If you want to succeed as a strongman athlete, you’ve got to do more than throw heavy weight around. Unless you get in some quality cardio, you’re gonna run out of puff before you get anywhere near your strength potential. A lot of strength athletes, though, wouldn’t be seen dead in the cardio area of their gym. In this article, you’re about to discover why there’s one piece of cardio equipment that deserves your attention …



SHOP Cerberus Strength

the rowing machine.

Why Cardio for Strongman Athletes?

Incorporating the right sort of cardio into your training will improve your strongman lifts in three key ways:

  • It will make your heart stronger, In turn, your blood flow will increase. That means that oxygen and nutrients will get to your trained muscles faster and waste products will be removed more efficiently.
  • It will improve your recovery. The increased efficiency of your cardiovascular system will help you to recover faster between sets and between workouts.
  • It will improve your functional mobility, as well as your ability to burn body fat.

Many strength athletes stay away from cardio in the fear that it will negatively impact their lifts. But this will only happen if you are doing cardio excessively or using bad form. 

Why Rowing for Strongman?

Having established that the right type of cardio is a good thing for strongman athletes, let’s consider 7 reasons why the rowing machine is the ideal choice. 







Full Body Engagement

Most cardio exercises are lower body-centric, That’s because they revolve around some form of running. Rowing is different. While it still provides a very solid workout for your quads, glutes, and hamstrings, it also engages your upper body.

Rowing activates 80 percent of your muscles, including your lats, traps, biceps, and deltoids. That puts rowing in a class of its own when it comes to combining cardio benefits with muscle activation. Of course, rowing won’t make your muscles stronger but it will increase your muscular endurance, allowing you to train harder for longer under the heavy iron. 

Low Impact Cardio

Most strongman athletes I know aren’t small people. If you’re a guy who’s carrying around 250 pounds of body weight, the last thing you want to do is pound away on a high-impact cardio machine like the treadmill. That is bound to have a negative impact on your ankle, knee, and hip joints.

Rowing is one of the lowest impact forms of cardio you can find. That is because it is a closed chain exercise, where your feet never lose contact with the surface. And rowing does more than not make your joints worse; it actually makes them better. 

In a 2014 study, 24 people were monitored on the rowing machine for 8 weeks. After the study, they had an average improvement in joint mobility of 30 percent in the knees, shoulders, and elbows. 

Ideal for HIIT

Most strongman athletes I know would rather sit through a season of Keeping Up With The Kardashians than spend 45 minutes doing steady state cardio on a rowing machine. The good news is that you don’t have to do long and boring on a rower. 

Rowing is one of the best types of cardio to perform High-Intensity Interval Training (HIIT). This type of training is hard and fast. In just 10 minutes you can get a super intense workout that will give you more benefits than three-quarters of an hour of steady-state. 

Studies reveal that the combination of HIIT and strength training can result in improved lifts.

Here’s a sample HIIT workout, you can do in just 8 minutes on the rower …

  • Start with a 2-minute warm-up. Increase your speed until at the 2-minute mark you are rowing at full intensity.
  • Continue at max speed for 20 secs
  • Pause for 10 seconds
  • Repeat this cycle for 8 rounds
  • Finish with a 2-minute low-intensity warm-down

Improves Pushing & Pulling Ability

Pushing and pulling are fundamental to strongman competition. When you choose the rowing machine as your cardio of choice, you will be improving both of them. Proper rowing technique will see you using the lower body to push your body back during the drive. You’ll be learning to fully activate your glutes, the most powerful muscle in your body.

Over the course of a rowing session, you’ll be performing hundreds, maybe thousands, of leg pushes. That’s like doing uber-high reps on the leg press every time you get on the rowing machine!

The rowing action also involves a lot of horizontal pulling. This directly works the lat, traps, and delts. At the same time, your core will be working as it keeps your body stable. Core engagement is essential to heavy lifting and the rowing machine will give you plenty of practice at it. 

Coordinates Body Movement

When you’re performing strongman lifts, you need your body to work as a functional unit. The more practice you get with movements that require full-body coordination, the better. Successful rowing requires bodily timing and coordination. The more you do it, the more that full-body functional movement ability will translate to your strongman lifts.

Enhanced Work Capacity

As a result of the improved cardiovascular and muscular endurance that you get from adding rowing to your program, you will improve your strength training work capacity. That means that you’ll be able to lift more weight in a shorter amount of time. 

Workout Recovery

Scheduling a short rowing session after your strongman workout has been shown to improve your recovery ability between workouts. Being low impact, it provides an ideal transition between the intensity of your strongman workout and normal life. 

Wrap Up

Success in strongman isn’t all about training hard; you’ve also got to train smart. In this article, we’ve laid out why adding rowing to your training program makes a lot of sense. So, don’t you think it’s time that you added rowing to the mix?

Author Bio

Sam is a functional movement coach, ex-collegiate rower, and writer at Start Rowing, with over 10 years of experience in the industry. She has a passion for health and exercise and loves being able to help others move more freely.