Fitness fads come and go, but the rowing machine has staying power. There’s a reason this simple piece of equipment is a staple in CrossFit® and Orange Theory® gyms.
“Rowing is a total body workout,” says Peyton Bazzocco, a health fitness specialist at Wellmark’s Well for Life Center. “It improves cardiovascular fitness, builds strength, and increases stamina and endurance. Plus, it is low-impact and easy on the joints. Rowing is ideal for people who are unable to perform high-impact, weight-bearing exercises such as running.”
Yet, a lot of people pass by the rowing machine, opting for the treadmill or elliptical. Why? “I think there is a common misperception that the rowing machine is an upper body workout,” says Bazzocco. “And yes, you’ll use your upper body to pull. If done correctly, though, the rowing machine should primarily be working your lower body and core.”
Power-up the lower body and core
Rowing is a very natural motion so most people pick it up quickly, says Bazzocco. While the machines are easy to use, most beginners will focus on the pulling motion, with their arms and upper body.
“That’s OK to get the hang of how to operate the machine,” she says. “But once you get going, you should be focusing on power from your legs and hips. When you hop off, your legs and lungs should feel it.”
Height can play a big role in how quickly you can row a given distance, so it’s important not to compare your speed to the person rowing next to you. If you have longer legs and a longer torso, you’ll get a bigger, longer pull. Instead, keep track of how long it takes you to row 300, 500 or 1,000 meters. Focus on your own progress.
Peyton BazzoccoHealth fitness specialist, Wellmark’s Well for Life Center
Resistance and speed
On most rowing machines, there is a resistance setting that ranges from 1 to 10. When resistance is lower, you may have a tendency to use your arms too much. Bazzocco suggests keeping resistance between 8 and 10.
“The higher the number, the more difficult it is, but you’re going to get bigger, stronger pulls so you’re going to cover more ground,” according to Bazzocco.
If you are a beginner, Bazzocco recommends waiting until you’re comfortable with technique before focusing on speed. “I wouldn’t tell a beginner to hop on a rowing machine and begin doing intervals and sprints. Get the form down first. Have an understanding of what muscles you’re working. Pay attention to how your body feels. Gradually build a foundation and begin keeping track of how quickly you can row a set distance, for example, 500 or 1,000 meters.
Four steps to the proper row
It may seem easy, but there is a trick to doing this right, says Bazzocco. Get these four steps down for the proper technique:
Step one, the catch. Start by sitting on the seat with your legs bent and feet in the stirrups with straps tightened. Next, grab the handle and extend your arms in front of you while leaning your body forward. Focus on keeping your back flat and core engaged.
Step two, the drive. Maintaining good posture, a tight core, and locked arms, drive with your lower body and push back in the seat until your legs are fully straight. Hinge from your hips and lean your torso backward. From there, begin to pull with your arms by bending at the elbows.
Step three, the finish. At this point, your legs should be straight and your elbows bent, finishing the pull with the handle at your lower chest. Once again, you want to make sure you are maintaining a strong core and a straight back.
Step four, the recovery. Now your arms begin to straighten. When they are almost fully extended, you will begin to lean your torso forward, allowing your knees to bend once the handle passes over them. Hint: You should be back in “the catch” position where you started.
Ready to give rowing a try? Get started with these five rowing workouts.