Nano-Cardio: Hybrid Row Workouts

Quick Tips

“Nano-cardio workouts” are a multi-dimensional approach to traditional conditioning methods.

In other words, instead of only rowing or running or biking as your cardio vehicle,  I’ve assembled several exercises together to create a more manageable compact conditioning circuit.

Traditional cardio bores me.  I used to think it was a lack of discipline making me feel this way , now I realize it’s just preference.  Leave me the choice of running for 20 minutes, or working through one of the workouts below, and I am taking the hybrid cardio session every single time.

Mixing and matching several different exercise patterns together keeps workouts interesting and more productive.

So where do these workouts fit in the grand scheme of things?  I suppose the appropriate answer to this question is dependent on your current fitness level, but my advice would be to slip them in before or after strength-centric focused days.

Nano-style cardio circuits frequently leverage sub-maximal movements.

Ballistic drills like kettlebell swings are purposely kept to low rep ranges and more traditional resistance exercises are typically left to bodyweight load or band-assisted if need be.

I want you to feel better, improved when you’re finished, not feeling burn out, drained and moody.  There is a time and place for burn-out style training sessions and it’s not every single day.  It’s possible to feel tired yet better.  Extreme fatigue is not the goal.

Why is extreme fatigue not the goal? I want you to build your conditioning gradually, intelligently.  Smarter, manageable training spread across the long-term.  It is, in fact, a marathon not a sprint.

Give high a energy effort while you’re knee deep in these sessions.

Train hard, recover harder and set yourself up to build and progress from the today’s effort.

Now, please enjoy these three options.

Nano-Cardio #1

15 Kettlebell Swings

250 Meter Row

  • 8-10 rounds
  • 45-60 seconds rest in between rounds (or use heart rate monitor and recover to 60% of max heart rate before starting next round)
  • Rower damper setting to 5-6


Nano-Cardio #2

10 Squat-to-Press

5 Chin-Ups

250 Meter Row

  • 8 rounds
  • 45 seconds rest for rounds 1-4, 60 seconds rest for rounds 5-8
  • Rower damper setting to 5-6
  • Squat-to-Press:  Use barbell, kettlebells, dumbells, sandbag or whatever you have.


Nano-Cardio #3

10 Kettlebell Swings

5 Right/Left Landmine Rotation Grapplers

250 Meter Row

  • 8 rounds
  • 45 seconds rest for rounds 1-4, 60 seconds rest for rounds 5-8
  • Rower damper setting to 5-6
  • Manageable weight on the landmine grapplers, progress up in weight as needed.



Notice that all of these compact conditioning workouts include a 250 meter distance rowing interval.  The 500 meter may be a gold-standard distance, but I have found that rowing a 500 meter hard for nano-workouts like these is too aggressive for maintaining output across 8 rounds.  Especially after working through two exercises prior to rowing.

Remember, the workout is scheduled for 8 rounds, don’t make the mistake of measuring effectiveness of the workout based on you feel after the first couple of rounds.  You will be tired eventually.  If you’re fresh as a daisy after battling through 8 rounds, add more, but don’t overdo it.

A 250 meter row delivers a great cardiovascular stimulus without making you feel like you’re spending the entire workout on the rower.

By keeping the rowing distance shorter, you’ll give yourself a chance to increase your power per stroke across that 250 meters.  Shorter distance, less accumulated fatigue, more effort per stroke, more focus on technique per stroke.  This is valuable for all fitness levels.

Fatigue is a technique killer, no matter how you are exercising.

Concept 2 Rowers come equipped with a read-out monitor that gives amazingly detailed feedback on your watts (power output), distance, time and back log for previous workouts.  It’s an amazingly effective piece of fitness equipment.

Increase the distance if you feel that my suggested distance of 250 meters isn’t challenging enough, or you’ve adapted quickly and need to progress.

But again, don’t make that decision until you’ve hit rounds 7 or 8.

I’d guess that the average time it will take to row 250 meters will be between 38-50 seconds.  It’s likely that you will see that time drop off as fatigue sets in during later rounds.

Damper setting: I rarely adjust the damper setting outside of the 5-7 setting.  Adjusting the damper too low doesn’t seem to provide enough resistance early in strokes, yet adjusting it too high turns seems to si training event and makes each stroke feel as if you’re rowing through a mud.  Play around with the damper setting, see what you prefer.

Keep the rest periods strict.  I can’t stress this enough.  Make an effort to pay greater attention to the details.

Too often people aren’t as detailed with their rest periods as they should be.  If you’re scheduled to rest for 45 seconds, that means  you’re resting for 45 seconds. Not 45 seconds plus the 10-15 seconds it takes to set up for the next round.  Your first rep of kettlebell swings should begin when the clock hits 45 seconds (or whatever length rest period you’ve chosen).

Physiology-based rest periods is the next progression beyond the basic pre-set, fixed rest period approach.  If you own a heart rate monitor, I highly recommend leveraging some simple technology for a more customized work:rest experience.

The concept is simple: you’ll start the next round when your heart rate lowers to a targeted beats per minute.  My personal target heart rate is commonly 60%-70% of my maximum heart rate.

Of course, in order to figure out your target heart rate, you’ll need to first estimate (the keyword here is “estimate”) what your maximum heart rate is, so here are some links to formulas…

Estimating heart rate with the infamous 220-age equation is by far fastest, yet probably the most inaccurate.  This formula can leave you with a standard deviation of + or – 12 beats per minute.  For me at 31 years of age, that means that my maximum heart rate could be anywhere from 177bpm-201bpm.  That’s a wide range.

Using a heart rate monitor does provide a more customized workout experience, along with some adding a motivation element.  If you’re like me, it’s interesting to track your heart rate patterns during exertion/rest, time to recover back to target heart rate, and the general adaptations that occur over the long-term.

It’s amazing how the body responds to different training stimuli based on intensity, efficiencies and inefficiencies and duration.

But, keep in mind that recovery from intense bouts of work can vary greatly from person to person and is often highly individualized.

Screen Shot 2015-12-08 at 6.38.28 AM.png

Polar FT7 Heart Rate Monitor


A heart rate monitor with basic functions and read out such as the Polar FT1 Heart Rate Monitor or the Polar FT7 Heart Rate Monitor from Amazon will work fantastic.  Here’s the link to the entire Polar product catalog on Amazon.

If you’re interested in a fitness tracker that provides information well beyond a basic heart rate function, there are plenty of more technologically advanced options.

Screen Shot 2015-12-10 at 8.14.10 AM

(photo: Fitbit Surge Fitness Superwatch)

I would recommend the following (in no particular order):


Give these a workouts a go, check out the heart rate approach to work:rest,  and if you would, leave some feedback in the comments section about your experience.






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