Hands up if you find the rowing machine a little daunting?
We don’t blame you. Taking on a rowing machine may seem far more complicated than running on a treadmill or cycling on an exercise bike, which is why so many people steer clear of this effective piece of gym equipment. However, if you actively avoid using a rowing machine at the gym, perhaps it’s time to give it a second chance. Rowing can have fantastic physical benefits, and you’re missing out!
Mastering the moves for this machine will lead to weight loss, better fitness and increased upper and lower-body strength – all without the harsh impact that some cardio exercise can have on joints.
‘Indoor rowing is a complete form of exercise,’ explains Olympic rowing coach and Concept2 fitness expert Terry O’Neill (concept2.co.uk). ‘Rowing is a combination of cardiovascular and strength conditioning, making it a great addition to any fitness regime or training programme – for people of all ages with a wide variety of goals.’
Whether you’re a complete beginner or an Olympian rower, there’s definitely a way to make rowing a key player in your workouts.
One of the main reasons that people opt for a workout on the rower to get their cardio fix is because – unlike the treadmill, stepper and stationary bike – it offers plenty of added value. Using correct technique harnesses the power of both the upper and lower body, so your bum, thighs and calves will get a real push as well as your arms and shoulders. Rowing also requires solid activation from your core and back to maintain good form (particularly in the upper back) with each and every stroke, which means that a good session on the rower can hit almost every muscle, offering total-body conditioning. Plus, the cardiovascular movement of rowing gives your heart and lungs a great workout, too.
‘Indoor rowing is great for toning up, as it involves more muscle groups over a wide range of movement, with little pressure on the joints,’ says Terry. ‘No matter why you choose to row, the rowing machine will offer just the right level of resistance for your goals, as well as an infinite variety of workouts.’
If you think rowing is just for steady-state fitness, think again. The rowing machine is great for both endurance and interval training. ‘Because the rowing machine activates a large muscle mass, it helps you achieve better cardio results in less time,’ Terry explains. ‘It can also provide excellent anaerobic workouts complementary to explosive power sport training. Plus, indoor rowing is a great endurance exercise that really helps to boost both your heart and lung functions.’
If you’ve ever tried high-intensity interval sprints on the treadmill, you’ll know how annoying it is having to repeatedly press buttons while you’re trying to run to adjust the speed of the belt. One of the great things about the rowing machine is that you can control the speed simply by increasing or decreasing your own work rate, although the resistance can be slightly tricky to adjust once you’ve got going. While some people may enjoy longer, steady-state sessions on the rower, those looking for a heart-pumping interval session can get on with focusing on their technique without having to keep pushing buttons, as they would on the treadmill.
Of course, the crucial element here is technique – the better your form is, the more efficient your workout will be. Use the steps below to perfect your stroke and practise rowing at a comfortable pace until you’re ready to up your speed.
The rowing masterclass
Use these simple step-by-step instructions to get to grips with perfect rowing technique. Remember to avoid letting your shoulders round or your lower back arch beyond its neutral position. Ready, set, row!
• Keeping your legs straight, lean back slightly with the handle close to your body and your forearms parallel to the floor.
• Extend your arms fully, rocking your body forward slightly and keeping your arms extended.
• Slide your lower body forward from the hips until your knees are above your feet, keeping your arms extended.
• Push down on your feet to drive your body back, straightening your legs and leaning your body back slightly as you do so.
• Pull the handle back past your knees towards your body to return to the starting position. Repeat.