Rowing is a great way to stay in shape, build strength, and compete at a high level. If you’re interested in rowing in college, but don’t have any experience, you can still walk on to a team. Here are some tips on how to prepare and make a good impression on the coaches.

Rowing is an intense, highly physical sport that requires endurance, strength, and precision. If you’re considering walking onto a college rowing team as a novice, prepare for a challenging but rewarding journey. Here’s a comprehensive guide on how to prepare and what to expect when joining a college-level rowing team.

Part 1: Physical Preparation

Rowing is a demanding sport, so it’s important to get in shape before you try out. This means doing cardio workouts, strength training, and practicing your rowing stroke. You can find rowing workouts online, or you can join a rowing club or team.


  • Buy a Concept2 rowing machine and practice your rowing stroke.
  • Do long-distance running, pushups, sit-ups, pull-ups, and rows.
  • Buy some kettlebells, dumbbells, and a barbell.
  • Add sprints and hill sprints to your workouts.
  • Run lots and lots of stairs.
  • Be prepared to work hard and make sacrifices.
  • Be a good teammate.

1. Purchase a Concept2 Rowing Machine

To simulate the rowing experience at home, invest in a Concept2 rowing machine. These machines are built to handle the type of rigorous training expected from college rowers and provide an excellent means to practice and improve your rowing form.

2. Learn Proper Rowing Form

Before you start rowing, learn the correct form to avoid injury and maximize your efficiency. Visit the Concept2 website or their YouTube channel for tutorials. Remember that rowing is a full-body exercise involving legs, core, and arms.

3. Develop an Exercise Regime

To prepare for rowing, focus on building your cardiovascular fitness, strength, and flexibility. Here’s a recommended regimen:

  • Long-Distance Running: Start with 30-minute sessions and gradually increase your distance. This will help build your cardiovascular endurance.
  • Sprints and Hill Sprints: Incorporate these into your routine to increase power and improve anaerobic fitness.
  • Stair Running: This exercise is excellent for building leg strength, a critical aspect of rowing.
  • Strength Training: Use free weights or gym machines for exercises like rows, bent-over rows, pushups, sit-ups, and pull-ups. If you can, purchase some kettlebells, dumbbells, a barbell with weights, a bench, and a weightlifting rack for home workouts.

4. Recovery and Nutrition

Remember to include rest days in your training schedule. Proper nutrition is also crucial for recovery and performance. Consult with a nutritionist or sports dietitian to ensure you’re fueling your body correctly.

Part 2: Understanding the Sport

1. Familiarize Yourself with Rowing

Learn about the sport’s terminology, rules, and culture. Watch college rowing events, either live or online, to get a sense of the competition.

2. Understand the Commitment

Rowing, especially at the college level, requires a significant time commitment. Be prepared for early morning practices, weekend competitions, and intensive training sessions.

Part 3: Joining the Team

1. Research Your College’s Rowing Program

Each college will have its own process for walk-on rowers. Visit your college’s athletics website or contact the athletic department for information. Before you reach out to any coaches, it’s important to do your research and learn as much as you can about rowing. This includes understanding the different types of rowing (sweep and sculling), the different positions on a boat, and the basic rowing stroke. You can find a lot of information online, or you can talk to someone who is familiar with the sport.

2. Reach Out to the Coach

Most colleges have separate coaches for novice and varsity rowing teams. Reach out to the novice team coach to express your interest and ask about any tryout dates, pre-season meetings, or requirements.

Once you’ve done your research, it’s time to reach out to the coaches of the schools you’re interested in. Be sure to introduce yourself and explain why you’re interested in rowing for their team.

The best time to join a college crew team is typically at the start of the academic year, in the fall. This is when most teams host tryouts or open practices for new members. However, some teams may also welcome newcomers in the spring.

3. Attend Tryouts or Practice

Show up to tryouts or practice ready to give your all. The coaches will be looking for potential, so demonstrate your fitness level, willingness to learn, and commitment to the team. Most college rowing teams have tryouts in the fall. This is your chance to show the coaches what you can do. Be sure to arrive early, be prepared, and give it your all.

Part 4: Mental Preparation

1. Develop a Strong Mindset

Rowing is as much a mental challenge as it is a physical one. Develop a strong, resilient mindset that can handle early mornings, grueling workouts, and competitive pressure. Be prepared to push your limits and step out of your comfort zone.

2. Learn to Work as a Team

In crew, synchronization and teamwork are just as important as individual effort. You’ll need to learn to work closely with your fellow rowers, coordinating your movements and communication.

3. Cultivate Patience and Persistence

As a novice, it’s crucial to understand that progress might be slow. Rowing is a complex sport that requires a combination of strength, technique, and timing. Be patient with yourself and persistent in your efforts.

Part 5: Balancing Academics and Rowing

1. Time Management

Balancing academics and athletics is a key part of being a student-athlete. Develop strong time-management skills to ensure you can handle your course load alongside your training schedule.

2. Academic Support

Many colleges offer academic support for student-athletes. Familiarize yourself with these resources and don’t hesitate to use them when needed.

Part 6: Life as a Novice Rower

1. Get Comfortable with Discomfort

Your first few weeks or months on the team will likely be challenging as you adjust to the intensity of training and the demands of the sport. It’s normal to feel discomfort or fatigue; this is part of the process of getting stronger and fitter.

2. Learn from Your Teammates

Your fellow rowers can be a valuable resource. Ask them for advice, learn from their experiences, and don’t be afraid to lean on them for support.

3. Enjoy the Journey

Despite the challenges, remember to enjoy the journey. Celebrate your progress, no matter how small. Enjoy the camaraderie with your teammates, the excitement of competition, and the satisfaction of seeing your hard work pay off.

Summer Training Program

The summer training program is designed to help you build a strong foundation of fitness and rowing skills. It will also help you develop the mental toughness and resilience that you will need to succeed on the college team.

The program is divided into three phases:

Phase 1: Base Building

The goal of phase 1 is to build your aerobic fitness and strength. You will do this by doing a variety of workouts, including:

  • Steady state rowing: This is a low-intensity, long-duration workout that helps you build your aerobic base.
  • Tempo rowing: This is a moderate-intensity workout that helps you build your strength and power.
  • Interval training: This is a high-intensity workout that helps you improve your speed and anaerobic capacity.

You will also do a variety of strength training exercises, including:

  • Squats
  • Deadlifts
  • Bench press
  • Pull-ups
  • Rows

Phase 2: Speed and Power

The goal of phase 2 is to improve your speed and power. You will do this by doing a variety of workouts, including:

  • Sprints: This is a short-duration, high-intensity workout that helps you improve your speed.
  • Interval training: This is a high-intensity workout that helps you improve your anaerobic capacity.
  • Weightlifting: This is a type of strength training that helps you build muscle mass and strength.

Phase 3: Peaking

The goal of phase 3 is to peak your fitness and performance in time for the start of the rowing season. You will do this by doing a variety of workouts, including:

  • Taper: This is a period of reduced training volume and intensity that helps your body rest and recover.
  • Race pace workouts: This is a type of workout that helps you simulate race conditions.
  • Rest: This is important for allowing your body to recover and prepare for competition.

Three-Month Training Program

Here is a sample three-month training program that you can follow. You can adjust the program to fit your own fitness level and goals.

The first month is about laying a solid foundation for further training, establishing a consistent workout routine, and learning rowing basics.

Month 1: Building a Base

  • Monday: Steady state rowing for 30 minutes
  • Tuesday: Tempo rowing for 20 minutes
  • Wednesday: Strength training
  • Thursday: Interval training for 15 minutes
  • Friday: Rest
  • Saturday: Long row for 60 minutes
  • Sunday: Rest

Weeks 1-2

  • Rowing Machine Workouts (3x/week): Start with 20-minute sessions at a comfortable pace. Focus on learning and maintaining correct form.
  • Strength Training (2x/week): Start with bodyweight exercises such as push-ups, sit-ups, squats, and lunges. Include pull-ups if possible.
  • Endurance Training (3x/week): Begin with 30-minute jogging sessions.
  • Flexibility (Daily): Incorporate a daily stretching routine to improve flexibility and aid recovery.
  • Rest (1x/week): Take a day off to allow your body to recover.

Weeks 3-4

  • Rowing Machine Workouts (4x/week): Gradually increase the duration of your rowing sessions by 5 minutes each week.
  • Strength Training (3x/week): Introduce dumbbells or kettlebells to your workouts. Focus on exercises like rows, bent-over rows, and kettlebell swings.
  • Endurance Training (3x/week): Gradually increase your running distance.
  • Flexibility (Daily): Continue your daily stretching routine.
  • Rest (1x/week): Maintain a day for recovery.

Month 2: Intensifying Training

This month will focus on increasing the intensity of your workouts and further improving your rowing technique.

  • Monday: Sprints for 10 minutes
  • Tuesday: Interval training for 20 minutes
  • Wednesday: Strength training
  • Thursday: Tempo rowing for 20 minutes
  • Friday: Rest
  • Saturday: Long row for 60 minutes
  • Sunday: Rest

Weeks 5-6

  • Rowing Machine Workouts (4x/week): Add in 2 sessions of interval training, alternating between high-intensity rowing and periods of lighter rowing.
  • Strength Training (3x/week): Add more weight to your workouts and include exercises like deadlifts, bench press, and squats.
  • Endurance Training (4x/week): Add a day of hill sprints or stair running to your routine.
  • Flexibility (Daily): Continue your daily stretching routine.
  • Rest (1x/week): Maintain a day for recovery.

Weeks 7-8

  • Rowing Machine Workouts (4x/week): Increase your rowing sessions by another 5 minutes and continue with interval training.
  • Strength Training (3x/week): Try complex exercises like clean and press, snatches, and barbell rows.
  • Endurance Training (4x/week): Increase your running distance and intensity of hill sprints.
  • Flexibility (Daily): Continue your daily stretching routine.
  • Rest (1x/week): Maintain a day for recovery.

Month 3: Peak Preparation

This final month is about peaking your performance, honing your rowing technique, and preparing mentally for joining the crew team.

  • Monday: Taper workout
  • Tuesday: Race pace workout
  • Wednesday: Strength training
  • Thursday: Taper workout
  • Friday: Rest
  • Saturday: Race
  • Sunday: Rest

Weeks 9-10

  • Rowing Machine Workouts (4-5x/week): Add another session if possible. Include longer pieces to simulate race conditions.
  • Strength Training (3x/week): Focus on explosive power and maintain the weights.
  • Endurance Training (4x/week): Maintain your running routine and try to increase your pace.
  • Flexibility (Daily): Continue your daily stretching routine.
  • Rest (1x/week): Maintain a day for recovery.

Weeks 11-12

  • Rowing Machine Workouts (4-5x/week): Focus on maintaining your rowing form during longer sessions and intense intervals. Try simulating race conditions.
  • Strength Training (3x/week): Continue focusing on explosive power, but start to taper off the weights as you approach the end of the 12th week.
  • Endurance Training (4x/week): Keep up with your running routine, but start to taper off the intensity as you approach the end of the 12th week.
  • Flexibility (Daily): Continue your daily stretching routine.
  • Rest (1x/week): Maintain a day for recovery.

Mental Preparation

In addition to physical preparation, it is also important to prepare mentally for the rigors of college rowing. Here are a few tips for mental preparation:

  • Set realistic goals. Don’t expect to be an All-American overnight. Set small, achievable goals that will help you progress over time.
  • Stay positive. There will be tough days, but it is important to stay positive and focused on your goals.
  • Believe in yourself. You can do this!
  • Mindset Training (Daily): Develop a resilient mindset by pushing through challenging workouts and setting small, achievable goals. You can use mindfulness apps, or try techniques like visualization and positive self-talk.
  • Teamwork (Weekly): If possible, train with a friend or group to start developing teamwork skills. Participate in team sports or activities that require coordination and cooperation.
  • Patience and Persistence (Daily): Celebrate small victories and progress, but also understand that improvement takes time. Be consistent and patient with your training.

Learning Rowing (Ongoing)

  • Understanding the Sport (Weekly): Spend some time each week learning about the sport of rowing. Watch competitive rowing events, read articles or books about the sport, and familiarize yourself with the terminology and techniques.
  • Technique Improvement (Weekly): Regularly review your rowing technique and make necessary adjustments. Record yourself rowing and compare your form to instructional videos or professional rowers.

Showing the Coach That You’re Halfway There

There are a few things you can do to show the coach that you’re halfway there:

  • Be prepared. Come to practice on time, with the right gear, and ready to work hard.
  • Be a good teammate. Be supportive of your teammates and help them out when they need it.
  • Be coachable. Be willing to learn and take feedback from your coach.
  • Be positive. Have a positive attitude and be enthusiastic about rowing.

This training program is designed to help you physically prepare to join a college rowing team, but remember that individual needs may vary. Always listen to your body and adjust your training accordingly. Consult with a fitness professional if possible to ensure you are training safely and effectively.

As you approach the end of this training program, reach out to the novice team coach. Share your training journey and express your commitment to the sport and the team. Good luck and remember, the goal is not only to be a part of the team but to also enjoy the journey there. Rowing is as much about the camaraderie and shared experience as it is about the competition. If you do these things, the coach will be more likely to give you a chance to compete on the team.


Walking onto a college rowing team as a novice is an endeavor that requires commitment, discipline, and a lot of hard work.

Rowing is a great sport that can offer you many benefits. If you’re interested in walking on to a college rowing team, don’t be discouraged if you don’t have any experience. With hard work and dedication, you can achieve your goal.

Walking onto a college rowing team as a novice can be a challenging yet rewarding experience. By preparing physically and mentally, you’ll improve your chances of making the team and succeeding in this exciting sport. Remember, every experienced rower was once a beginner.

But with the right preparation and mindset, you can rise to the challenge and experience the thrill and reward of collegiate rowing. Whether you’re crossing the finish line in a race or simply enjoying the feeling of being on the water with your team, the effort is worth it. Good luck on your rowing journey!

Here is a training program for someone who wants to fully prepare physically and mentally and with skills before walking onto their college crew team as a novice, never having rowed before. This program can be done in the summer before fall term or the three months at school if you’re too late or too weak or unfit to make it the first time.