Why ALL runners need to be rowing (written by a runner)

Why ALL runners need to be rowing (written by a runner)

by | Feb 14, 2018 | 1 comment

You are a runner, and therefore…you run!

As a former collegiate runner and Ironman, I’ve done more than my fair share of running, running, and more running. As much as I love the sport, there was one minor problem – my body didn’t.

Bouncing between sickness and injury, I seemed to go from one slump to the next.

Each and every day, we slog as many (sometimes painful) miles as possible knowing (hoping) that each literal step gets us another theoretical step closer to our newest PR or Finisher medal.

But fear not, there is a way to have your cake and eat it too! Some of the best runners in the world use cross training as a key component of their training – swimming, yoga, spin, etc. As a total body, zero-impact, and complete exercise (that doesn’t require a pool), rowing is the perfect complement to any training plan (yet surprisingly, one of the least used).

So without further ado, let’s look at exactly what makes rowing and running a match made in heaven.


OK, let’s get the big one out of the way first. Unless you are part of the 0.001% (note, I’ve made this statistic up) of runners that can pound away for more than a few days a week consistently without a problem, you are eventually going to over-stress your body.

How about we play a word associate game? Shin splints… stress fracture… plantar fasciitis… achilles tendonitis… ITBS – anything come to mind? Running can unfortunately cause all of these (among many other problems) and some at fairly regular intervals.

How rowing helps: This one is so simple it hurts – rowing gets you completely off your feet (you get to sit down during our workouts!) with zero impact training. Even incorporating rowing into your plan one day a week can save 52 days a year of pounding your joints. At an average of 3 miles a day, that’s more 150 miles a year and over 300,000 steps saved!

Give your legs a break every once in a while – it will help your body survive a long season of running.



Running is a lot harder than it looks. It takes an amazing combination of willpower, endurance, and craziness to get better. However, the movement itself is actually fairly basic.

Running focuses almost exclusively on your lower body and weighted to your hamstrings, glutes, and calves. By running day-in and day-out, you are putting the same stresses on the same muscles. This leads to muscular imbalances and overuse, both of which are exacerbated by more running.

How rowing helps: Diversity is your friend here. Rowing can add balance to any training plan, and is especially beneficial for runners.

Running has a simple cadence – step forward and strike the ground (pulling through your glutes and hamstrings), shift weight to the fore foot, and drive (pushing through your quads and calves). In a rowing stroke, the work is spread throughout your entire body, engaging 90% of your muscles and 9 of 11 muscle groups.

This diversity will help smooth imbalances, build core strength, and develop upper body strength (to help pull you up hills and through final sprints).



In general, your training and racing will basically comprise two components: aerobic work and anaerobic work. We aren’t going into the details of the difference here, so for brevity, assume the aerobic part of your training is the slower, sustained effort (you could talk to your training partner without much difficulty), while the anaerobic work is when you are running fast, breathing hard, and potentially racing.

To improve your race times and grow as a runner, you need to expand both.

How rowing helps: Of the two, many runners neglect the speed (anaerobic) work required to really improve your race times, and tend to focus on runs that have only small amounts of pace differentials. Rowing (especially in a Total Row class) easily transitions between aerobic and anaerobic work. Every class will incorporate both types of fitness, helping to improve your aerobic base (allowing you to go further) in pyramids, ladders, or mixed sets, and your anaerobic capacity (allowing you to go faster) through intervals, Big10s, and races.



I think for any serious / lifetime runner, there comes a period when you just want to try something else. There is nothing wrong with this and it’s healthy. For many runners, there is pressure to push through and not stray from the path (literally and figuratively).

Pushing through a mental slump can lead to resentment, burnout, or quitting altogether. We love running and know it gets in your blood, but it’s OK to venture into other disciplines to spice up your training! If you are truly committed to running as a lifetime activity, then make it a priority to mix in other activities.

How rowing helps: First, it’s different – that’s the easy answer. Second, Total Row thrives on a supportive, group environment, with fun music and coaches right alongside you (yep, we workout too!). Our favorite aspect? Athletes of all different levels can train side by side, including husbands/wives, parents/children, co-workers, etc.

The next time you are feeling that pull to sit at home and skip your planned run, do yourself (and your running career) a favor, and pickup a new activity (*cough* rowing *cough*). It will reinvigorate your spirits, improve your fitness, and help you meet new training partners!


So now that you are ready to expand your repertoire to include a steady dose of rowing, let’s help you figure out your exact prescription.

I run everyday but think rowing every once in a while is a good change of scenery.
This is an easy one. Pick one day a week, or maybe a couple a month, and schedule a great rowing class. It will energize you, let you meet some new friends, and develop a new skill set. We will walk you through everything you need to know!

I think rowing could really help my running and want to incorporate it as a staple of my training plan.
Great decision! For new rowers, we suggest starting with 1-2 classes a week (not before a long run), and working your way up to 2-3. At 2-3 classes a week, you will start to really experience rowing’s many benefits – stronger core, upper body strength, more powerful drive, better conditioning, and less pounding of your joints.

I love running, but am hurt/bored/tired and need to take a break.
We know you love running and want to get you back on your feet as soon as possible. For a “full” rowing plan (which incorporates our off the machine training), we suggest a max of 5 classes a week. This stuff really works, and you don’t need to go overboard. Your strength will broaden and your fitness level will deepen, and you will be a better runner in the long-term for it.



If you are a runner and haven’t tried a rowing class, you are missing out on tremendous diversity among a wonderful group of people. Next time you need to spice up your routine, prepare for a race, or get over an injury, stop by Total Row for a FREE WEEK on us!

Elliott Smith, Co-Owner/Founder of Total Row