Category - METCON

Concept2 Rower Workouts for Your Home Gym

You can’t beat the Concept2 Indoor Rowing Machine for a home fitness cardio workout like no other.  Concept2 rower workouts simulate open water rowing in a professional row boat.  It features what we call “bomb-proof” construction, an adjustable damper (what many call a difficulty setting), a sophisticated electronic performance monitor, and above all else:  a low impact, dynamic, whole body cardiovascular/metabolic workout you can do from home.

Concept2 rower workouts provide the athlete with a variety of options, from long-slow-distance to High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT).  You can get a high intensity workout from running, but it won’t tax your entire body the way a Concept2 Rower workout will.  You can get a high intensity, whole body workout from swimming, but it won’t provide the resistance and explosive power that a Concept2 Rower workout will.

For all intents and purposes, the Concept2 Rower can’t be beat for a home cardiovascular routine.

The Concept2 is one of our Home Gym Essentials.  It is one of the most expensive pieces of equipment you will buy for your RefuGym, but it is worth every penny.  Combined with a StudBar Pull-Up Bar, a good economical Wright Barbell and Wright Bumper Plates, you will have an incredibly dynamic home gym or garage gym, ready to provide a ton of workouts.

There are two main models of the Concept2 Rower, the Model D and the Model E.  We recommend the Model D for your Concept2 rower workouts from home because the Model E tends to be catered to a higher end clientele, interested in more advanced performance monitoring.  Other differences between the E and D are mostly cosmetic and non-essential, and do not specifically improve the function or efficacy of the rower appreciably.  Get the Model D if you’re working out from home or from your garage.

Finally you can cancel your gym membership, workout from home, and be able to say you’ve got your own garage gym!

The below list is a running log of some of our favorite Concept2 Rower Workouts that you can do from home.  If you have a Performance Monitor hooked up to your rower, you can gauge how well you did, and how you’re improving over time.

Concept2 Rower Workouts

Long Slow Distance

  • Row 5K for Time
    • Aim for a 2:00/500m pace
    • Try to keep your strokes per minute between 25 and 30
    • Damper Setting: 5
  • Row 10K for Time
    • Aim for a 2:10/500m pace
    • Try to keep your strokes per minute between 24 and 28
    • Damper Setting: 5

Medium Intensity

  • 1K Intervals:
    • Row 1K
      • Aim for a 1:55/500m pace
      • Try to keep your strokes per minute between 24-28
      • Damper Setting: 5
    • REST for the amount of time it took you to row your first 1K
    • Row 1K
    • Repeat for a total of 5K
  • 500m Intervals:
    • Row 500m
      • Aim for a 1:50/500m pace
      • Try to keep your strokes per minute between 24 and 27
      • Damper Setting: 5
    • Rest for 3 minutes
    • Repeat for a total of 2.5K

High Intensity

  • 500m Sprints:
    • Row 500m
      • Aim for less than 1:50/500m pace
      • Try to keep your strokes per minute between 24 and 27
      • Damper Setting: 5
    • Rest for 1:00
    • Repeat 4 times
  • 250m Sprints:
    • Row 250m
      • Aim for less than 1:50/500m pace
      • Try to keep your strokes per minute between 24 and 26
      • Damper Setting: 5
    • Rest for 20 seconds
    • Repeat 6 times

Keep Things Interesting

The variations on distance:rest are infinite.  We have found that sticking to 5K, 1K, 500m and 250m offers the best results; from there it is all about adjusting the speed at which you row, the stroke pace and the rest time.  Keeping the stroke rate lower than 30 is beneficial because it forces you to use more explosive strength from your legs, rather than just increasing the number of strokes to travel the same distance.  Your goal is to travel as much distance as possible using as few strokes as possible.

If you’re not interested in intervals (but why wouldn’t you be?!), you can always just sit down and start rowing.  The Performance Monitor on the rower will automatically start up and begin tracking your distance.  There’s nothing wrong with the occasional longer distance row at a slower pace; in fact it can be somewhat meditative in its own right.

If you really want a twist, there is a game built into the performance monitor as well, called the Fish Game.  You are a fish, and your goal is to eat smaller fish, while avoiding bigger fish.  Rowing faster causes your fish to swim higher, while resting or rowing slower causes your fish to sink.  You will have to speed up and slow down rapidly in order to dodge various fish, and catch others.  It’s a fun game and it is a good way to vary things up, but it is not the best for structured programming where you’re looking to improve in very specific areas.

Got a Concept2 rower workout you like?  Want to brag about your time?  Let us know in the comments below!

Rowing on the Concept2 Indoor Rowing Machine: The Erg Life

Ah cardio.  Nothing says “I work out” like long, slow, boring runs… Ok, ok, it’s hard to convey sarcasm in text.  So let’s get down to it.  The RefuGym is not a fan of long, slow distance (LSD).  While tempo runs and the occasional distance benchmark is ok for a general sense of overall fitness and progress, it shouldn’t be the cornerstone of any fitness program.  One of the most effective cardio workouts we’ve found is through rowing on the Concept2 indoor rowing machine.

A growing number of coaches and studies are indicating that the best way to improve your performance with LSD is to actually train the short game.  Sprinting on a track is great for this, as is HIIT, which we discussed briefly here.

What we really find as a shortcoming to the running profession is that it focuses largely on lower body and the slight integration of core musculature (for postural support).  It does get the heart pumping, and the metabolic juices flowing, but your cardio game can be so much more.

Enter the Concept 2 Rower, or “Ergometer” is it is often called.

Like all of our recommended products, we try to get the greatest return on our investments.  We don’t want equipment just because it’s expensive and looks nice.  We want it to be effective.  For this reason, we recommend the Concept 2 Model D instead of the Concept 2 Model E.  The Model E comes with a few improvements, and bells and whistles, but it does not appreciably improve upon the rowing experience.  It features a slightly improved Performance Monitor, a higher base, and things like head-to-head rowing capability.  But if you’re a “refugee” you don’t need that stuff.

Stick with the Model D.

Rowing on the Concept2 Indoor Rowing MachineThe short and sweet of it is that a good rowing machine (or, better yet, an actual speed canoe or row boat) offers an incredible total body cardiovascular/metabolic workout.  Distances and paces when rowing on the concept2 indoor rowing machine are roughly equivalent to running, which can make programming fairly straightforward if you come from a running background.

By this we mean that if you a run a fast 18:00 5K, you can expect to row approximately the same distance at approximately the same pace.  Of course there will be some flex room in one way or the other, depending on your experience level, but it’s a good place to start.

Rowing on the Concept2 Indoor Rowing Machine

Like we said, proper rowing on the Concept2 indoor rowing machine will tax your entire body.  There are 4 basic phases to a proper rowing stroke, outlined below:

  1. The Catch
  2. The Drive
  3. The Finish
  4. The Recovery

Each phase is unique and specific, but when worked properly will feel seamless, natural and efficient.

The Catch

The catch is your starting (and also your unlabeled Step #5) position.  In this position your torso is leaned slightly forward, arms stretched out in front of you, knees bent, ankles flex, and heels just about to leave the foot holds.  It is important that even though your torso is leaned forward, your core remains tight.

You should feel like you are reaching forward without completely rounding your back.  Keeping your back rigid, maintaining a slight lumbar curve if possible, will remove strain from your back and improve the next portion of the stroke.

The Catch is the foundation of your stroke.  The further you can reach while keeping good form, the better.  The longer you can force the handle to move with each stroke the better.  This is why taller athletes tend to have a somewhat natural advantage over shorter athletes when it comes to races/competition (but not necessarily fitness!).

The Drive

This is where you generate your power and drive your figurative row boat forward.  The drive consists of an explosive push from your legs.  The angle of your body should not change until your legs have finished straightening out.  Your body and core should remain tight.

For every inch your hips move back while straightening your legs, the handle of the rower should move back the same distance.

This means there should be no movement of your legs that does not transfer into movement of the handle.  If your hips move back but the handle stays in place, or lags behind, it means you are wasting a ton of energy.  If you fail to stay rigid while you drive with your legs, you will have to make up all of the lost momentum using solely upper-body strength, which you will find is not efficient when it comes to rowing on the Concept2 indoor rowing machine.

You should drive back with your legs as strongly as possible, and for as much distance as possible, before you start to open up your torso/hip angle.

The Finish

The Finish is the end of the drive, but not necessarily the end of the stroke.  In The Finish, your legs have finished their explosive straightening.  You should be sitting on the rower with your torso at the same angle as it was in the catch.  Your core and shoulders should be tight.

It is at this point that you will open up your torso/hip angle while pulling ferociously back with your arms and shoulders.

By the end of The Finish, your torso should be leaned slightly back, still rigid and tight, with your legs completely straight, and your arms pulling the rower handle straight back to your chest.

There should be as little vertical movement of the chain as possible.  Your goal from Catch to Finish is to pull the handle and chain straight back.

Vertical movement of the chain is wasted movement and it absorbs energy that would be better transferred into horizontal movement (and thus driving the rower forward faster and further).

If you are having trouble with vertical movement, it is likely you are pulling with your arms too soon before your legs straighten out and before the drive is completely finished.  Likely you are moving the handle vertically in order to avoid hitting your knees; this is a clear indication that your legs have not finished straightening out yet.

Once your torso angle is opened up and you have pulled the handle straight back to your chest, you have completed The Finish.


The Recovery is actually what it sounds like.  This is your brief moment of rest in between strokes.  We suggest taking a few fast rhythmic breaths during this portion as a means of helping you establish a pace.  With the explosive power of your drive, and your core tight, breathing will be minimal during the stroke’s first 3 stages.

The Recovery should be Steps 1-3 in reverse.  The last thing to get pulled back were your arms and the handle.  They should be the first ones to go forward.  Extend your arms and shoulders to place the handle back in front of you, following it up with your torso, returning back to the same torso/hip angle you started in.

At this point you will be essentially at the end of your drive stage again but going in reverse order.  From here bend your knees.

The handle should not have to move vertically to avoid your knees.  If it does, you are doing The Recovery in the wrong order!

As your knees bend, you will return to The Catch position.  Reach far forward with your arms and shoulders, knees bent, and torso/hip angle closed, ready for the next drive.

Tie It Together

Those are the basics of an efficient stroke.  Congratulations!  You’re now knowledgeable in rowing on the Concept2 indoor rowing machine.  Now let’s talk the rower itself.

The rower works with a flywheel, designed to provide increased resistance based on the effort exerted.  Certain stationary bikes work in the same way, and this actually closely mimics what happens when you place an real oar into water.

The Concept 2 Rower has a damper setting that can be adjusted from 1 to 10.  Often times this gets confused with a “difficulty setting,” with lots of globo-gym fools maxing it out to 10 thinking they are getting the best workout.  This is actually not true.

Think of the damper as the gears on a bike.  If set to 1, each stroke will require less effort.  However you will require more strokes per minute in order to move the same distance.  The net energy expended will be roughly equivalent to setting it to 10.  At a damper setting of 10, each stroke will be significantly harder, but the “boat” will travel much, much further per stroke.  Again, the net energy expenditure is approximately the same.

To simulate a real row boat, we recommend a setting in the middle, with 5 being our typical recommendation.  You may actually find, with practice, that you are a more efficient rower (meaning greater distance with less energy) at this damper setting, as most people do.  Do not misconstrue this and think you are not getting as good of a workout… trust us… you are.

Is That It?  Really?

Believe it or not, that’s all there is to the rower.  You can get out there, hop on a Concept 2, and even without a performance monitor, start rowing.  You won’t have the bells and whistles like distance, calorie and wattage calculations, but your body will know it’s working.

The Concept 2 features a terrific performance monitor though, and we strongly recommend you use it.  With it you can program and save an assortment of workouts, ranging from interval training to our dreaded LSD.

Just Go

Or you can just turn it on and start rowing on and it will keep track of your progress.

If you’re just getting started rowing on the Concept2 indoor rowing machine, one of the best ways to get a feel for it is to start at a slow, comfortable pace for short distances.

Make a conscientious attempt to keep your number of strokes per minute (SPM, or S/M) between 25-32 if possible.  Rowing too fast is often an indicator of an inefficient stroke.

We have witnessed many people going at 27 efficient s/m rowing faster and further than someone going at an inefficient 45 s/m.

It’s all about your form and the efficiency of your stroke and the power of your drive.  You can row 45 strokes per minute with no explosive drive, and it will feel like you are treading water.  Making an attempt to get as much distance out of each stroke, keeping between 25 and 32 strokes per minute, will yield the best possible workout.  Try it and see.

There is no solid pace for a beginner to shoot for.  Figure out what’s comfortable for you and work your weakness.  HIIT is easy when rowing on the Concept2 indoor rowing machine, and you can even program your own custom workouts.

A general guideline to shoot for is a sustained pace of 2:00 per 500m over various distances up to 10K.  For sprints, a very respectable pace is 1:30 per 500m.

There is a reason we love writing about rowing on the Concept2 indoor rowing machine.  It’s been a RefuGym centerpiece for years.  It is one of our essential gym tools and is built to last.

High Intensity Interval Training Timer: To HIIT or Not to HIIT?

HIIT Sprinter

HIIT, or “High Intensity Interval Training” is a fancy acronym for what we refugees call:  “Go really f*cking hard for short bursts, then rest for a minute, and do it again.”  It’s easy to program, difficult to master, and only requires simple equipment like a decent high intensity interval training timer.

It’s picking up in popularity along with other functional fitness programs like CrossFit and the Marine Corps’ flavor: “High Intensity Tactical Training,” and it’s becoming a favorite amongst functional fitness afficionados.

Whether you decide HIIT is for you or not depends a lot on your goals for the workout and your overall fitness goals.  As a builder of brute strength, it’s hard to beat simple, heavy lifting.  This isn’t necessarily what HIIT caters to.  If you can rep 400 pound deadlifts at a fast pace for intervals, then maybe you should be teaching us a thing or two.

But if your goal is increased metabolic conditioning, better recovery, agility and varied power output across differing mediums, then HIIT is maybe the prescription for you.

A Not So Good Alternative

True-to-form, there is a predominant myth out there — rampant at globo-gyms, where they can charge you an arm and a leg to do what Mark Sisson might call chronic cardio — that lower intensity cardio work is best for fat loss.  As a side note, for more from Mark Sisson, and to check out some of his awesome primal supplements, head over to Mark’s Daily Apple the Primal Blueprint.  It’s a tremendous resource for information and nutrition!

While all exercise and work burns calories, the proportion of calories that come from fat is unique between low speed work, and high intensity work.  The demand put on your cardiovascular and muscular system by high intensity intervals creates a persistent demand for calories that extends beyond the completion of the workout.  This is something you won’t get from long slow distance.LSD Runner

Bottom Line

HIIT burns more calories in a shorter amount of time, and for a longer period of time, than long slow distance exercise.

The RefuGym doesn’t shun long slow distance.  We just believe it should not be a focal point of a refugee’s exercise program.  Think about it as a benchmark of where you’re at.  You may find, after a routine of HIIT, that your long, slow distance performance improves directly as a result as well.  On the contrary, persistent training in long, slow distance, rarely yields proportional results for HIIT.

The beauty of HIIT is its ease of variance… in other words, how easy it is for you to change it up and make it into something that works for you.

HIIT principles can be applied to just about any motion or exercise that can be carried out at high intensity.  This can be sprints, rows, push-ups, pull-ups, power cleans, jump rope, you name it!

If you’ve followed our guide and built your own RefuGym, you should have plenty of equipment to create a dynamic and effective HIIT program right at home.  If you haven’t, you can still work wonders with just your body weight.

Try these workouts out for yourself and watch the fat melt off, and your metabolic conditioning improve exponentially!  If you like them, feel free to vary them up, personalize and customize, and let us know what worked best for you!

The Tabata

Named after the pioneer behind them, Izumi Tabata, Tabatas are some of our favorite variants of HIIT.  They consist of just about any exercise, carried out at high intensity in the following pattern:

20 seconds work
10 seconds rest
Repeat x 8

We recommend you mix things up.  Try kipping pull-ups.  Think you’re good at push-ups?  Try them out and watch how quickly your arms get shredded!  Tabatas are the great equalizer, and they belong in every refugees repertoire.  You’ll discover your weaknesses very fast, and they are a truly effective way to overcome plateaus.


One of the best ways we’ve discovered to improve our overall running performance has been with the incorporation of HIIT.  This means we tossed the long, slow, 5k’s and 10k’s out with the bathwater, and tried sprinting shorter distances.

Try it out:

400m (1 lap around a standard track, approx 1/4 mile) – time yourself
Rest – rest the same amount of time it took you to run your lap
Repeat x 4

Make Your Own

Tabatas too complicated?  There’s nothing wrong with coming up with your own system that works for you.  You can vary the amount of rest you have in between intervals, and the number of intervals.  We typically recommend equal time work:rest as a general rule.  But this rule is hardly set in stone.

Programming With a High Intensity Interval Training Timer

Need help?  A good high intensity interval training timer like the GymBoss Interval Timer can help set you up.  A stop watch can work well if you aren’t too busy to track, or log your times as you go.  If you really want to get fancy (and we don’t necessarily recommend this as a part of a bare bones, authentic RefuGym), you can take this Programmable LED Interval Timer for a spin, but you might feel too “big boxy” if you do… you’ve been warned!  It’s a good product though because most programmable big LED timers are marked up a lot… some into the hundreds… and just because they look cool and official.

If you’re truly a refugee, you’ll recognize the value in simplicity and should be able to manage with a more simple high intensity interval training timer.

To HIIT or Not to HIIT?

So the answer to the ultimate question of “To HIIT or not to HIIT?”  It depends!  If your goal is overall improvement in your metabolic conditioning, fitness, and not specifically strength, you cannot beat HIIT.  It’s important, like everything else, to practice and incorporate it in moderation, as a part of a constantly varied training program.

The globo-gym masters truly do not want refugees to get used to HIIT.  Why pay for a gym membership when your body can be its own gym, after all?  The workout is effective and the only requirement is a good high intensity interval training timer.  Why wouldn’t you?

HIIT gets the RefuGym seal of approval.

What are your favorite HIIT workouts?