Social media makes it very easy for people to ask me for training tips, which I love receiving and answering. Recently, I received this message from a woman who had just started with indoor rowing: “Hello Josh, I am an avid runner and purchased the WaterRowerGx rowing machine so I could have more of an upper body/total body work out. Here is the problem – I keep reading about that the power in rowing comes from the legs, but I don’t feel like I am giving my legs a workout.  I have the order correct, pushing with my legs first and then using the core and arms, but I don’t feel any power from the legs and my seat feels like I am on ice! Maybe I’m not going fast enough back and forth. Any tips on what I might be doing wrong? Thanks!” Sandy. Thanks for reaching out Sandy and I am happy to answer!

The leg drive, which is the leg connection and leg power, are the power players in rowing. Whether you are just starting to cross train on an indoor rower or fine tuning your boat speed, without leg engagement, you’re not going to get anywhere. So to help you (and Sandy), here a couple tips, plus a workout to ensure your legs are driving your rowing.

  1. As you initiate the stroke with the legs, make sure your handle and your seat simultaneously move backward. If the seat moves by itself, independently from the handle, then while you are pushing with the legs first, you don’t have the resistance or “grip on the water”.  The reason Sandy’s seat feels like it was “on ice” is because she is not connecting to the resistance. Remember, the handles should initially move backward because of the legs, not the arms.


  1. As you begin to push with the legs, pay attention to the tugging feeling on your fingers from the handle. The energy should move from the legs, through the core, to the arms, into the fingers, and finally to the flywheel. The harder you push with the legs, the more resistance you create and the more pressure you feel on the fingers as you “hang” on the handle.


  1. Still not feeling it? Push harder and quicker with the legs right from the Catch. During each Drive, think like you are trying to jump off the back of machine as far as you can. This requires quick, explosive power with the legs right from the beginning of the push. To feel it in the legs, you have to “go after it”.


  1. Follow the below workout. The point of this workout is to focus on leg power and connection. Low stroke rates allows for a “heavier” pick up as the flywheel slows down and the load is heavier. Think of each stroke like lifting a heavy package – legs first!


  1. Going faster back and forth is not the answer. Find the connection to the legs with good form, add more power to the stroke, and then, finally add speed if you still feel the need.


Every exercise is different. Although they all use the legs, rowing is different from running, the elliptical or the bike. It will “crush” your legs if you want it to.  Don’t believe me? Try the below sequence and notice how your legs feel going down the set of stairs from the gym.

The Workout:

Throughout this workout use the tips above to help find and deliver the power from the legs, as you go up and down with the stroke rate.

Warm-Up 5-10 mins. of easy rowing to really focusing on the order (legs push first, then open with the core/torso, followed by drawing the arms to the chest). On the return, reverse the order and take twice as long coming forward as you do going backwards.

Workout: 4 x 6 minutes

  1. 6 min. as:
  • 1 min. Easy, 20 spm (strokes per minute)
  • 1 min. Medium, 20 spm
  • 1 min. Hard, 20 spm
  • 1 min. Easy, 22 spm
  • 1 min. Medium, 22 spm
  • 1 min. Hard, 22 spm

Break 90 seconds

  1. Repeat above 6 min. sequence, stroke rates change to 24 spm and 26 spm respectively. Break 2-3 min.
  2. Repeat 6 min. sequence, go back following 20 spm and 22 spm. Break 90 seconds
  3. Repeat 6 min. sequence, stroke rates change to 22 spm and 28 spm respectively. Maintain the leg connection at the higher rate.