Health Fitness

Rowing – Great Cross Training Exercise

What do you do when you want to exercise but need a break from your usual cardio? Indoor rowing is an excellent alternative. If you like power training, rowing is for you. This article covers the basics of getting started paddling.

Truly, the only indoor rower worth using is the Concept 2 Rowing Ergometer (“erg” for short). Yes, there are other rowing machines out there, but no one who rows takes them seriously. The Concept 2 is the gold standard. The current models are the D and the E (slightly higher off the ground). The oldest model is the C, which was the only one for many, many years. (I have one, I love it, and I wouldn’t change it to a D for anything!)

If you have access to an erg and are new to rowing, learn correct technique early on. It’s easier to learn it the right way than to unlearn the mistakes people often make when trying to paddle on their own. If an instructor at your gym really knows rowing, that’s ideal because you’ll get good instruction and correction. Years of teaching rowing have shown me that correction is essential.

If you don’t have an erg or personal instruction, check out the Concept 2 website. A 5-minute video teaches the rowing technique step by step, repeating the steps clearly and slowly.

There is also an “erg finder”. Enter your location, the type of facility you want (eg, health and fitness club), and the distance you’re willing to travel. You will get a list of clubs with addresses and the number of ergs available there. You may want to call to verify the information. (When I searched for ergs in my city, the club I taught at for years was listed with only 1 erg; that was wrong. However, further down the list, the same club was listed again, with precisely 17.)

Once you have learned to row, you can take advantage of the day’s training. You can choose short (30 minutes), medium (40-45 minutes) or long (more than 60 minutes). It’s available on the website every day, or it can even be delivered to your inbox.

Some points to keep in mind:
• Rowing is not an upper body activity. It is a full body activity that focuses on leg power. Sliding seats were added to oars in the 1870s to optimize upper lower body power. The best advice I’ve ever heard on this came from a rowing coach who rowed for the US national team: “Arms are an afterthought.”

• Rowing has a definite learning curve. At first, it can be frustrating to not have enough power in your stroke to achieve a high heart rate. That will change with practice. Trust me, heart rate rowing can be very high, usually higher than cycling.

• Due to the learning curve, novices often use a higher shock setting than necessary. The shock opens the drum to let more air in, increasing resistance. Skilled paddlers, however, use a moderate setting and generate effort by accelerating quickly at the start of the stroke (the catch).

• The most common mistake is bending the knees too soon after finishing the stroke. (This will make sense once you’ve watched the video or received any instructions.) It is almost instinctive and can be difficult to correct. An effective correction is to stop rowing and hold for 2 seconds after you have extended your arms before letting your knees buckle. Repeat with each stroke for a few minutes.

• Do NOT row with your back straight. Curling your shoulders slightly forward will engage your core and protect your back. A straight back is more likely to get injured.

Keeping a steady, even pace can take time to learn. My coach always said that rowing builds character: with every stroke, the computer tells you that you are a failure. [i.e., your pace is off]but you have to continue.

Working in rhythm feels like a moving meditation. Skilled rowers making sustained efforts even appear relaxed and meditative.

So here’s to a meditative, yet exciting, character-building alternative to cycling or other cardio. I think you’ll like it. You may even find yourself adding it to your training on a regular basis.

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