row2k Features
The 5:55am Warmup: How to Warm Up When You Have No Time to Warm Up
August 9, 2021
Ed Hewitt,

Photo by Nicole Arrato

Rowers know sunrises, and even first light - truly tons of us launch our boats in the first minutes of the day- and on the evidence of our Photo of the Day submissions, heaps of which are sunrises, rowers both cherish and dread those pre-dawn launches.

Love them or hate them, really early morning rows do present one challenge - getting warmed up on very short order when you are only still barely awake.

Often a warmup is not negotiable; first you have to make sure the o'dark hundred coffee are done, and most of the time at least one teammate has a hard deadline to meet - classes to attend, kids to drive, trains to catch - I rowed for a long time with a rider on the 7:10 train, and we were very disciplined about start and end times, as a slipped minute here or there was a no go.

Even more practically, winds are far lighter in the very early morning, so waiting around until you are more awake often results in worse conditions.

In my training days I devised a very fast land warmup that was inspired in part by the 'fun day' during winter months on Kris Korzeniowski's monthly training plans from the late 80s, which included calesthenics, 'push of war' style exercises (one person pushes, one resists, across the gym), and similar stunts - that proved indispensable on hard training days - seat racing days in particular - outlined roughly below. There is a lot of bounding around, and it can look pretty goofy; but it slowly caught on with fellow athletes and then coaches as they discovered how much better the early part of rows can be when you have skipped and jumped for only about seven minutes.

These days you see a lot of similar stuff in kids sports - soccer warmups are full of similar movements - but they work really well for rowing in the breaking light of morning.

Photo by Micaela Braddi
Photo by Micaela Braddi

A couple concepts:
- The 'negative contraction' elements are critical (in this case the fast stops as opposed to the fast starts, a similar concept to the fact that it is 'harder' going down than up when hiking or running stairs). These 'negative' contractions tend to generate heat pretty quickly. - The warmup has worked when you feel the first sense of sweat on your brow

The seven minutes in very short form; everything is done for 10-15 seconds-ish, with light jog between:

  • 2.5 minutes of very light jog; I am barely moving when I start, oof
  • Easy leap-skipping for 10-15 seconds
  • 10-15 seconds light jog again
  • Leap-skipping for height for 10-15 seconds, swinging arms as high as you can
  • Light jog again
  • Start-stop sprints, maybe 8-10 steps; stopping has to be done very fast, and preferably with your feet well in front of you, like putting on the brakes; I do this maybe 3-4 times consecutively. Improvise - maybe one step forward, full brakes, then two forward, switching feet - you will start to feel the heat build
  • Light jog again
  • Zig-zag running with strong foot plant on both sides
  • Light jog again
  • Leap-kipping with arms high for height again, higher this time - more like a skipping leap
  • Light jog again
  • Lunge walk
  • Make up your own station, although having a 'negative' element helps a lot.

By around seven minutes of this, you are sweating and ready to get in the boat.

For max efficiency, punch your stopwatch and start going, then at 3.5 minutes into the routine, turn around - 3.5 minutes out, 3.5 minutes back.

If you prefer warming up on the erg, try this:

  • 2.5- 3 minutes of light rowing
  • Blast several strokes 'legs only' at AT-ish split
  • Paddle
  • Blast several strokes half-slide at AT-ish split
  • Blast several strokes 'legs only' at 2k-ish split
  • Paddle
  • Blast several strokes 'half slide' at 2k-ish split
  • Paddle
  • Blast several strokes full stroke at 2k-ish split
  • Paddle
  • Sweat broken and you are done

The legs only and half slide rowing is not really strict as regards length - i.e., the legs only can involve a bit of body swing so it is not stiff - the idea is just to focus first on the big muscles of the legs, then the smaller muscles of the upper body, and repeat.

I asked a couple of the on-screen athletes at Hydrow to share their am workouts, as they not only have to get in the boat and be ready, but also have to do it on camera, and everyone will know if they are not warmed up, stiff, or just not ready to go. It's tough enough rallying for a dawn row when no one is looking; here is one rowing warmup from Serra Moon Busse, and one land warmup from Peter Donohoe.

5-7' Rowing Warm-Up - Sera Moon Busse

Sera is a Hydrow Athlete and Personal Coaching Coordinator at Hydrow. She trains with a development team to pursue competitive international rowing goals. Before rowing, Sera competed internationally in rock climbing, and was a 1-time national champion, and 8-time US Team Member.

"Everyday, no matter what my workout is, I start out my workout with the same 5-7' warm up on the erg/Hydrow/water: Reverse pick drill, starting with 10 strokes each at top 1/4, top 1/2, legs only, legs and body, and full strokes. When I'm done with that progression, I row at a steady, low pressure for 2 minutes. Once the muscles and joints feel loose, I row 10 strokes with firm pressure at 24, 26, 28, and 30 s/m. By the end of that, it's only been about 5 minutes and I feel ready for anything!"

6-8' Mobility Warm-Up - Peter Donohoe

Peter Donohoe is a 2x Olympic Bobsledder, former World Class track and Field Athlete, Masters Rower, Strength and Movement Specialist and currently the Director of Fitness at Hydrow. Peter also works with professional Ballet Dancers, helping to improve performance and reduce the risk of injury as the demands on dancers continues to increase.

"When I'm short on time, I have a 6-8 minute warm up/mobility routine that I like to do before a rowing workout that gets me ready to go. This sequence of movements helps to 'switch on' the muscles and mobilize your hips and back. A good warm up requires preparation, activation, mobility and a little sweat to make sure your body and mind are ready for a workout. This also helps reduce the risk of injury or strain. Gone are the days of long slow static stretching as a way to warm up."

Quadruped position, "Cat-Cow" (x 10)

"Spiderman Lunge" to T-Spine mobility (x 5 each side)

Forearm Plank (2 x 30") - Squats (10 - 15)

If you enjoy and rely on row2k, we need your help to be able to keep doing all this. Though row2k sometimes looks like a big, outside-funded operation, it mainly runs on enthusiasm and grit. Help us keep it coming, thank you! Learn more.


Log in to comment
08/11/2021  12:28:33 PM
I have a Tabata App for my phone. You can set it for various times (like 2 min, then a bunch at 15 seconds, etc) and it beeps at you when you should change what you are doing. Makes it really easy to know when to switch and tells you when you are done.

Rowing Features
Rowing Headlines
Get our Newsletter!

Support row2k!

Tremendous thanks to our
row2k supporters!

Get Social with row2k!
Like row2k on Facebook Follow row2k on Twitter Follow row2k on Instagram Follow row2k on Youtube Connect with row2k on LinkedIn

Get the row2k app!

row2k rowing store!

Get our Newsletter!
Enter your email address to receive our weekly newsletter.

Support row2k!

Advertiser Index
Advertise on row2k