If there is one sad truth about the gym I could cover today it’s this: rowing machines are tragically under-used. Like the kid picked last for gym class, it rests untouched until a random person who has no idea way they’re doing gives it a try. Rowing machines deserve better.
If people knew half of what these beautiful machines could do for there health, you’d likely have to RSVP your turn on one.
Results indicated that energy costs for rowing ergometry was significantly higher than cycle ergometry at all comparative power outputs including maximum levels.
In another study it improved literally all basal physical fitness parameters: body composition, muscle strength, muscle endurance, muscle reaction, agility, flexibility, and explosive power. You’ll find very few other forms of cardio that offers this much variety of benefits. Rowing can work as much as 9 to 11 major muscles with a single stroke, contributing to hundreds of calories burned in a single workout.
Unlike other forms of cardio like running or stair masters that only work the lower body, rowing machines are a great way to get the entire body involved and working. Rowing considerably boosts the joint torque in the elbow, shoulders, lumbar spine, and knees while improving muscle strength in both the upper and lower body. The rowing stroke when using an indoor rower is composed of 65-75% leg work and 25-35% upper body work.
Now keep in mind it’s not just using a rowing machine that makes the difference but how you use it. A brisk row around the pond isn’t going to build the same fitness level as a pro tower navigating the English Channel.
There has to be some level of intensity, and the best form of it for the row machine is HIIE or high intensity intermittent exercise.
High Intensity Intermittent Exercise
HIIE is simply repeated brief sprinting at an all-out intensity immediately followed by low intensity exercise or rest.
Where steady state aerobic exercise keeps performance markers and results relatively low, HIIE stands in stark contrast.
It is not only more effective at removing subcutaneous and abdominal fat than other forms of exercise, this form of interval training also:
– Increases both aerobic and anaerobic health
– Significantly lowers insulin resistance
– Creates skeletal muscle adaptation that enhances skeletal muscle fat oxidation
– Improves glucose tolerance
HIIE also releases more hormones like catecholamine, especially norepinephrine which drives lipopysis a process largely responsible for fat release from subcutaneous and skeletal muscle stores.
Keep in mind these benefits aren’t just for trained athletes. Participation in differing forms of HIIE by healthy young adults and older patients, lasting from 2 to 15 weeks, results in significant increases in VO2max from between 4% to 46%.
How To Use The Rowing Machine
Before we can even benefit from this beautiful machine, it’s important to figure out how to use it properly. I’m writing this assuming everyone reading this aren’t gold metal Olympic rowers, so your most important asset outside of the actual workout itself is going to be technique.
– Catch: this is the beginning of the movement when the body is closest to the main machine; you’ll want to sit tall in the seat, keep your arms relatively straight, and flex your knees and ankles so that your shins are nearly vertical. From here use your lats to bring your shoulders down while tightening your core (protecting your lower back). From here lean forward slightly and continue to keep your back tall.
– The Drive: start by pushing off with your legs, all while bracing your core. When the legs are nearly straight, keep your back rigid and lean back 45 degrees. Using the building momentum from your back, pull the handle towards your body, just a couple inches below the belly button. Remember the chain of motion: legs, core, back, and arms
– Finish: this will be your resting position, but don’t get to comfortable- it won’t last long. The legs are extended, the shoulders are back and tilted away from the legs, the handle is close to the body, and the elbows are tucked on either side of the torso.
– Recover: now all that’s left is to reverse these motions back into the starting position: the arms extend back to the machine, the back leans forward again bringing your torso over your legs, and then bend your knees.
Finally you can combine the benefits of the rowing machine and HIIE to form a potent workout like the one below.