8474 E Speedway Blvd, Tucson, Arizona 85710

Should I Try Rowing For Cardio In Tucson? Part 2… The Interview

Request More Information

Request More Information

Request More Information
Should I Try Rowing For Cardio In Tucson? Part 2… The Interview

By: Jerry Trubman and Matthew Santucci

Today’s blog is part two from a post we did a few weeks ago (click here if you missed it). As promised, I reached out to our resident rowing expert, Matt Santucci, to get his thoughts on rowing, taking a rowing class, and cardiovascular conditioning in general. In this interview, Matt shares some of his perspectives, as well as answers some frequently asked questions about this magnificent piece of cardio equipment. Enjoy!


Jerry: Matt, thank you! Everyone knows that you work here, but nonetheless, I appreciate you taking the time to do this off the clock. Let’s start with the basics: If you were to boil the ‘why’ of rowing down to the essentials, what would they be?


Matt: Starting off with the tough questions first, huh? There are a million ways to answer this but I think the most basic is this: It is a safe, full-body movement that can tax almost every muscle and energy system in the human body. To expand further, ANYONE can row and EVERYONE will benefit from rowing. There is a low barrier to entry, in that I can get someone up and rowing to where they won’t hurt themselves in about 5 minutes.  Then we can spend the next 20 years refining technique!


As for who should row: the answer is absolutely everyone.  I’m dead serious.  No matter what your performance goal is, rowing can help you get there.  Triathlete that needs to cross-train? Row. Powerlifter? Separate training sessions on the rowing machine will help you recover better in between sets of heavy squats, deads and bench. Want to lose weight? Rowing is a wonderful complement to a solid nutritional plan. I could go on, but I bet you have other questions though.

J: As a matter of fact, I do! In what ways do you think rowing is superior to other forms of cardio?


M:  Well, you can get your heart rate up doing pretty much anything in the gym, but there are only a few things that really shine in actually training the heart: running, cycling and rowing.  Rowing can benefit you more than both running and cycling in that it is a full-body movement.  You will be able to train more of your musculature than the other two which focus almost entirely on your legs. Rowing is also low-impact and won’t wear out your joints like running tends to do over time.  The last thing is the instant feedback you get from the performance monitor.  It gives you an analysis of every single stroke in real-time so you can connect what you feel to hard data.


J: I think anyone who has made payments to the pavement gods understands what you mean. What are your top three tips for someone who is just getting started?


M: The first thing is no surprise coming from a coach: focus on your technique.  Improving movement quality is the best way to reap the health benefits of the erg (tech-speak for the rowing machine).  Find a quality video online, or come to a rowing class. This will ensure you are moving safely and efficiently with the ability to apply power across the length of the entire stroke.  That leads nicely into the next most important thing, which is developing power production.  


The easiest way to go faster on the machine is not to perform more strokes per minute, but to apply more force to each stroke.  Lastly, you should apply that force primarily with your legs.  You want to think that you will get about 60% of your power from your legs, 30% from your hips/torso and 10% from your arms. Get good at pushing the machine away from you, and you will see your times start dropping considerably.


J: Great beginner advice! On the other side of the spectrum, what are the top 3 cues that advanced rowers need to constantly remind themselves of?


M: Even advanced rowers make movement faults when they get out of their comfort zone. Once the legs get tired, often you will see rowers hunting for tension in other parts of the stroke.  “Straight arms” is a very common cue and this is in response to a rower bending the elbows at the onset of the drive.  This leads to early arm fatigue as well as lost potential during the arm portion of the drive later on.  “Push the machine away” is another winner for cueing powerful leg drive when you get tired.  


Your mind will play some tricks on you, but always remember that being lazy will lead to premature fatigue.  Always fight for good positions. Rushing the recovery is another problem area because it can lead to less than optimal catch position.  “Quick arms” and “shoulders before hips” tend to work well to help keep everything working in sequence.  


J: In your opinion, what are the ‘sweet spots’ as far as total meters in a training session when training for speed vs. endurance?


M:  I think every session needs to begin with a warm-up and some technique work. This can be anywhere from 5-10 minutes and you want it to wake your body up but not wear it out. Typically, about 1000 meters will get the job done for most people. There are a lot of different types of sessions you can perform, but put most simply you can split them into short/sprint or longer/endurance workouts.  I find that 1000-1500 meters spread out over 10-12 intervals is appropriate for speed work and 2500-3500 meters is a good guideline for endurance work.  In the beginning, you may want to hang out on the lower end of the spectrum but as you progress longer sessions will start to feel awesome!


J: I’m kind of the opposite: As an endurance guy, I actually tend to enjoy the longer endurance work and the sprints kill me.


M:  That’s a great observation.  We can do our best to generalize and program for the “average human” but everyone is so different.  That is one of the cool things we see in our rowing classes too.  There are people with varying degrees of experience, body type, and talent that will find some training sessions easier than others might. Fortunately, we are able to fine-tune each workout so each participant will feel challenged at their particular level.


J: Please tell us about your rowing classes. If someone drops in, is it just an hour sitting on the machine?


M: Not at all! We start every class with mobility work and attempt to improve the 4 basic rowing positions with stretching and active mobility.  We’ll then hop on the machine for a 5-10 minute rowing warmup. Again, the goal being to get the body ready and to work out any kinks in technique. Next is a technique tutorial where we will address a common area of need and then perform some rowing drills to reinforce good form.  


For the last half of class, there is a workout that will address training either power, speed, aerobic capacity or a combination of the three.  Lastly, we’ll have some time set aside for stretching and foam-rolling to help begin the recovery process. While every class follows the same basic template, you can expect every session to be different and fun!


J: So if someone is a complete beginner, they will survive?


M: Absolutely! I have to add: if you are advanced, you will survive too! All the sessions are scalable, so that someone walking in off the street could do the work.  It would be modified, but they could still get it done.  Everyone gets a bit of one-on-one technique time, and beginners can see a lot of progress fast.  It is pretty cool to see, and for them to experience!


J: Well this was great information. Thank you again for taking the time!


M:  My pleasure.  This was a lot of fun.  Anytime I get a chance to nerd out about rowing I’m a happy guy.  I hope people get some useful information here and I also hope to see some new folks in rowing class!


Well, there you have it. Matt has been an awesome resource to have in the gym in many capacities, but especially this one. As we celebrate the new year, I hope this interview has inspired you to find something you’re passionate about and take the first steps!


Our rowing classes are offered on Friday afternoons at 4:30pm, Saturday mornings at 10am, and Sundays at 2pm and 3pm. The drop-in fee is $15. Classes are limited to just 6 people, so if you’re looking to get some extra attention to your form and technique, this is a great opportunity. Please follow the links below to sign up...

Friday afternoons at 4:30pm

Saturday mornings at 10am

Sunday afternoons at 2pm 

Sunday afternoons at 3pm 

For a private coaching lesson with Coach Matt 


Until next time,

Matt Santucci has been a fitness professional for over 10 years, working in schools as a physical educator. His belief that movement and strength are the foundations of fitness made him pursue getting certified as a kettlebell instructor. Besides his full-time coaching duties, he teaches rowing and kettlebell classes at The Protocol Strength & Conditioning. In his spare time, Matt enjoys playing soccer and water polo.

Request Information Now!

personal training, group fitness, weightlifting tucson

Let us e-mail you this Free Report