Rowing workouts are a great way to target your entire body in one workout, safely and effectively. High-intensity interval training (HIIT) workouts take that to the next level by helping you burn maximum calories and build strength in just a few minutes.
And research shows they can even slow the aging process!
The great news, too, is that since rowing is safe and effective for people of all ages, sizes and fitness levels, it’s an excellent tool for someone who wants to try out a higher-intensity approach to fitness.
What Exactly IS HIIT Training?
HIIT, short for high-intensity interval training, is a term that gets thrown around a lot in fitness circles. Over time it has come to be used, incorrectly, as a term for any workout that spikes your heart rate for any length of time.
In its truest form, HIIT is done in short bursts, where you’re going as hard as you possibly can, then taking time to recover before going again.
It’s short, it’s intense, and it’s effective.
A true HIIT workout should be no more than about 30 minutes. After that, your body needs to replenish and will no longer be able to perform at that high-to-peak intensity.
The Benefits of High-Intensity Interval Training Workouts
HIIT workouts offer a whole range of great benefits for people of any age, and particularly as we get older.
- They help us burn body fat for energy when we’re not exercising
- They boost levels of muscle-building hormones
- They are excellent for our cardiovascular health
- They can help with insulin resistance and reducing blood sugar
- They are particularly good for building new brain cells and promoting brain health as we age
All in a super time-efficient package!
Why Rowing HIIT Workouts?
You know what else is super time-efficient?
You guessed it, rowing! It’s a total-body, non-impact way to get your heart rate up quickly.
When something works 86 percent of your muscles on every stroke the way rowing does, you know you’re going to get a great bang for your buck timewise.
It’s also safer than doing a similar workout on a treadmill, for example, where there might be a risk of falling. Especially the more tired you get.
How to do HIIT rowing workouts
Moderation is key
One of the biggest mistakes people make when adding high-intensity rowing into their workouts is thinking that if some is good, more must be better.
The key here is moderation, especially if you’re using these high-intensity workouts to manage menopause. The body generally perceives exercise as a stressor. That’s even more true with high-intensity, and if you’re menopausal you’re no longer able to manage the stress hormone cortisol as well as you did pre-menopause.
High cortisol = High stress, and high stress can often lead to a number of not-fun downstream effects, including holding on to weight.
Regardless of your age or stage, it’s important to leave time for your body to recover after a HIIT rowing workout.
Two to at most three high-intensity rowing workouts a week is plenty for you to reap the benefits. Even once a week will give you a boost (although two is better if you can sneak it in).
Adequate warmup is a must-do
If there were ever a time to emphasize a good warmup, this would be it.
With high-intensity interval training workouts, it’s essential to have a good sweat rolling before you start to jack up the pace.
We have a saying at UCanRow2, “The shorter the workout the longer the warmup.”
Give yourself 10-15 minutes to warm up before a HIIT rowing workout.
Be sure to include some power bursts of 5-10 strokes where you can practice your technique at the higher effort. That will also get your brain and your body communicating well with each other.
Here’s a great rowing workout warmup to try courtesy of Master Instructor Heather Alschuler.
A proper cooldown is also essential
The cooldown is a must, too, for some very important reasons!
When you’ve pushed yourself to your limits, or close to them, it’s essential that you give your heart rate and blood pressure a chance to slowly return to their normal levels.
A cooldown lasting at least 5 minutes, preferably longer, will also help prevent the dreaded DOMS, delayed-onset muscle soreness. That feeling when you try to get out of bed the next day and can barely move, by clearing lactic acid from your body.
The cooldown is also a great time to practice your rowing technique! When you’re tired is in fact one of the best times to practice good form, without the extra lift of intensity layered on top.
So give yourself the gift of a slow, relaxing row at the end combined with a bit of stretching. It’s the BEST way to end a workout!
How do I know if my intensity is high enough?
If you have a heart-rate monitor and know your heart-rate zones you can absolutely use those to gauge where you need to be.
Honestly, though, RPE or Rate of Perceived Exertion is just as effective and requires nothing more than tuning in to how you feel and rating that on a scale of 1 to 10.
Use this intensity chart
Here’s how we describe it in our rowing programs:
No-pressure paddle rowing: Very easy with low stroke rate and low intensity. A restful pace that requires
little effort but still maintains good technique. 50% or less effort, RPE 1 to 2.
Conversational pace: Comfortable, sustainable over a long period, warm-up pace. You can hold a
conversation, and the effort is more boring than hard. 55-65% effort, RPE 3 to 4
Sustainable: Increased breathing, a steady “tempo” pace where you focus on the monitor for feedback; You can talk but you’d rather not. 65-75% effort, RPE 5 to 6
Challenging: Breathing and heart rate elevated. You can only give about one-word answers to questions, this is your “race pace.” 75-85% effort, RPE 6 to 8.
High-Intensity: Put the hammer down, short intervals, you’re at the top of your limits and uncomfortable. No talking, just breathing. 90-100% effort, RPE 9-10
NOTE: You won’t necessarily hit that top level on every interval of every workout. It takes some practice just to become acquainted with what it feels like to push yourself as hard as possible.
That’s ok! Take your time with it, you’ll get there!
Try a HIIT Rowing Workout
If you’re just getting started with this, one of these high-intensity interval training workouts is the way to go.
The format for this one is called “reduced-exertion high-intensity training.” It allows you to get accustomed to this style of workout while still making measurable and significant progress with your fitness.
Try this quick beginner HIIT workout to test out this approach:
Warm up for 10-15 minutes, until you have a sweat rolling
20 seconds as hard as you can go, RPE 9 to 10
3 minutes easy recovery
Repeat one time for a total of 2 rounds
The researchers who looked at this found that doing those two rounds twice a week was enough, and that doing either more rounds or more than two workouts per week didn’t significantly change the health benefits.
Ready for a longer HIIT rowing workout?
Here’s a favorite:
Warm up for 10-15 minutes then do:
4 rounds of: 40 seconds hard, 20 seconds easy
8 rounds of: 20 seconds on, 10 seconds off
Paddle rest for 5-6 minutes until you feel well recovered, then do it again
Make it easier: Add a 1-minute paddle (easy rowing) break in between each of the 2 rounds
Want to do this one with us as a row-along workout? A version of it will be up soon on our on-demand rowing workouts platform!
Got a question about this? Did you try one of the workouts? Let us know in a comment below or contact us!
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