Rowing is a whole-body exercise that overloads the cardiorespiratory system and strengthens the major muscles of the body. The beauty and serenity of rowing on flat water in the morning is indescribable, but few people have access to a lake and rowing shell. Fortunately, sophisticated rowing machines simulate the rowing motion and make it possible to do this exercise at the fitness center or at a health club.

Modern rowing machines are very much like the real thing. They provide resistance with hydraulic pistons, magnets, air, or water. The best machines are solid and comfortable, provide a steady stroke, and allow you to maintain a neutral spine so you don’t injure your back. Many rowing machines come with LCD displays that show heart rate, stroke rate, power output, and estimated caloric expenditure. They are also preprogrammed with workouts for interval training, cardiovascular conditioning, and moderate-intensity physical activity. Good rowing mechanics are essential because, if done incorrectly, rowing can cause severe overuse injuries that can damage the back, hips, knees, elbows, and shoulders.


Technique: Basic Rowing Movement

Most of the power for rowing comes from the thigh and hip muscles and finishes with a pulling motion with the upper body. Maintain a neutral spine (that is, with normal curves) during the movement. Hinge at the hips and not at the back during the rowing motion.

The rowing movement includes the following phases:

• The catch. The catch involves sliding the seat forward on the track with arms straight as far as you can while keeping the spine neutral.

• The drive. The drive begins by pushing with the legs and keeping your arms straight.

• The finish. Finish by leaning back slightly (still maintaining a neutral spine) and pulling the handle to your abdomen.

• The recovery. Recover by extending your arms forward, hinging forward at the hips with a neutral spine, and sliding forward again on the seat for another “catch.”

Training Methods

Your rowing program should include both continuous training and interval training. Continuous training calls for rowing for a specific amount of time typically 20-90 minutes without stopping. Most people enjoy rowing at about 70% of maximum heart rate.

Interval training involves a series of exercise bouts followed by rest. The method manipulates distance, intensity, repetitions, and rest. An example of an interval workout would be to row for 8 sets of 4-minute exercise bouts at 85% effort with 2 minutes of rest between intervals, or sets. During interval training, changing one factor affects the others. For example, if you increase the intensity of exercise, you will need more rest between intervals and won’t be able to do as many repetitions. High-intensity exercise builds fitness best but also increases the risk of injury and loss of motivation. Make intervals challenging but not so difficult that you get injured or discouraged.

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