The Rower is an extremely well rounded and underutilized piece of equipment that it is very common in most gyms. I highly recommend you give it a try if you never have and if you have this will level up your rowing game. We will go over the three most critical concepts of the rower being the order, power and timing as well as benefits for you.
First we will go over the order of movements to correctly use the rower because it is a full body exercise. You start in “the catch” position and initiate the movement pushing with your legs called “the drive”. Your starting position is with your shin perpendicular with the ground unless you lack ankle mobility and then push with your legs till fully extended which will give you the most power which we will talk about more in a minute. I see many people initiate the movement with pulling with their back and this is not the most efficient way to row because your upper body will fatigue much faster than your legs and it is not as strong. That is not to say there is a way to row utilizing your back more however this is not it.
Next you use your core and when I say core that does not mean just your abs; this is going to utilize your entire trunk. At full extension with your legs you are going to slightly lean back to get that little bit extra power into your stroke. Lastly your going to pull with the arms and utilize that upper body which is “the finish”. Because you are pulling this is great for chiseling your back which will translate to improvements in your strength training in your program.
Power output is one way to measure your efficiency on the rower. We want to be rowing as efficiently as possible so to do so we want to be getting a certain amount of power from different parts of our body. Your legs will be contributing 60% of the power output while rowing because as we talked about briefly before your legs will fatigue slower than any upper body muscles because they are bigger. And because they are bigger they will have more muscle fibers to produce more power. 20% will come from the core and this is much lower because your trunk muscles aren’t big power producers. Your trunk is primarily there to stabilize your spine and keep you upright. Last 20% is the upper body which might confuse people because they think it should account for much more. However like we said these muscles fatigue especially if your going for longer distances of 1000+ meters.
Last is timing and pace which is the biggest difference between your exercise being aerobic or anaerobic which is important. Regardless of your goal you want your technique to be smooth so if your going for distance you want a 1 second pull and a 2 second recovery. Now if your sprinting you want to be going fast so that might change to a 1 second pull and 1 second recovery but still no jerking movements.
The benefits of the rower are just about unless. As we have already talked about it works your core, upper and lower body, but it is also low impact, great for beginners and can be utilized for aerobic or anaerobic training. The low impact part is an important aspect of this machine for many populations. It is great for elderly as well as anyone recovering from an injury because there is not hard slamming which could cause harm. Many think they are restricted to walking on the treadmill or the recumbent bike for low impact cardio which is not true. This gives more variety as well as this works out the upper body which the other two do not. Next this is a great beginner machine because it is pretty intuitive or requires very little instruction to hop on and use and has low risk for injury. We will go over a good place to start for beginners at the end.
Aerobic conditioning is an important aspect of any exercise program because of the benefits of the cardiovascular system. There are many different ways to define cardio but I like to say anything that you do continuously for about 5 or more minutes. You can definitely row for at least that long to get the benefits such as stronger cardiac muscle, weight loss and reduced stress and anxiety. I love doing cardio on the rower personally because I find it more stimulating than just running or elliptical and it is much harder. To give you an idea of a good pace to sustain aerobic work 18-22 strokes a minute would be feasible however this depends on the resistance and starting point physically.
Anaerobic exercise is also an important aspect of an exercise program because of the benefits to the skeletomuscular system. This type of exercise does not utilize oxygen so it is much shorter being no more than 1 minute and dominant up to 30 seconds of maximal effort. There are many different ways to train this system through intervals. Intervals are a ratio of work to rest so for example a 1:1 interval is an even amount of work compared to rest which is difficult. Compared to a 1:3 interval which gives you much more time to recover. There are endless ways to alter intervals but the key is to sprint and go all out intensity. The benefits to this will be increased muscle strength (specifically fast twitch muscle fibers), improved energy, and protects joints. To make sure you are going at the right pace to get the benefits of your anaerobic exercise you should be averaging 22-30 strokes a minute.
For a beginner to the rower it may seem intimidating and you are unsure on how to use it correctly. What I would recommend to start with is around 5 minutes at 18-22 strokes a minute at a low resistance. See how you do at that and progressively overload the exercise which means make it harder. You can do that by going for longer, increasing your strokes per minutes or increasing your resistance. You need to do this to continue to get the benefits you are looking for so don’t be afraid to push yourself.