17 Rowing and Skiing Interval Workouts For Fat Loss

In the past 5 – 6 years, rowing and skiing ergometers (ergs, as they are known) have taken a role front and center in the fitness industry.  Once reserved only for spinning or cycling, these machines combine both an increased, measurable output and muscles used than spinning.

Specifically in NYC, Row House and CityRow have separate class facilities that combine rowing and training workouts in their class mix.

Interval Training, (sometimes referred to as HIIT or High intensity Interval Training) meanwhile, has gained even more attention from the New York Times.

Here at Structure, the recent addition of the ski erg to our lineup balances our offering of interval options: the ski erg, rower and Assault Bike (in addition to other non-machine methods).

In the past several months, I have experimented with many different ~ 20′ workouts on both the ski and rowing erg.  I have not ranked them, however, I have tabulated my favorite workouts, based on the following metrics:

  • difficulty: how hard they felt to complete
  •  transfer: how much I noticed they helped me in life (with stairs, walking, running)
  • Uniqueness: never done them before
  • Personal Challenge: I do very well with short bursts (and do not do well with long bursts)

That said, here’s the list!

  1. 5000m: one of the most significant challenges, aim to complete this in under 20 minutes for the row, and 22 minutes for the ski.  Gym record: 18:15 for the row (PJ), 19:48 for the ski (me)
  2. 500m / 1m rest x 5: the 1′ rest is an absolute killer, and the work to rest ratio (2:1) does you zero favors.  Hold on!
  3. 30s Work /30s Rest x 10: this 10 minute challenge, even though the work to rest ration (1:1) is not terrible, tempts you to speed up your work periods (because it is kinda short, after all).  Stay consistent though, and aim for 150m on the row and 140 on the ski per 30s.
  4. 20s Work at 90% effort, 40% active rest x 20x: this is brutal.  Set your damper at a slightly higher setting as the pulls will be more frequent (and you may fall off) should it be too little.  Consistently staying over 100m on the row and 90m on the ski is a true test.
  5. 30s work / 90s rest + 1: This one I stole from Gym Jones and Jen Comas, and it’s a true test of power capability.  Complete the 30s in 150m for men on the rower, and 130m for women.  Row, at the minimum, 1 meter more than before (not equal to).  Continue rowing intervals until you cannot complete another interval in the +1 format.  My record is 175m.  Ski erg should start at 145 for men, 120 for women.
  6. 250m x 5, 1m rest: This 1o’ challenge is a speed demon as you aim to complete the 250m all in less than 1′.  Do that and then consider my best: 10 rounds (~20′ total), each interval under 50s.
  7. 3 x 1500, 2′ rest, 1′ active recovery: Breaking the barrier, this one does.  Pushing the limit on 20′, this one is difficult because it adds the active recovery component.  Complete each 1500, record that time, and rest completely for 2′.  Then, at 30-40% intensity, start working again for 1′.  Record each 1500m interval.
  8. 4 x 3 x 2: Four intervals of 3′ work and 2′ rest.  The 3:2 work to rest ratio allows for a bit longer recovery than some of the other workouts, and this allows for a slightly faster interval speed.  Record each interval distance.
  9. 2 x 2000m , 3′ rest + 2 s/m: Escalating frequency of strokes per minute is the challenge here.  Starting at your lowest possible pace per minute, add 2-3 s/m every 500m.  Mine start at 20 s/m and finish at 26 s/m.  Record the time it took and the average pace at each interval.
  10. 3 x 1000m, 3′ rest: Another challenging distance, push for speed on these intervals.  The duration is long (aim to break 4′ for each) but the recovery is decent.  Record the time for each interval.
  11. 2000m Time Trial: Complete one time trial, and record that time.  Ski or row as fast as you can for that interval! No more than one trial of either the ski or rower per month (at max effort, these are very taxing).
  12. Row and Ski Alternating 500m x 5 x 500m, 60s rest: So you think you’re good?  This roughly 40′ challenge alternates between the ski erg and rower every 500m.  Make sure you have both available and put them both on the 500m.  You may need to record separately your time for each, and track the rest interval (I used a 60s timer for mine).
  13. Core challenge: Set erg for 30/90, perform 30s of the selected erg at a 80-85% intensity.  Rest 30s, and then complete 30s of a core exercise of choice between.  My favorites: Flags, lower ab raises, pikes, kneeling ab wheel.  10 rounds of each erg and 10 sets total of the core exercises: a great challenge for the core, performing cardio, maintaining form and staying tight throughout.
  14. 30/30 x 6 x 4 with 4′ recovery: this rather long workout challenges your pacing skills.  Stay consistent and avoid dropoffs of more than 10%.
  15. 6!  6 minutes at lowest Strokes / minute, 5′ at +2 s/m than that, 4′ at +2, 3′ at +2, 2′ at +2, 1′ at +2.  Adding 2 strokes per minute per decreasing interval, challenges the individual to slow down their long, slow tempo ski and rows.
  16. 12 x 1/1: This simple format, 12 intervals of 1′ row or ski and then 1′ active recovery, will add endurance to that speed component.  Do not go out too fast, though, thinking that it’s ‘only 1 minute.’  Rather, it’s the consistency that’s the challenge.
  17. Leapfrog: 1 minute burst, 1 minute rest.  2′ burst, 2′ rest. 3′ burst, 3′ rest, 4′ burst, 4′ rest, 3′ burst, 3′ rest, 2′ burst, 2′ rest, 1′ burst, 1′ rest. Should be available on most PM5 and PM4 machines (the computer you’re using to track everything).


Once per month, test your best ski or row times in the following distances: 500, 2,000, and 5,000.  They are used in competition and compared across the board on the Concept 2 Logbook page.  Each month use the above workouts in a rotation to see which ones help you improve those times the most.

What else can you add?  Do you have any other favorites?  Let me know in the comments below.


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