Low-impact sports that can improve your rowing skills during recovery

Zoey Adrian

Written by , Health and fitness blogger on

Rowing as recovery

There are many ways for athletes to improve their rowing skills. Our Indoor rowing app has various settings to optimize your workouts, and one of its features, the EXR Split, uses extra variables like your body weight and your virtual boat’s weight to come up with data that's more accurate than the statistics of standard rowing machines. This will make it easier to measure your performance data pre- and post-recovery after you heal from any muscle strain or fatigue.

But if you do get injured, how do you recover properly so that you return to rowing with even better performance? There are a couple of low-impact sports that focus on steadily gaining strength back in your muscles while simultaneously improving your rowing skills. Sounds intriguing? Keep reading for a closer look.


Swimming is often used by athletes in physical therapy because the water buoyancy reduces impact and stress when exercising while providing ample pressure. This can be helpful with injured areas, reducing swelling and improving motion.

Swimming develops core strength and works all the major muscles used in rowing. The breaststroke, in particular, fundamentally works the quads and scapular retractors of the body much like rowing does to improve one's pull as well as catch timing. More than a strength workout, however, swimming is cardio exercise. That is why swimmers make great rowers, and why the British Triathlon even hopes to make indoor rowing an alternative to swimming in these competitive events. Rowers are required to maintain a high level of intensity for extended periods of time, and swimming during one’s downtime can maintain a rower’s aerobic capacity without overwearing delicate muscles.


Another activity that many recovering athletes perform is yoga. That’s because yoga has several benefits for adults, especially recovering athletes who can use the sport to stretch out tense muscles. Instead of using water to gently exert pressure against their muscles as swimming does, rowers use their own body weight. Switching your rest days in your schedule to restorative yoga days at least three times a week can promote flexibility and further relax the autonomic nervous system.

This is a great benefit for rowers with elevated levels of cortisol in their bodies thanks to the moderate or intense nature of rowing. Otherwise, because many rowers start out with limited mobility in the muscles of the core and shoulder blades, downtime is likely to cause these muscles to tighten up once more. In the long run, continuous yoga practice can increase your range of motion and improve your rowing form.

Indoor cycling

The downward pedal stroke in cycling mimics the powerful leg extension that accounts for 85% of the total power in rowing. At the same time, cycling and rowing are both high-endurance sports. In fact, athlete James Cartwright says that cycling aided his rowing development as it provided him with great endurance and he would recommend rowing to any cyclist that was looking for a change of scenery.

Indoor cycling is slightly lower-impact than regular cycling and would be recommended to any rower looking for a workout during recovery. While the main muscle groups required, like the quadriceps or hamstrings, are shared, rowing is a whole-body workout that actively engages 86% of the body’s major muscle groups. Cycling is predominantly a lower-body workout, which gives your other body parts a break, and its low-impact nature also means that it will not put too much strain on your muscles and joints.


Avoid rushing the recovery process and use this time to correct your rowing form so that you can prevent future injuries. Many rowers are prone to rookie mistakes like pulling with too much torso that will improve by strengthening your glutes instead. You can do this by trying out any of the sports above and training with our EXR's rest day workouts so that you can simultaneously recover and stay active on your erg. With patience, you'll soon be back in the game stronger than before.

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