The Best-Kept Secret at the Gym

Rowing is kick-butt cardio and strengthening workout; find out how to get the most from a rowing machine.
Try Rowing for a Low Impact Workout

Tired of waiting for a treadmill or elliptical machine to open up at the gym? Don't even bother. The rowing machine may not be the trendiest machine in the gym, but it can give fast and impressive results. (In fact, if you're going to invest in equipment for your home, this might be the machine you've been looking for!) It simultaneously exercises the muscles of the arms, back, abdominals and legs and is a great way to burn fat.

So why don't more people use it? For starters, there's the myth that you need to be super fit and strong to row. But that's just not true. The motions involved in this fat-burning, aerobic-conditioning activity are smooth and low impact and, therefore, kind to the joints. Rowing can also be used for high intensity training or interval training.

There are actually four different types of rowing machines, all of which are perfectly suitable for everyone from beginners to experts: air, magnetic, water and hydraulic resistance (or piston). Most popular is the air resistance, probably found in your local gym. A cheaper version tends to be piston driven, and a magnetic rower is the quietest. Water machines can be very heavy, but they, along with air machines, give the most similar sensation to rowing on the open water. If you are purchasing a machine for home use, try it out first to ensure it has a smooth motion.

Mastering the proper technique
Follow these simple guidelines and you'll be rowing like a pro in no time:

  • The rowing stroke is a continuous motion and starts with the "catch" where you are seated with knees bent and shoulders and arms reaching forward.
  • The "drive" is initiated with the legs as they straighten, and the arms stay straight until the knees are almost straight, when the arms bend to bring the handle into the upper stomach. (Don't allow the seat to slide out from under you before the handle is pulled backwards, as this could weaken your form and strain your back.)
  • The drive ends here with legs straight (not locked), shoulders back, elbows bent and handle on stomach.
  • The next phase is the recovery where the rower returns to the catch position. Recovery begins with the arms straightening and the upper body moving over the hips as the hands pass the knees, the knees then begin to bend and the seat returns to the start point and the sequence is repeated.

Once you have the hang of the rowing stroke, aim for a stroke rate of 25-35 strokes per minute (most machines have a monitor on board). To change your workout, increase the resistance, or increase the strokes.

Looking for a fat-burning workout?
Aerobic or cardiovascular training works your heart and lungs and helps to improve physical fitness as well as burning calories and fat. If this is your goal, you should aim for 3-5 sessions of 30-50 minutes per week according to your goals and fitness levels, and you should always warm up and cool down.

In search of a high-intensity workout?
Interval training is where you work at a high intensity (higher than aerobic) then recover for a short period at a low intensity and repeat the cycle. This is a great way for regular exercisers to improve their fitness levels and stamina. Begin with a 5-minute warm up, followed by 1 minute of high intensity, 2 minutes of low intensity and gradually build up to 2 minutes high, 2 minutes low for 20-40 minutes with a 5-minute cool down.

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