIES
Warm Up with a modified pick drill (8 minutes)
  • Monitor Settings: Just Row or none– all you need is a timer and SR
  • Begin at the Finish with Arms-only rowing x 30 seconds
  • Add in Body (Arms/Body only– Legs stay extended) x 1 minute
  • Add in half slide (Arms/Body/Legs halfway up the slide) x 1 minute 30 seconds
  • Progress to full slide (Arms/Body/Legs to full catch position) with Stroke Rate of 16 SPM x 3 minutes (Slow and deliberate, making sure proper form is maintained throughout)
  • Begin moving your body a little quicker, increasing Stroke Rate to 18 SPM x 2 minutes, then rest
Intervals – with a build
  • Monitor Settings: Intervals/Time 3 min rowing, 2 min rest (Intervals not an option? No problem- have the Stroke Rate and Timer visible.)
  • Interval 1- Stroke Rate 16 SPM x 2 minutes then increase to 18 SPM x 1 minute to finish out the interval, followed by a 2-minute rest
  • Interval 2- Stroke Rate 18 SPM x 2 minutes then increase to 20 SPM x 1 minute to finish out the interval, followed by a 2-minute rest
  • Interval 3- Stroke Rate 20 SPM x 2 minutes then increase to 22 SPM x 1 minute to finish out the interval, followed by a 2-minute rest
  • Interval 4- Stroke Rate 22 SPM x 2 minutes then increase to 24 SPM x 1 minute to finish out the interval. followed by a 2-minute rest
  • Interval 5- Stroke Rate 24 SPM x 2 minutes then increase to 26 SPM x 1 minute to finish out the interval, followed by a 2-minute rest
  • Interval 6- Cool DownStroke Rate 20 SPM x 1 minute, decrease to 18 SPM x 1 minute, then finish off at 16 SPM for the final minute

Congratulations!!

My Personal Tips:

Laura-Tanley-Author-Bio-www.rowingcrazy.com_.jpg
Laura Tanley Rowing Trainer
  • Rest during the interval rests, take a drink, even stand up and stretch if needed.
  • Still, do not be concerned with your split/power. Let’s create good habits!
  • If you feel you need a little extra work on your rowing technique, consider repeating Day 1 for your next workout.
  • If you had difficulty with this workout or found it challenging to control and increase your stroke rate, consider repeating it for your next workout.

Day 3

WEEK 1 – Day 3 ACTIVITIES
Warm Up with a modified pick drill (8 minutes)
  • Monitor Settings: “Just Row” or none– a timer and stroke rate is all you need
  • Begin at the Finish with Arms only rowing x 30 seconds
  • Add in Body (Arms/Body only– Legs stay extended) x 1 minute
  • Add in half slide (Arms/Body/Legs halfway up the slide) x 1 minute 30 seconds
  • Progress to full slide (Arms/Body/Legs to full catch position) with a stroke rate of 16 SPM x 3 minutes (Slow and deliberate, making sure proper form is maintained throughout)
  • Begin moving your body a little quicker, increasing stroke rate to 18 SPM x 2 minutes. Then Rest
Intervals – Less is more
  • Monitor Settings: Intervals Variable Time Interval 1- 5 minutes with 3-min rest, Interval 2- 3 minutes with 2-min rest, Interval 3- 5 minutes with 3-min rest, Interval 4- 3 minutes with 1-min rest (Monitor is not that fancy, no worries, just have a timer handy and the stroke rate visible)
  • Interval 1- Stroke Rate 18 SPM x 5 minutes followed by 3-min rest
  • Interval 2- Pause Drill (Form correction/perfection)
    1. Pause at the Finish x 3 seconds on each stroke x 30 seconds
    2. Pause at Arms Away x 3 seconds on each stroke x 30 seconds (Body should be back in finish position, legs extended, arms extended)
    3. Pause at Body Over x 3 seconds on each stroke x 2 minutes to finish out the interval (Arms extended/Body over/Legs extended). Followed by a 2-minute rest.
  • Interval 3- Stroke Rate 20 SPM x 5 minutes followed by 3 min rest
  • Interval 4- Cool Down- Stroke Rate 18 SPM x 2 minutes followed by 16 SPM x 1 minute

Congratulations on making it through Week 1!!

My Personal Tips:

Laura-Tanley-Author-Bio-www.rowingcrazy.com_.jpg
Laura Tanley Indoor Rowing Trainer
  • Struggling with your rowing form? Practice the Pause drills a little extra.
  • Struggling with your fitness level? Out of breath or body sore from getting back into exercise? Consider repeating Week One before moving on.

Week Two: Time to Build Rowing Endurance, Steady State Is Great!

WEEK 2  ACTIVITIES

Day 1

Warm up with a modified pick drill – you know what to do!

Intervals- Jump Right in

  • Monitor Settings: Intervals Time 6 min rowing, 2 min rest (Intervals not an option? No problem- have the Stroke Rate and Timer visible.
  • Interval 1- Stroke Rate 18 SPM x 3 minutes then increase to 20 SPM x 3 minutes to finish out the interval. Followed by a 2-minute rest
  • Interval 2- Stroke Rate 22 SPM x 3 minutes then increase to 24 SPM x 3 minute to finish out the interval, followed by a 2-minute rest
  • Interval 3- Stroke Rate 26 SPM x 3 minutes then increase to 24 SPM x 3 minutes to finish out the interval, followed by a 2-minute rest
  • Interval 4- Stroke Rate 22 SPM x 3 minutes then increase to 18 SPM x 3 minutes to finish out the interval

Day 2

Warm up with a modified pick drill – You know what to do!

Intervals- slow and steady

  • Monitor Settings: Intervals Time 8 min rowing, 3 min rest (Intervals not an option? No problem. Make visible the stroke rate and timer)
  • Interval 1- Stroke Rate 18 SPM x 4 minutes then increase to 20 SPM x 4 minutes to finish out the interval
  • Interval 2- Stroke Rate 20 SPM x 4 minutes then increase to 18 SPM x 4 minutes to finish out the interval

Cool down with the modified pick drill (Yes… the warm up can be a cool down)

Day 3

Warm up with a modified pick drill– you know what to do!

Leap Frog (moderate pressure) 20 minutes

  • Stroke Rate 18 SPM x 3 minutes
  • Stroke Rate 20 SPM x 2 minutes
  • Stroke Rate 18 SPM x 1 minute
  • Stroke Rate 22 SPM x 2 minutes
  • Stroke Rate 18 SPM x 1 minute
  • Stroke Rate 24 SPM x 2 minutes
  • Stroke Rate 18 SPM x 1 minute
  • Stroke Rate 26 SPM x 1 minute
  • Stroke Rate 18 SPM x 1 minute
  • Stroke Rate 28 SPM x 1 minute
  • Stroke Rate 18 SPM x 1 minute
  • Stroke Rate 30 SPM x 1 minute
  • Stroke Rate 18 SPM x 1 minute
  • Stroke Rate 16 SPM x 2 minutes

Week Three- Time to Pump Up the Power!

Laura Tanley Concept 2 ERG Rowing For Beginners

Day 1

WEEK 3- Day 1
ACTIVITIES
Warm up with the modified pick drill with some additions. (12 minutes)
  • After completing 2 minutes at 18 SPM of the warm up, jump up to 20 SPM for 2 minutes, then 22 SPM for 1 min, and finish off with 24 SPM for the final minute.
Steady State- get back in the groove
  • Monitor Setting: “Just Row” or a basic timer, with Stroke Rate showing
  • Stroke Rate 18 SPM x 6 minutes
    • Rest 3 minutes
Legs Only Drill- get the feel for power
  • Monitor Setting: “Just Row” or a basic timer
  • Sit at the Catch Position with strong core, maintain this position while you drive back with Legs only, Repeat leg drive 20 times.
Power Up
  • Monitor Setting: “Just Row” or a basic timer, with Stroke Rate showing and Split Time showing.
  • Stroke Rate 18 SPM x 1 min, during this time take a look at your Split
  • At the 1-minute mark, give 5 full-pressure strokes, while maintaining 18 SPM. Remember to drive strongly through the legs. Watch the Split drop.
  • Increase Stroke Rate to 20 SPM x 1 minute, followed by 7 full-pressure strokes at 20 SPM
  • Increase Stroke Rate to 22 SPM x 1 minute, followed by 7 full-pressure strokes at 22 SPM
  • Increase Stroke Rate to 24 SPM x 1 minute, followed by 7 full-pressure strokes at 24 SPM
  • Increase Stroke Rate to 26 SPM x 1 minute, followed by 7 full-pressure strokes at 26 SPM
  • Cool Down by dropping Stroke Rate down to 20 SPM for 1 minute, then 18 SPM for 1 min, then 16 SPM for the final minute.

Well done!

My Personal Tips:

Laura-Tanley-Author-Bio-www.rowingcrazy.com_.jpg
Laura Tanley Certified Erg Instructor
  • Full pressure strokes should not be faster body movements, just more powerful. The goal of this workout is to maintain consistency with your Stroke Rate.
  • Leg Drive- Drive with the legs as you did with the “Legs Only Drill”.
  • Your Split should drop. The split is the time it takes to row 500 meters and the metrics that measures power. The lower your split, the better.
  • Proper form is critical with the Legs Only Drill, as well as when rowing with full pressure, to prevent injury. A weak link can result in injury.

Day 2

WEEK 3- Day 2
ACTIVITIES
Warm up with a modified Pick Drill – you know it by now! (8 minutes)
Intervals with a Burst
  • Monitor Setting: Intervals/Time 5 minutes Row, 3 minutes Rest
  • Interval 1- Stroke Rate 18 SPM x 5 minutes with 10 power strokes at every minute
  • Interval 2- Stroke Rate 20 SPM x 5 minutes with 10 power strokes at every minute
  • Interval 3- Stroke Rate 22 SPM x 5 minutes with 10 power strokes at every minute
Cool Down
  • Light rowing (no pressure) at a Stroke Rate 18 or Under x 3-5 minutes (your choice). Focus on form all the way to the end.

Day 3

WEEK 3- Day 3
ACTIVITIES
Warm up with the modified Pick Drill with some additions (15 minutes)
  • After completing 2 minutes at 18 SPM of the warm up, jump up to 20 SPM for 2 minutes, then 22 SPM for 2 min, then 24 SPM for 2 min, and finish off with 26 SPM for the final minute.
Power Play Intervals
  • Monitor Setting: Intervals/Time 30 seconds row, 2 min rest (although for most we will lightly row through the rest phase)
  • Row with pressure for the 30-second intervals at the following Stroke Ratings followed by light rowing (Stroke Rate of less than 18) through the rest phase focusing on form.
  • Interval 1- Stroke Rate of 22
  • Interval 2- Stroke Rate of 24
  • Interval 3- Stroke Rate of 26
  • Interval 4- Stroke Rate of 28
  • Interval 5- Stroke Rate of 26
  • Interval 6- Stroke Rate of 24
  • Interval 7- Stroke Rate of 22
Cool Down
  • Row lightly (no pressure) at a Stroke Rate 18 or Under x 3-5 minutes (your choice). Focus on form on the entire stroke all the way to the end.

My Personal Tips:

Laura-Tanley-Author-Bio-www.rowingcrazy.com_.jpg
Laura Tanley Licensed Physical Therapist
  • If it is too much to row through all the rest phases, take a short rest, throw in a pause, or try arms only.
  • If you’re struggling with maintaining your form while picking up your Stroke Rate – drop it back down until you are ready.

Final Thoughts

So there you have it – my 3-week indoor rowing drills to get you started or get you back in shape!

Whether you progress through these workouts in 3 weeks or it takes you 3 months, cheers to you. You are becoming a rower!