Have you ever noticed at the gym that the rowing machines constantly seem to be in use? The rest of us stand around eagle eyed ready to pounce as soon as the rowing machine is free. Oh - you do go to the gym, don't you? Don't worry if you don't, just take my word for it. Indoor rowing is one of the most enjoyable cardiovascular exercises - so it's no surprise that the rowing machines at the gym get constant attention.
What's so good about rowing machines then? Simple. A session on a rowing machine is probably the best workout you can get. One major attraction of rowing machines is that the exercise doesn't involve any impact on joints, such as running for example.
Of course, most of us are aiming for a nice toned body. How do rowing machines score on this front? Top marks all round! Rowing machines are one of the few pieces of gym equipment that exercise practically every single muscle group you have. What is more, you can easily control how much you want to work each muscle. Working on developing your upper body strength? No problem - don't use your legs so much and let your arms work more. Similarly, if you're working on your legs, keep your arms still and let your legs power the rower.
The aerobic exercise made possible by rowing machines is simply unbeatable. As far as non-impact exercise goes, only swimming comes close, and that requires real perfection of technique (breathing underwater is, problematic!) for you to feel the benefit on the same level.
If you're interested in building and toning your muscles, simply set your rowing machine up for grater resistance. Reduce the number of strokes per session and work your muscles with greater intensity.
Like anything in life, the best way to perfect something is to (keep with me as I get all scientific) track it and analyze the results. That goes for your body too. Most rowing machines make it easy for you to do exactly that, by using a digital computer and readout. You can track the distance rowed, estimated calories burnt, strokes taken etc. On top end rowing machines you can even plug the thing into a computer and race people of all levels over the internet. That's some great motivation if ever you needed it!
Rowing machines range in price from about $100 right up to $2000. All money well spent - it's your health at the end of the day. The main types of rowing machines are air rowers and water rowers. Perhaps surprisingly, I personally find the air rowing machines and find them to be more satisfying than the water rowers. When you exercise on these machines, each stroke turns an enclosed fan and the resistance of the air provides the resistance you feel when you pull for the stroke.
Things to look for when considering your first rowing machine:
- Look for a comfortable seat. There's no point buying a rowing machine if you can't exercise on it for long because you keep getting a numb-bum! It is possible to buy special seat cushions for some rowing machines. DON NOT try and create or use your own home-made cushion, as it may slip off and you will do yourself REAL damage (most likely to your back!).
- Make sure the seat moves back and forth up the monorail smoothly. Some rowing machines use low friction materials for this purpose and better rowers use bearings. You want the power of your stroke to be used only for turning the resistance fan.
- Ensure the foot stops are solid and large enough, so that if your foot should slip, you're not going to do yourself any damage.
- Make sure the rowing machine's on-board computer has the functions you want. Some may only want basic "calories burnt", "distance rowed" readouts. Some may want more detail like having a "pace boat" to keep up with or power curve readout.
- Is the rowing position making the rowing machine comfortable for you to use? If you're particularly tall or short, you should probably try out several different machines to see which one feels the best.
- Try before you buy - it's always the best way. Some of the more reputable rowing machine companies, such as Concept2, allow you to hire their machines so you can give them a go before committing yourself to what can sometimes be an expensive purchase.
One final word... Rowing machines can be great for strengthening your back and core-strength in general! However, if you have back problems, then you should consult a physician before you start rowing, or any exercise plan for that matter, to avoid making things worse.
Follow instructions carefully and always remember to keep your back reasonably straight! Many people make the mistake of rowing from their lower back, which can cause problems.
Enjoy your rowing machines and finally enjoy getting fit!