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Rowing CrossFit Workout For Great Full-Body Conditioning

 Written by 

Julien Raby

 Last updated on 

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Looking for a rowing CrossFit workout? It’s no surprise that rowing is such a popular component of CrossFit- it’s a fantastic multi-purpose workout that ticks so many boxes.

You want an endurance blast? Check.

people doing a row workout crossfit
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How about toning those arms and legs? Check.

And it gets bonus points for being so easy on the joints, so you can use it to ease yourself back into things after an injury.

This article will talk you through the benefits, the correct form (this is a part many get wrong) and give you a few workouts to try for yourself.

Best Rower for Beginner
Sunny Water Rowing Machine

Based on our testing, this is the best rower for beginners. For less than 500$, this silent water rower will last you for years. It also comes with a 12-year warranty.

  • Affordable
  • Quiet
  • Amazing warranty
See latest price See all Rowers below 500$

Benefits of Crossfit Rowing workout 

resistance training rowing workout
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Meditative, Stress Relief, and Relaxing

Rowing is a form of exercise with a strong mind-body connection. Once you get into a steady rowing rhythm, it really is quite a meditative exercise. (Not quite so much when it’s being paired up with burpees and press-ups in a cross-fit workout, admittedly…)

Even a short 2k burst will start releasing those endorphins, which reduce stress levels and decrease depression.

Full Body Conditioning

Rowing works the entire body- another reason it is the perfect CrossFit component.

It is estimated that 65–75% of the rowing stroke is spent working the legs, and 25–35% is spent working the upper body, according to the “American Fitness Professionals Association”.

The core needs to be engaged throughout, so it is getting worked all the time too.

 Listing all the muscles it works is like listing all the parts of your body:

 Upper body:

  • Rhomboids (shoulder)
  • Trapezius (upper back)
  • Lats (lower back)
  • Biceps (arms)
  • Pecs (chest)
  • Abs (core)
  • Grip strength (hands & wrists)

Lower body:

  • Quads (front of legs)
  • Calves
  • Glutes (buttocks)

 Minimized Risk of Injury

Because rowers are seated low to the ground, the risk of injury from this exercise is extremely low. You’re much more likely to get an injury on the treadmill, put it that way!

Suitable For All Ages

  • Older people, young kids, and everyone in between can improve their fitness by using CrossFit rowing without worrying about pre-existing joint injuries or conditions.
  • Rowing is scalable (e.g., resistance, timeframe, rest periods, all can be adjusted) and can be used by everyone, regardless of age or fitness level.
  • Blind people and people with low vision can also participate in this exercise.

Low Impact

Rowing workouts are great, low-impact exercises. Perfect for active recovery, in particular- burning calories without putting stress on your joints.

Ideal for home workouts

If you can’t get to your CrossFit class- and you haven’t joined the Peleton revolution- a rower can be a great option. They can be folded up and stored when not in use, they’re fairly quiet and you won’t need a second mortgage to buy one!

Advice On Rowing Technique

people doing resistance training on rowing machine
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As good as rowing is, improper rowing technique is a recipe for injury- the lower back being particularly vulnerable. Here are the guidelines for rowing you need to be aware of:

 Part 1: Getting into starting position

1-Sit down on the seat: Sit in a comfortable position; adjust yourself if necessary. Bend your knees to get closer to the base of the rowing machine.

 2-Secure footplate strap: Secure the strap of the footplate around your shoes. Make sure that your feet don’t slide on the footplate.

 3-Hold the handle: Hold the handle using an overhand grip. Grab the handle and pull it towards you. Your hands should be in an overhand grip means with your palms are facing down.

 4-Engage your core: You should sit actively by engaging your core and straightening your posture. Keep your core muscles tightened, so they are working as you row.

 5-Extend your arms: Keep your arm out in a horizontal position and bend your knees so you will go in the starting position, which is called “catch.”

Part 2: Performing a Drive

There are four components to the rowing stroke:

  • Catch
  • Drive
  • Finish
  • Recovery

Here are a few details on each step.

Step 1: The Catch

  • Maintain a perpendicular position with your arms extending outwards to the flywheel.
  • Keep your back straight and relax your upper body as much as possible.
  • Knees will be bent so that the seat will be in the start position.

Step 2: The Drive

  • A rower’s drive is their ‘pulling’ phase.
  • A push from the legs initiates the drive phase.
  • There is a gradual opening of the hip angle as the legs reach half their extension.
  • It is then that the arms begin to draw the handle towards the body once the legs are fully extended, the back is vertical, and the legs are fully extended.
  • About halfway up the body, the handle ends. In textbook rowing form, the elbows should follow the handle line, and the wrists should remain in line with forearms.

Step 3: The Finish

  • You should keep your shoulder behind your hips during the finish and brush the rower’s handle against your chest (do not hit yourself).
  • Grip the handle with an overhand grip (not an underhand or mixed grip).

Step 4: The Recovery

  • Legs and back will be straight in the finish position.
  • Straightening the arms initiates the recovery process.
  • Before the legs bend, the body pivots from the hips.
  • When the legs are flexed, the shins are vertically aligned.

An easy way to remember it from the catch position is: Legs, Arms, Arms, Legs.

Best Rower for Beginner
Sunny Water Rowing Machine

Based on our testing, this is the best rower for beginners. For less than 500$, this silent water rower will last you for years. It also comes with a 12-year warranty.

  • Affordable
  • Quiet
  • Amazing warranty
See latest price See all Rowers below 500$

Concept2 is the world’s premium rowing machine manufacturer. Here is their video, if you are a more visual learner!

Rowing CrossFit Workouts

Okay, enough of the learning already… Here are 5 awesome rowing workouts to really get to work on your conditioning. You may be cursing us halfway through, but you’ll thank us afterwards!

Chopper Rowing Workout

This one will really test that mental toughness… No sneaky rests; keep going full-pelt for the entire workout!

  1. 50 air squats
  2. 25-calorie row
  3. 40 Russian kettlebell swings
  4. 20-calorie row
  5. 30 situps
  6. 15-calorie row
  7. 20 pushups
  8. 10-calorie row
  9. 10 burpees
  10. Jellymaker Rowing Workout

For time:

  • 150 Air squats
  • 2000 m Row
  • 150 Air squats

Why is it called the Jellymaker, I hear you ask? Tell me how you feel after you do your last set of squats…

CrossFit Rowing Tip: Engage the Core

Keep your core (abs) engaged throughout the rowing stroke; your back angle should not change when your legs are driving.

Thruster Rowing Workout

For time:

  • 1000 m Row
  • 50 Thrusters 45
  • 30 Pull-ups

CrossFit rowing Tip: Keep elbows straight when you drive

When you power through your legs, your elbows should remain straight throughout, until you begin 

Freshener rowing workout

people working out with rowing machine
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This one spices it up a bit! Blast through the sequence as fast as you can and take note of your time so you can smash it next time around!

Row 1000 meters

  • 20 push-ups
  • 20 squats

Row 900 meters

  • 18 push-ups
  • 18 squats

Row 800 meters

  • 16 push-ups
  • 16 squats

Row 700 meters

  • 14 push-ups
  • 14 squats

Row 600 meters

  • 12 push-ups
  • 12 squats

Row 500 meters

  • 10 push-ups
  • 10 squats

Row 400 meters

  • 8 push-ups
  • 8 squats

Row 300 meters

  • 6 push-ups
  • 6 squats

Row 200 meters

  • 4 push-ups
  • 4 squats

Row 100 meters

  • 2 push-ups
  • 2 squats

Rowing CrossFit Tip: Squeeze the Shoulder Blades

Instead of shrugging your shoulders up to your ears as you row, squeeze your shoulder blades together.

Vanilla rowing workout

And for the last one, we have something simple, but brutal. Just the way you like it, I’m sure!

For time, do the following in sequence.

  1. One-mile run
  2. 2,000-meter row
  3. One-mile run

Row Workout CrossFit TIP: Drive through your legs

Don’t get into the habit of overusing your arms; your legs have far more muscle and can drive you through each rowing stroke more efficiently than yanking that handle with your arms. Think of them more as levers.

How Did You Do?

How did you find them? We chose ones that were simple but no less effective for it. And easy to do yourself when you can’t make it to class.

We’d love to hear your thoughts about the workouts in the comments below! 


Julien Raby is the owner of BoxLife. He owns a bachelor in literature and a certificate in marketing from Concordia. He's Crossfit Level 1 certified and has been involved in Crossfit since 2010. In 2023 he finally made it to Crossfit Open Quarterfinals for the first time. LinkedIn Instagram Facebook

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