If you take the time to learn rowing technique, it's one of the best exercises you can do for cardio. The low-to-the-ground, long machine engages your legs, back, core and arms, delivering an intense full-body cardio experience.
Best of all? Rowing won't put as much stress on your knee and hip joints as running does, meaning that this type of training is ideal for people of all ages, sizes and walks of life.
Rowing: The Basics
While most people think rowing requires mostly upper-body strength, it's actually all about the legs. Like a golf swing, the legs and hips do most of the work for creating power during a rowing stroke. In fact, the movement is similar to an explosive power clean in weightlifting that uses your entire body. You begin driving with your legs, engage the muscles in your back and core, and then follow through with your arms.
Just like any piece of gym equipment, it's best to get acquainted with how the rowing machine functions before you go full speed ahead into a workout. Here are three things to do when you first sit down on a Concept 2 rowing machine.
• Adjust the foot straps. Make sure the strap goes across the ball of your foot. If your feet are placed too high, your legs will also be placed too high, meaning you won't be taking full strokes. The improper leg position will set you up for an awkward and inefficient stroke. Adjust the foot stretcher where you rest your feet either up or down a few pegs if the fabric strap isn't lying in the correct spot.
• Check the damper setting. Located on the right side of the circular flywheel on a Concept 2 machine, the damper setting is a plastic lever that controls how much air is in the flywheel. Setting the damper to 10 will feel like rowing a heavy boat and will require the most "work" per stroke, while setting it to zero will feel like rowing a sleek, light boat and will require less energy per stroke. You can also think about damper setting like gears on a bike.
• Understand the monitor. The square display is a powerful tool that will give instantaneous feedback during your workout. But with so many possible metrics to use, it's important for beginners to limit themselves to just the essentials. Two important numbers to focus on are stroke rate (strokes per minute, located in the upper right of the screen) and watts (a measure of workout intensity). A good first goal: Consistently hit your bodyweight (in pounds) in watts.
To get your body warmed up and ready to row, pick the stroke apart and wake up the muscles, you'll begin with simple, partial movements and then work up to the full rowing motion.
• Start with your legs straight, body in an upright position, elbows bent so the handle is pulled fully into your chest. Keeping your back and legs straight, extend your arms away from your body, reaching towards your feet, then bring them back to the original position. Shoulders should remain relaxed. Repeat for two minutes.
• Next, engage your back. After you extend your arms forward, hinge forward slightly at the hips. Then, keeping your spine neutral, reverse the motion by leaning back from the hips once your body is fully upright, as you pull your arms and the handle into your chest. Repeat for two minutes.
• Warming up your legs comes next. After you extend your arms and hinge forward from the hips, bend your knees slightly so your seat rolls halfway towards the flywheel, and your arms extend forward past your feet, grasping the handle. Reverse the motion by pushing with your legs first, then leaning back and finally pulling your arms into your chest. Repeat for two minutes.
• Time to take a complete stroke! You may now bend your knees fully so your shins are perpendicular to the ground and your heels lift up slightly. Repeat for four minutes.
Here are a few beginning rower workout suggestions:
• Workout 1: Row very easily for 5 minutes at a stroke rate of 24–28. Get off the indoor rower and stretch or walk for 5 minutes. Complete another 5 minutes of easy rowing. End with 5 minutes of walking or stretching.
• Workout 2: Row easily for 5 minutes. Do five minutes of stretching off the indoor rower. Row easily for 10 minutes. End with 5 minutes of walking or stretching.
• Workout 3: Row easily for 5 minutes, then do 5 minutes of walking or stretching. (This will become your standard warm-up.) Complete 5 minutes of easy rowing, doing one Power 10 (a 10 stroke burst at higher intensity) per minute.
• Workout 4: Do your standard warm-up. Then, row 5 minutes at a moderate pace, followed by 5 minutes of Power 10s each minute, followed by 5 minutes easy rowing. Finish with another 5 minutes of Power 10s each minute, then row easily for 5 minutes to cool down.
• Workout 5: After your standard warm-up, do 10 minutes of steady rowing while gradually increasing the intensity. For the next 10 minutes, alternate 1 minute of easy rowing with 1 minute harder rowing.