Indoor Rowing 101
Indoor rowing is a low-impact activity that can be a great addition to your fitness program.
Using a rowing machine can be a great way for some people to improve fitness through low-impact exercise. The smooth, rhythmic motion of rowing uses many muscle groups without the pounding that comes with some weight-bearing or high-impact exercises.
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services recommends that adults aim for:
- At least 2 hours and 30 minutes of moderate-intensity activity (working hard enough to break a sweat but still able to carry on a conversation) each week, OR
- 1 hour and 15 minutes of more vigorous-intensity aerobic activity each week
Rowing is just one of the many activities that may fit into this overall fitness program.
Using a rowing machine may help with aerobic conditioning, losing weight, stress relief, and building strength. Since rowing is easier on the body than some other forms of exercise, you may find you can work out longer – and burn more calories.
Remember, it is important to talk to your doctor before you start a new activity or raise your activity level.
Choosing the right rowing machine
Rowing machines (also called ergometers) offer resistance using air, water, magnets, or pistons. Water machines may match the feeling of rowing on water. Most industry-standard machines use air resistance.
The machine should be sturdy and easily support your weight. Look for a seat that is comfortable but not too soft. It should slide back and forth smoothly for full extension and flexion of the knees. Also, it should be roomy enough in front that you can fully extend your shoulders and arms at the start of a rowing motion.
Using a rowing machine should feel smooth. Avoid machines that have jerky or sudden changes in resistance during rows.
Begin with a warm-up
The act of rowing uses the arms, abdomen, back, and legs. But without good technique to coordinate all these muscle groups, you could risk injury. Remember to:
- Warm up before working out. Start with slow, easy rowing for 5 minutes to lower injury risks and improve workout benefits.
- Increase the length and intensity of training gradually over weeks and months.
- Don’t try to put too much strength into a single stroke or two. This places sudden stress on the lower back and could cause injury.
Beginners can often start aerobic training by rowing for 15 minutes with a 5-minute warm-up and a 5-minute cool-down. After several weeks or months of rowing, you can gradually raise your workout time to 30 minutes.
The rowing stroke is a continuous motion of 3 phases.
- The catch is the starting point. Your knees should be bent, with shins vertical. Your shoulders and arms should be reaching forward. If you were rowing a boat, this is the position you would be in when the oars were put in water.
- The drive starts with extending the legs. Your arms should stay straight until the knees are mostly extended. Then you bend your elbows to bring the oar handle near the upper stomach. At the end of the drive, your legs are straight, your shoulders are back, your elbows are fully bent, and the handle lies against your upper stomach.
- Recovery gets you back into the catch position. Your hands and arms move away from your body, and your elbows straighten. As your hands move past your knees, your upper body goes forward over your hips. Your knees start to bend, and the seat slides back to the catch position.
The effort in rowing is measured by the stroke rate and a resistance setting. A slower stroke rate places greater stress on the back. Resistance settings should be lower for long aerobic workouts.