Rowing your way into shape for Summer

Rowing Exercises

Gyms all across South Africa have finally been allowed to open their doors. Now some of you have used the national lockdown as an excuse to not do any exercises. Hey, no judgment from me. We are focusing on the future, not the past. Others may have tried our home workouts.


Now that your local gym is operational, it’s time to pack away your 3kg dumbbells, dust off your favourite stringer vest and get back to the grindstone. Not only that, but December is also around the corner and though these December holidays may see fewer visitors to the beaches than in previous years, dropping as much body fat as possible in the next 14 weeks is still a worthwhile goal. What that means, is cardio. Ah yes, the vegetables of exercise. That necessary evil we need to endure on the path to six packness. More specifically the focus of this article is the rowing machine, a.k.a. the ergometer.

The ergometer is an acquired taste, but it is my favourite cardio machine. It is a non-weight bearing cardio workout, which means it isn’t destructive on your joints. And it’s a full-body workout. However, there will be no 20 or 30-minute sessions here. Instead, we’re going to perform HIIT (High-Intensity Interval Training) workouts. For a more detailed explanation of HIIT, you can check out our Tabata column


These ergometer exercises should not be done as a standalone workouts. Perform these directly after your weightlifting session. The reasoning for this is that your body’s preferred energy source is glycogen. Glycogen is a converted form of carbohydrates that are stored within your muscle fibres and the liver. Once the glycogen stores are depleted, only then does your body begin tapping into its fat reserves for energy. Your weightlifting workout should be sufficient in burning through the glycogen stores, meaning by the time you strap your feet on the ergometer, your body is in prime fat-burning mode. That’s your biology lesson for the day.

There are exceptions if you have an ergometer at home or at your workplace. You can always sneak in a session in the morning or at lunchtime. For these workouts, the damper settings are of no consequence. The damper setting is the lever on the side wheel, with a 1-10 setting. When you’re rowing at an all-out intensity, the damper setting makes little difference.

Experienced rowers normally pull the handle to chest level, but you can bring the handle as low as your belly button. Use your legs to drive the initial part of the movement, and then once your legs are fully extended, your arms can come into play. If you suffer from pre-existing hip or back issues, stay clear of the ergometer.

Before you begin this phase of your session, you can spend some time doing a warmup. Row between 3-5 minutes at a low intensity just so you can get your bearings and make sure the foot strappings are set correctly.

Remember! The periods of work are performed at all-out intensity. Row as fast as you can, as hard as you can. Okay, ready! It’s choose your own adventure time.

Workout 1:

Round 1. Row 600m/Rest 50 seconds

Round 2. Row 500m/Rest 40 seconds

Round 3. Row 400m/Rest 30 seconds

Round 4. Row 300m/Rest 20 seconds

Round 5. Row 200m/Rest 10 seconds

Round 6. Row 100m

Workout 2:

Row for 40 seconds. Rest for 20 seconds. Repeat for a total time of 8 minutes.

Workout 3:

10 minutes for as many rounds as possible

250m Rowing

15 Air Squats

10 Butterfly Situps

5 Pushups (Burpees if you dare)

If 10 minutes is too much, reduce the time to suit your fitness levels, but you still need to be pretty gassed when time is up.

Workout 4:

Choose 3 songs from your playlist. Ensure each of those songs has a chorus. Work during the main verses of the songs, and rest during the chorus part. If you don’t have your own music, then you’re at the mercy of the gym’s music. If 3 songs are too much, again make the necessary adjustments for your fitness levels.

Workout 5:

The 2000m challenge

This is a gut check challenge. How fast can you row 2000m? Anything under 7 minutes is impressive. Oh, and try not throw up in the middle of the gym.

How many times a week you perform these workouts depends on a couple of factors such as your fitness experience, your schedule (not everyone can train 5 days a week). But try to exercise a minimum of twice per week.

The workouts are not cast in stone. You can adjust them to make it easier or more difficult depending on your fitness levels. Take deep breaths during the rest phase.


Please seek advice from your GP if you’re suffering from any pre-existing medical condition/s before considering embarking on an exercise programme. Neither Sleb nor Sizwe Luthuyi may be held liable for any medical complication/s. Only do exercise programmes in accordance with your health practitioner.

Sizwe Luthayi (Qualified Personal Trainer)

If you have any questions for me on training programmes please get in contact with Sizwe. Details below.

Cellphone: 0839942748

Email: luthayis@gmail.com

Instagram: @bearzulu11

Twitter: @SizweLuthayi

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