A Beginner’s Guide to Indoor Rowing

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Rowing checks all the boxes. It targets your upper body, core and legs, while simultaneously giving you a heart-pumping cardio workout. Yet somehow, the rower used to be the most overlooked piece of equipment. Thankfully, that’s all changing. Between rowing-specific studios to CrossFit boxes, this one-machine wonder has become a popular pick among fitness enthusiasts. In fact, there’s no better time than now to take a seat and learn the ropes.

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Benefits of rowing

Easy to use & easy on the joints

Rowing machines have been around for a long time. In the past, they were used as a sport-specific training tool for athletes, such as a crew team. More recently, rowers are being praised for a broader range of benefits. The rowing machine is also called an ergometer (or simply “erg”), because it’s easy on the joints. For anyone working through an injury or in need of a low-impact cardio workout for joint support, the rower will effectively burn calories and is super easy to learn how to use!

Works the whole body

Rowing is a fantastic full-body workout. In order to complete one stroke, you’ll use your lower body to push off and upper body to pull the handle bar to your sternum. The major muscles involved in rowing include: calves, quads, hamstrings, glutes, shoulders, biceps, triceps, forearms, chest, both upper and lower back and core. It doesn’t get more full-body than that.

Effective calorie burner

Burn calories burn! Rowing for an hour can burn anywhere from 600 to 800 calories. A quick 20-minute workout can expend 200 calories alone. Unlike the elliptical or stationary bike, the rower requires you to move with the machine. Plus, you can use the rower to boost the benefits of short workouts. When you perform high-intensity interval training (HIIT), you more efficiently burn calories. Paired with the right diet, that calorie burn could equate to increased fat burning, as well.

Improves endurance

When committed to rowing regularly, it can help improve your endurance. Since your whole body is working the whole time, your heart rate easily increases – and stays up there. The cardiovascular benefits are equivalent to other forms of exercise – such as running or hopping on the elliptical – for the same amount of time.

Types of rowers

The two most common types of ergometer rowers you may find at your gym are the water rower and the air, or flywheel, rower.

  1. The water-resistance rowers use paddles that are suspended in a tank of water. When you pull the handle of the rower, the paddles spin to create a feeling of resistance that resembles rowing in an actual boat. The harder you pull the handle bar, the faster the paddles spin. The faster the paddles spin, however, the more resistance the water puts on the paddles. So working fast means working hard. Bonus: if you like the sound of moving water, this rower may actually help your mind and body sync with a steady rhythm.
  2. The air rower gets its resistance from a flywheel, or a spinning fan. When you pull the handle bar, it causes the wheel to spin and create wind. The same general effect takes place: the harder you pull, the more wind you create. And the more wind that’s created, the mores resistance you’ll feel as you pull the handle bar. The air rower is commonly used for HIIT training, because you can row hard for a set and then easy the next without having to stop.

How to use a rowing machine

1. Start by securing your feet on the pads and tightening the straps.

2. Slide forward and lightly wrap your fingers around the handle using an overhand grip, thumb tucked under and wrists straight.

3. Keeping shoulders relaxed arms extended in front of you, make sure not to hunch your back.

4. While holding the handles, push through your feet until legs are almost straight – do not lock your knees. Note: most of the power comes through your legs.

5. Once legs are semi-straight, pull the handle bar straight back and toward your chest. The handle shouldn’t be higher than your sternum or lower than your belly button.

6. Lean back slightly to engage the core and squeeze your shoulder blades together.

7. To return, reverse the movement. Start to hinge forward and extend your arms until the handle bar. Once the handle bar reaches past your knees, bend the knees and slide the seat forward.

Trainer tips before you start rowing:

*Get comfortable on the machine by slowly feeling out the strokes, pushing off with your legs and getting into a rhythm.

*Make sure to drive with your legs and not the upper body.

*Don’t grip the handle too tightly.

*Move in this order:  legs, hips, arms, arms, hips, legs.

*Push straight back, so you don’t end up out of your seat!

*Keep good posture by hinging from the hips. Do not hunch over with your lower back or shoulders.

*Breathe correctly by exhaling on the way back (one count) and inhaling forward (2 counts).