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Exercises to improve rowing

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THE COACH

Michael DiSanto was part of the winning crew in the 2014 Oxford-Cambridge Boat Race. He’s vice-president of the Oxford University Boat Club, has represented the US at the World Rowing Championships and previously captained the Harvard University crew team.

THE GOAL

‘This workout is aimed at strengthening the areas of the body that cope with the greatest amount of load during the rowing stroke,’ says DiSanto. ‘That is the muscles and joints from just below the shoulders all the way down to the lower back. Targeting this region will help not only to prevent injuries, but also to improve technique, both on the water and on the machine.’

Looking for a plan to smash your 2k row time? Check out our ultimate 2k rowing plan.

THE WORKOUT

‘The first three exercises are whole-body compound lifts that build a foundation of strength and power,’ says DiSanto. ‘The second three are bodyweight moves that develop your core stability. Do this routine two or three times a week to complement your rowing sessions. To ensure progression with this plan you should adjust the weight you lift and reps every three weeks. Start with a weight that allows you to complete three sets of eight reps for all the moves. As you progress, add weight and reduce the reps for the compound lifts every three weeks but increase the reps for the bodyweight moves. If you continue after nine weeks, return to eight reps for the compound lifts – ideally with more weight than at the start – and increase the reps for the bodyweight moves to 20.’

Dumbbell snatch

Hold a dumbbell on the floor with knees bent. Drive through your heels, push your hips forwards powerfully and lift it. Use the momentum to bring it overhead so you can ‘catch’ it with your arm straight and legs bent, then stand. Return the weight to the floor.

Week 1-3 Sets 3 Reps 8 each side

Week 4-6 Sets 3 Reps 5 each side

Week 7-9 Sets 3 Reps 3 each side

Front squat

Rest the bar across your upper chest with your hands holding it in place and your elbows as high as you can get them or your arms crossed. Keeping your chest up and back straight, squat down until your thighs are at least parallel to the floor, then drive back up.

Week 1-3 Sets 3 Reps 8

Week 4-6 Sets 3 Reps 5

Week 7-9 Sets 3 Reps 3

Deadlift

Hold the bar with a shoulder-width grip, with your arms straight and legs bent. Keeping your chest up and your back straight, drive through your heels and pull the bar up your legs, pushing your hips forwards to stand tall.

Week 1-3 Sets 3 Reps 8

Week 4-6 Sets 3 Reps 5

Week 7-9 Sets 3 Reps 3

TRX Y-T

With feet together, lean back so the TRX supports you. Using your delts and upper back, bring your hands up and out so you create a Y shape, then reverse the move. To create a T bring your hands out to your sides. Complete all the reps for Y then all the reps for T.

Week 1-3 Sets 3 Reps 8 of each

Week 4-6 Sets 3 Reps 12 of each

Week 7-9 Sets 3 Reps 16 of each

Side plank with leg raise

With the side of one foot and your forearm supporting your weight on the floor, hold your body in a straight line. Keeping your leg straight, raise your top foot and hold it there for three seconds, then lower. Complete all the reps, then switch sides.

Week 1-3 Sets 3 Reps 8 each side

Week 4-6 Sets 3 Reps 12 each side

Week 7-9 Sets 3 Reps 16 each side

Diagonal toe touch

Lie on your back with your arms and legs stretched out. Raise your left leg and right arm off the ground and bend at the hips so you touch your hand to your foot. Return to the start. Alternate sides, keeping the movement controlled.

Week 1-3 Sets 3 Reps 8 each side

Week 4-6 Sets 3 Reps 12 each side

Week 7-9 Sets 3 Reps 16 each side

Sam Rider is an experienced freelance journalist, specialising in health, fitness and wellness. For over a decade he's reported on Olympic Games, CrossFit Games and World Cups, and quizzed luminaries of elite sport, nutrition and strength and conditioning. Sam is also a REPS level 3 qualified personal trainer, online coach and founder of Your Daily Fix (opens in new tab). Sam is also Coach’s designated reviewer of massage guns and fitness mirrors.