Interval Training Workouts for the Rower

by Dr. John Rusin

These two routines are not only fat incinerators, they'll also help to build your glutes and quads. Check 'em out.

This metabolic conditioning tool can also be one hell of a way to add muscle to the lower body. One of the biggest misconceptions about the rower is that it’s an upper-body emphasized movement pattern and can be great for building your lats and back.

As anyone who’s used this machine long enough knows, improving your efficiency, power, and work is all about the lower body. The powerful extension of the ankles, knees, and hips together make this an excellent way to build the quads and glutes.

Do It Right

Though using the rowing machine has a very easy learning curve, set yourself up the right way so you don’t waste your time adjusting your butt or feet during max-effort interval bouts.

No matter what type of machine you’re using, the seat will most likely be slick against your gym shorts. To fix this common problem, place a small piece of a grippy, yoga-mat type material under your butt. This will decrease the chance of slipping mid-pull.

Also, take the time to get your feet strapped and secured into the footholds, as loose feet can lead to ripping the Achilles to shreds and “leaking” force on every single pull.

Focus on exploding back and pushing off dynamically with the lower body, driving the knees and hips into extension and keeping the core and torso solid to transfer lower body force and energy production into the arms and handle of the machine.

Stay smooth with your leg drive and upper-body pull and avoid overdoing the late range of motion of the pull with the arms, which will cause you to leak force and lose time that’s better spent crushing more reps.

How To Program It

The rower can be programmed in a myriad of different schemes, but the most successful way to use it to build the glutes and quads is centered around 30-60 second work periods with extended rest periods. This will keep the quality of reps high and increase the total volume of work.

Experiment with these two protocols on the tail-end of your lower body or upper body training days as a cardiovascular finisher:


  • Rounds: 15
  • Resistance: 10 (maximal on machine)
  • Work Period: 30 seconds
  • Rest Period: 60 seconds
  • This scheme allows for more complete rest.


  • Rounds: 10
  • Resistance: 10 (maximal on machine)
  • Work Period: 60 seconds
  • Rest Period: 60 seconds
  • This scheme challenges muscular endurance and metabolic-stress.

The rower can leave you with your head in a garbage can in a round or two, so proceed with caution. Start with the first finisher and work your way up to completing 15 full rounds with strict adherence to the work and rest periods. Once you’re ready, obliterate yourself with some intervals like those in the second scheme.