The Comprehensive Rowing Warm Up and Cool Down

Ellen Tomek


Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, United States



A physical therapist once told me, “If you aren’t going to warm up properly before a workout, you probably shouldn’t even do the workout.” I don’t know if it needs to be taken that far, but implementing a good pre- and post-workout regime is extremely important to performance, consistency, and injury prevention. Getting the blood flowing, the muscles working, and the joints mobile in a controlled manner will get you ready to go as soon as you sit down on the erg.


You might be saying, “I do warm up!” and proceed to swing your arms around your body once or twice and then do a couple of quad stretches for a few seconds. You might also be saying, “I don’t have time to warm up, cool down, and also do the workout!” This is completely understandable. What I am about to give you is an excellent example of a full-body warm up and cool down routine that should only add 10 minutes to your prescribed workout.



Tight hips? Warm up with lunges and add the hip flexor stretch to your cool down to help loosen them up. Low back tightness? Cat/camel should be done before, and lower back twist after you are done working out. Stiff upper body? Push ups with shoulder mobility exercises will help you loosen up pre-workout, and opening your chest/pecs in a doorway will help you post-workout and into the next day. Let's get into the specifics.


Dynamic Warm Up Exercises for Rowers

These six exercises should be performed before each erg, body circuit, or cross-training session. Perform 8-10 repetitions per exercise, or per side if applicable:


sumo air squats


Sumo Squats: Reach both arms overhead and squat as low as possible while still maintaining a straight spine and neck, with hands pointed toward the sky. Activates the glutes and quads, while ensuring good posture in the neck and spine. A great exercise to help mimic ideal body positioning on the C2.


lunge with reach for the moon


Lunge with Reach for the Moon: Perform a lunge, stepping the right leg forward, stopping just before the left knee of the back leg touches the ground. Feel a stretch in the left hip flexor. Hold the position at the bottom and reach diagonally across the body, back and toward the sky.


The stretch in the hip flexor should increase while also stretching your side and lat. Return to center and push off with right leg to return to standing position. Repeat on the left side. Activates the glutes and quads and mobilizes the hips and thoracic spine.


single leg RDL


Single-Leg RDL: Plant right foot firmly on the ground and kick your left heel up and back until you feel a stretch in the right hamstring. Both hips should stay pointed forward, back should stay flat, and head should be pointed so you are looking two feet in front of your right foot at the end position.


Hold for two seconds. Squeeze the right hamstring and glute to return to an upright position. Repeat on left side. Activates the hamstrings and glutes, while helping enforce proper posture.


push ups with scapular protraction and retraction



Pushups with Shoulder Retraction/Protraction: Perform a pushup (toe or knee). At the top, push your upper back out as much as possible (protraction), then let the shoulder blades squeeze together (retraction). Repeat pushup sequence. Activates the pectoral muscles and mobilizes the shoulders.


cat and camel stretch


Cat/Camel: Start on all fours. Push your upper back out as much as possible while dropping your head and rounding your lower back. Hold for 2 seconds. Then, arch your entire back and look up toward the sky. Hold for 2 seconds. Repeat. Mobilizes the entire spine and pelvis.


alternating cross extensions


Alternating Cross Extensions: Start on all fours. Reach your right arm out in front of you and kick your left leg straight behind you, reaching the fingertips of your right hand and pushing back through your left heel as far as you can. Both hips should remain parallel with the floor. Remain as still as possible by engaging your abdominal muscles. Repeat on other side. Activates the entire core and promotes core stabilization.


Cool Down Stretches for Rowers

Perform these 6 stretches after every workout:


hip flexor stretch



Hip Flexor: Start with left knee on the ground and your right foot planted in front of you (your right leg at a 90-degree angle). Reach your left arm up as high as you can toward the sky. Both hips should be pointed forward as you lean slightly forward into the stretch. Hold for 30 seconds. Repeat on the right side. Stretches the hip flexors and entire side. Helps to relieve low back tightness.


piriformis stretch



Piriformis: Lay on your back with your knees bent, feet flat on the floor, head resting on the ground. Cross your right ankle over your left knee and pull your left leg toward your chest with both hands. Hold for 30 seconds. Repeat on the left leg. Stretches the piriformis muscle. Helps to relieve low back tightness.


hamstring stretch


Hamstring: Stand with your right foot two feet in front of your left foot, both hips pointing forward. Sit back into left leg and glute and let your right foot tip back onto right heel. Hold for 30 seconds Feel the stretch in your right hamstring. Helps to relieve low back tightness.


lion stretch


Lion: Start on all fours. Reach your hands straight out in front of you on the floor while you push your hips back and up, resting your forehead on the floor. Hold for 30 seconds. Stretches your lats and relieves pressure on your lumbar spine.


doorway stretch


Doorway: Stand in a doorway with both forearms resting on either side of the opening, arms at a 90-degree angle, shoulder blades gently squeezing down and back. Hold for 30 seconds. Stretches your chest and shoulders. Helps relieve tightness in the pecs, ribs, shoulders, and upper back.


low back twist stretch


Low Back Twist: Start by laying on your back on the ground. Bring your right knee to your chest. With your left hand, bring your knee across your body, all the way to the ground if possible. Stretch your right arm out to the other side and turn your head to look at your right hand.



Hold for 30 seconds. Repeat on the left side. Mobilizes the entire spine. Stretches the pecs, IT bands, glutes, and low back. The best stretch to perform after a long session on the C2.


How Much Time Should You Spend?

Warming Up to Perform: For each erg workout that needs a warm up (medium intensity and higher), the suggested warm up time should be given in the training plan. If you are not given a suggested time, 10-20 minutes should suffice. The harder the workout, the longer the warm up should be. Don't forget, these minutes count toward the total workout!


As a general rule, half of the warm up time should be done at steady state (easy) pace and stroke rate. The other half of the time, you should perform a series of 10-20 stroke bursts up to and at the stroke rate and pace (or faster than) you will hold for the workout pieces, paddling for 30 seconds between bursts. By the end of the warm up, you should be breathing heavily and starting to sweat!


Cooling Down to Recover: Much the same as the warm up, the suggested cool down time should be given. If it isn't, cool down for another 10-20 minutes, and count those minutes toward your total workout time. Just like the warm up, the harder your workout was, the longer your cool down should be.


The split for the first two-thirds of the cool down should be 3-5 seconds slower than your easy, steady-state pace. For example, if your steady state pace is 2:10/500m, you should hold between 2:13-2:15/500m for the first two-thirds of the cool-down.The last third should be done at easy steady state pace.


The purpose of the cool down is to flush any lactic acid built up in the muscles from the workout. It is important not to go too hard or too easy on the cool down. You don’t want to be producing more lactic acid, but you also want to make sure you are going hard enough so that you are flushing properly. By the end, the burning sensation in your legs (and in the rest of your body) from the workout should be gone.


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Headline photo credit: J Perez Imagery. All other photos by the author.

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