Rowing For BJJ: Good Cardio?

April 1, 2022

If you’re looking for a cardio option that doesn’t involve rolling or drilling more, the rower might be an option for you.

Rowing is an excellent supplemental cardio option for BJJ when you can’t spend more time on the mats or feel beat up from live rolling.

But what makes rowing a great option for your off-feet cardio for BJJ?

Rowing Machine For BJJ: Great Cardio?

Like all non-specific cardio modalities, rowing serves its purpose as a conditioning tool for BJJ. I prefer rowing as an off feet cardio modality to running or cycling because it is a full-body activity. This means adaptations occur throughout the whole body.

Why Use Rowing For BJJ?

There are a few reasons you may choose rowing as a conditioning tool for BJJ.

FREE Strength & Conditioning Program To Never Gas Out On The Mats

Too Beat Up On The Mats

While doing more BJJ classes, rolling, drilling, and solo drills are ideal for maximizing BJJ conditioning, the toll it can take on the body is not bearable for everyone. Especially older BJJ athletes or those who work stressful full-time jobs whose recovery will be impaired.

Rowing is a joint-friendly option that you can manipulate to target various aerobic and anaerobic adaptations. For example, lower intensity rowing targets aerobic adaptations, while short sprints can preferentially target anaerobic adaptations.

If you’ve spent a training cycle doing a lot of hard rolling, then low-intensity rowing can fill your conditioning gaps without beating yourself up more. If you’re mainly drilling and not doing a lot of rolling, then high-intensity intervals on the rower can fill that gap.

Extra Non-Specific Conditioning Without Impact

We know from experience that BJJ can be hard on the joints. Not so much from pounding impacts (unless you’re being thrown like a rag doll often), but from various joint locks and submissions. Taking more joint stress through rolling or high-impact cardio like running can tax the body.

Using the rower removes impact, making it easier on the body.

Rowing Workouts For BJJ

Rowing and BJJ

Aerobic Rowing Workout Example #1

1 min @ <1:40/500m with 1 min rest (300 m target)

2 min @ <1:40/500m with 2 min rest (600 m target)

3 min @ <1:40/500m with 3 min rest (900 m target)

4 min @ <1:40/500m with 4 min rest (1200 m target)

5 min @ <1:40/500m with 5 min rest (1500 m target)

This is a simple ascending ladder where the goal is to maintain the same pace as the work interval times extend.

Rowing Golf Challenge

This is a fun workout I’ve stolen from rugby and have used as a fun conditioning challenge. It’s not for the faint-hearted!

10 x 1 min on, 1 min off. Your target for each 1 min interval is 300 m. Depending on the distance you cover, you will get a score.

  • > 340 m = Eagle (-2)
  • 320 – 339 m = Birdie (-1)
  • 300 – 319 m = Par (0)
  • 290 – 299 m = Bogey (+1)
  • < 289 m = Double Bogey (+2)

Tally your total score at the end of the 10 intervals. If your score is greater than 0, perform extra intervals corresponding to your score. E.g., if you score +2, you will complete 2 more intervals. Good luck!

Anaerobic Lactic Power Rowing Workout Example

3 x 20 sec @ <1:30/500 m w/ 2-3 min rest (110 m target)

3 x 30 sec @ <1:30/500 m w/ 2.5-3.5 min rest (165 m target)

3 x 40 sec @ <1:30/500 m w/ 3-3.5 min rest (220 m target)

Between each set of 3, take 5-8 minutes of passive recovery so you are completely fresh for each new series.

Best Rowing Machine For BJJ

Not all rowing machines are built the same. I’ve used cheap ones and rowers from different brands. The rowing machine is already a challenging exercise, and adding a machine that doesn’t feel right will kill all of your motivation to use it. Trust me. I’ve been there.

Concept 2 Rower

The Concept 2 Rower is the gold standard for rowing machines. The chain pulls smoothly, and you can maintain the momentum of the fan as you row. Cheap rowing machines feel like you’re trying to start a lawnmower with every stroke.

All of the pacing and distance targets I’ve prescribed in this article are for the Concept 2 Rower. If you use a different brand, you will likely struggle to hit them.

Concept 2 Rower For BJJ


If there’s one non-specific conditioning modality I would lean towards a BJJ practitioner to perform, it would be rowing. It’s relatively easy to find a rower, especially within commercial gyms, and is a no-impact full-body conditioning workout perfect for topping up your BJJ cardio.

About the author 

James de Lacey

I am a professional strength & conditioning coach that works with professional and international level teams and athletes. I am a published scientific researcher and have completed my Masters in Sport & Exercise Science. I've combined my knowledge of research and experience to bring you the most practical bites to be applied to your combat training.


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