How rowing can complement your cycling as cross-training

Fitness plateaued? Supplementing your cycling with a rowing machine might be the answer

A woman using a Hydrow Rowing Machine indoors

Spending time on the bike is vital if you want to improve your cycling performance. But working another muscular-endurance activity into the mix can help take your fitness to the next level. 


Mixing up your training will bolster your cycling performance by giving you a broader base of conditioning. By engaging different muscle groups and strengthening your core, you’ll be able to improve your form on the bike and reduce the risk of injury while off it. 

Something such as rowing, which engages the upper body as well as the lower, is perfect for achieving this, and its low-impact nature makes it a relatively easy transition for cyclists. 

A premium, immersive rowing machine such as the Hydrow can make the switch even easier. The virtual-training aspect is something anyone who has ever used a smart trainer will be instantly familiar with, and the integrated display provides the visual stimulation that we cyclists are accustomed to. 

But why choose indoor rowing for your cross-training over another low-impact activity, such as swimming? First, let’s look at the similarities. 

Hydrow Rowing Machine
The Hydrow is a premium rowing machine that can help take your fitness to another level.

At first glance, rowing and cycling have little in common – different terrain, different equipment and different movements. But look a little deeper and there’s actually a great deal that links these two disciplines. 

Like cycling, rowing is a muscular-endurance activity, with athletes from both sports possessing some of the highest aerobic capacities in the sporting world. As a cyclist, your Vo2 max is probably already well above average, which, in theory, should stand you in good stead when you hop onto a rowing machine for the first time. 

It’s also one of the few cycling alternatives that balances cardio and strength benefits. But where cycling primarily engages the legs, rowing offers a full-body workout. 

“A lot of people have the misconception that rowing is all about arm strength,” says Hydrow athlete Nick Karwoski. “In reality, it’s a full-body workout that engages up to 86 per cent of the body’s muscles. The combination of strength training, cardio and mental engagement makes rowing incredibly challenging, but effective.” 

Man using Hydrow rowing machine.
Rowing gives a full body workout.

Upper-body training is often neglected by cyclists, but it’s important for avoiding injury. When cycling, your anterior body (chest, stomach, etc.) is tight and hunched over, and your spine is arched. According to some studies, more than 50 per cent of cyclists report lower-back pain, with back pain in general being one of the most common cycling-related injuries. 

Rowing can have huge benefits when it comes to preventing such problems. It opens up those tight anterior muscles and engages the posterior, helping to build muscle and increase strength in the back. This also results in increased core strength, which, aside from decreasing the risk of injury, will aid stability on the bike.

“Endurance cycling actually becomes taxing on the muscles in the core and back,” explains Kristin Haraldsdottir, Hydrow’s director of exercise research and innovation. “In order to keep good, strong posture during a long ride, you want to have trained and strengthened your core. 

“Rowing workouts, especially HIIT workouts, help build core strength and endurance of those muscles. This core stability is super-important to keep yourself from wasting energy on extra movement in cycling.” 

A female using a Hydrow Rowing Machine indoors
Rowing can strengthen your upper body while helping to avoid lower-back injuries.

Because of its low-impact nature, the rowing machine is also a great tool for active recovery and injury rehabilitation. It can increase blood flow and bone strength while putting minimal stress on the joints. 

The proof, as they say, is in the pudding. There are many examples of professional rowers going on to achieve success in the cycling world. England’s very own Rebecca Romero took silver in the quadruple sculls at the 2004 Olympic Games. Four years later, she won gold in the individual pursuit in Beijing, after making the switch from boat to bike. 

On the other side of the world, multiple Olympic gold-medal winning rower Hamish Bond spent several years competing as an elite-level cyclist in New Zealand, where he had three first-place finishes in the National Road Championships, as well as a TT bronze medal at the 2018 Commonwealth Games. 

So, there’s definitely something to it, but why should Hydrow be your rowing machine of choice? 

Just like a top-of-the-range smart trainer, Hydrow mimics real-world movements and sensations as closely as possible. The electromagnetic drag mechanism is computer-controlled and simulates the feeling of heaving oars through the water as closely as possible. Combined with the 22in touchscreen display, this creates an immersive experience, which cyclists, who are used to lots of visual stimuli while training, will undoubtedly appreciate. 

“The benefits of rowing become really evident when I jump back on my bike,” says Hydrow athlete Mike Dostal. “The whole-body nature of rowing means I feel stronger when I ride. My lower back and core don’t complain as much when I’m riding for long periods. Also – and this is the big benefit for me – when I’m rowing regularly, I find I can make that one-off huge effort to smash up a long climb or drill it on the flat. The two sports complement each other so well.”


To find out more about the Hydrow Rowing Machine, click here.