World Champion Rower Kendall Chase Discusses the Demands of the Sport and Why Rowing is Such a Great Workout

Rowing provides great conditioning benefits for all athletes.

Rowing is one of the most physically demanding sports out there. Not only do rowers require incredible endurance, they need to be strong and powerful to propel their boats through the water at high speeds.

That's one of the reasons why rowing has become such a popular workout in recent years. It's truly one of the best ways to torch your entire body and add some strength with minimal stress on your joints.

To learn more about the sport of rowing and how athletes can take advantage of this highly effective type of training, we caught up with Kendall Chase, who is representing the United States at the World Championship of Rowing, which is happening for the first time in over 20 years in the United States (Sarasota, Florida) from Sept. 24 to Oct. 1.

Kendall Chase

STACK: When did you first start rowing?

Kendall Chase: I first started rowing in the summer of 2010. I did a couple USRowing "learn to row" camps, one in Colorado and one at my alma mater, UC Berkeley, and was hooked.

What were some of the challenges at first?

Any novice rower will face a wide variety of challenges, whether it be catching crabs (when the front part of the blade catches the water and immediately rips the oar from your hands bringing it parallel to the boat) or dealing with all the new open blisters on your hands. For me personally, I found that the biggest challenge with rowing was learning proper technique. I actually struggled the most with putting the blade in the water before I started my leg drive (known as "the catch" in rowing lingo). If you watch professional rowers, they make it look easy, but it takes a lot of time and practice to learn how to just flow with the boat, while also maintaining stability and following the person in front of you.

What are the physical benefits of rowing?

There are many physical benefits of rowing! I think the most obvious one is that it is a full body workout. If you are one of those people who describes rowing with your arms—insert rowing motion here—you are wrong. Rowing is not just arms! Rowing uses basically every muscle group in your body: legs, both upper- and lower-back, abdominals and arms. Another physical benefit that stems from rowing, and also just being fit in general, is that your heart is healthy. Rowing is a hard and taxing sport and is a great training tool to keep your cardiovascular system strong.

How is rowing superior to other forms of cardio?

I would say that rowing is superior to a lot of other forms of cardio for a variety of reasons. As I touched on earlier, rowing forces you to use your whole body. The rowing motion engages all the muscle groups and a bunch of little muscles that you probably didn't even know you had. Hopping on the erg (rowing machine) at the gym is not like using the elliptical or the stair master; those machines target a specific part of your body, whereas rowing gets everything, from the tiny muscles in your hands to the muscles in your feet. With that being said, your heart has to work harder to pump blood throughout your entire body, not just your legs like on the elliptical. Another aspect that makes rowing superior to other forms of cardio is that it is low impact, meaning that it does not put a lot of pressure/strain on your joints, given that it is done properly. This low impact aspect of rowing makes it so that people of all ages can do it, unlike running for example.

How do you train on the water?

We row in a variety of different sized boats—singles, pairs, fours and eights. When we are on the water, there are a couple different types of training methods that we implement. I would say that the majority of our rows are longer "steady state" rows (up to 22k), where the main focus is building fitness and endurance. During these steady state sessions, we sometimes do drills consisting of pauses or short slide rowing that helps us with technique and power application. We supplement these steady state rows with anaerobic rows, or "pieces" as we rowers call them. To prepare for races, which are mainly 2,000 meters long, we simulate races on the water by doing pieces. These pieces range in length from short burst intervals to longer distances which tests our anaerobic thresholds. The coaches normally time these pieces to check the boats' speed in relation to GMS (Gold Medal Standard).

How you train out of the water?

The way we train on land is more or less the same as the way we train on the water, except instead of being in a boat we are on the erg. Most of the time spent on the erg is for longer steady workouts, building our fitness. The erg is also a good individual testing tool so usually once, sometimes twice, a week we will have an erg test. These erg tests range in time and distance. I would say that the most universal erg tests are 2,000 meters and 6,000 meters. At the training center we primarily use longer erg tests because those are the most revealing of one's fitness and power output. In addition to erg training, we lift weights and do weight circuits throughout the week.

How can a team sport athlete train with rowing to improve their conditioning?

  • 4x4k with 2 minutes rest, or 3x20 minutes with 2 minutes rest:

These workouts are very similar in the sense that they are both steady state, meaning that you feel like you can sustain your pace for a long time. Your stroke rate should be around 17-20 strokes per minute. These kinds of workouts are meant to build up your fitness and you will find that over time (a few months) you will find that your speed will start to get faster while your energy output remains the same.

  • [1 minute on (max effort or just below max) 1 minute off x 7] x 3 (6 minutes rest between sets of 7), or 5x1k with 4 minutes rest

Both of these workouts are a type of threshold training, meaning that you are working harder than you would during steady state and you can only sustain your pace for a short amount of time. Your heart rate should be quite a bit higher than it would be during a steady state workout. Just remember that the more tired your body gets, the more important it is to maintain proper technique* so you don't hurt yourself.