If you find yourself overcome by overwhelm when it comes to the gym floor, you’re not alone. However, next time you’re filled with time-sapping indecision that threatens to put a halt to your workout plans, make a bee-line for the rowing machine. It’s the low impact, big results workout that’s set for a resurgence.
A staple in many an athlete’s fitness regime , it seems to have fallen out of favour with the gym-going masses in recent times, losing out to the treadmill and crosstrainer in the race for machinery supremacy. However, its value shouldn’t be overlooked. “It’s a really demanding form of exercise and is certainly featured highly in the world of Crossfit,” says Lawrence Hannah, founder of functional training studio Metabolic London and ex-premier league hockey player. What does he think is responsible for its rise in popularity? “Ironically, as fitness evolves, we seem to be going back to basics,” he comments. “I for one love back to basics and have embraced rowing because it’s really accessible, no-one finds it easy and it’s low impact, so nicer to the joints than pounding the streets.” He adds, “There are a number of ways to define fitness and many ways to test it, but a strong rower would always be up there in my eyes as someone who is ‘fit.’”
It’s piqued the public’s interest further thanks to a starring role on House of Cards, where the White House’s resident WaterRower rowing machine have proven a hit with fans. In fact, Google searches for ‘House of Cards rowing machine’ have grown with the arrival of each new season according to The Wall Street Journal. One look at Claire Underwood’s (aka Robin Wright’s) arms and we can see why she opts to row when it’s too inconvenient to run.
Inspired to give rowing a go? From proper form to its benefits and who it’s for, here are 6 rowing facts and tips to help you get the most out of your workout.
1. It’s a total body workout
From strengthening your core to increasing your fitness levels and toning up, the indoor rowing machine tackles all three and more. “You work multiple muscle groups when you’re using the rowing machine and so it makes for an effective cardio workout,” says Fitness First personal trainer, Alex Chaple. Specifically, he highlights rowing’s use of the ‘posterior chain’, a huge group of muscles on the posterior side of the body (that includes muscles that support the spine and back and the hamstring muscles among others), in being particularly effective in helping achieve a variety of training objectives. “This is why rowing machines are used across so many sports to improve conditioning and fat loss,” explains Alex.
Your rowing routine can also be adapted to better suit your objectives as you get more comfortable. “You can row for distance, for time or in intervals and you will get a huge cardio blast…in addition when used in short bursts of high intensity, it’s a brilliant way to strip fat,” highlights Lawrence. It’s surprisingly versatile.
2. It’s for everyone
Being lower impact than running and a non-weight bearing exercise make rowing a good option for those looking for a hard-working cardio session that side-steps the levels of joint strain that other forms of high impact workouts can pose. “Rowing requires great technique but is otherwise one of the most accessible forms of high intensity interval training,” points out Alex. It appeals to the time-short too, meaning that a lunchtime visit to the gym or a quick after-work class isn’t out of reach during a busy week. “Once your technique is solid, you can strap-in and can get a truly tough workout done inside 20 or 30 minutes.”
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3. Make sure to push and not pull
Proper form and correct technique are key in ensuring that you reap the most out of your rowing machine. Mistakes are common, with the most frequent being using our upper body more than our lower body. “Lots of people have a tendency to pull before they reach full knee extension,” points out Alex. “With our legs being so powerful, a lot of energy gets wasted if we don’t make full use of them. Rowing is more of a ‘push’ with the legs than a ‘pull’ with the arms. Using the large leg muscles spares your lower-back and increases the training effect.”
Think of your body like a spring. “The correct sequence in rowing is; legs, hips and arms only finish the stroke. Your power is generated in the bottom position, when you are closest to the machine.”
4. Start slow
Due to form being so pivotal. “The key to maintaining a good rowing technique is a slow, controlled practice,” advises Alex. “We all want to jump on and start sweating, but a couple of deliberately slow technical sessions will facilitate a huge training effect further down the line.”
5. Don’t curl your back
If you have bad posture generally (raises hand), the habit will be amplified that much more when seated in a rowing machine and this could impede your performance. “Many people allow the back to curl up,” says Simon Cowen, Fitness First personal trainer. “Try to keep the upper body tall, this will allow a much stronger stroke. Focus on your stroke rate - rowing 33 spm (strokes per minute) may sound impressive however all it means is that you are going to fatigue the legs far quicker than if you can have a stroke rate between 20 and 25. By maintaining this range, you can build the strength of the pull.”
6. Strengthen your abs
Bolster your stroke further by improving your abdominal strength. “Supporting your rowing with a few big-impact abdominal exercises will allow greater control at the top of your stroke,” advises Alex. “Try simple abdominal crunches, reverse crunches (or knees to chest) on a flat bench to begin with. The slower, the better.”
If you want to take this one step further and want to add an extra dimension to your rowing workout, we’d highly recommend booking into Metabolic London’s new Meta-row class. Far from your average row-mance, it incorporates elements of HIIT and weight training during a 55 minute cardio and strength-boosting session. Featuring timed intervals of box jumps, weighted squats, press-ups, mountain climbers, kettlebell swings and more, as well as challenging 4 and 5 minute spurts of rowing, it's hardcore yet rewarding and all done within a really positive and motivating environment. Classes are £20 each, with 50% off your 1st class and bulk class packages available too. Find out more information here .
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