The Emperor of the The Gym: The Rowing Machine

Even with all the pulleys, sliding seats, and adjustable weights, rowing machines today still seem a little old-fashioned. Perhaps because they were fixtures in gyms back when gyms were just gyms, and didn't double as smoothie cafés, yoga schools, or pick-up bars. But today, just as in your grandfather's time, few machines can give you as good a workout in as short a period of time as a rowing machine.

A rowing machine workout is lower impact than even a treadmill – a consideration you will appreciate if you are overweight, suffer from joint pain, or are recovering from knee surgery. And unlike those giant rubber bands it will work muscle groups in both the upper, lower and core areas of your body.

Use a rowing machine and you will be hammering the rhomboids in your shoulders, trapezii in your upper back, and lats in your lower back. Beyond your back, you'll be working out the “swimsuit targets” of your biceps, pecs, and abs. Even your hands, wrists and grip strength will get put through their paces because you need to maintain a strong hold on the oars or pulley.

As good a workout as it gives your upper body, rowing machine aficionados know how it really excels for your leg muscles. Your quads – in the upper front of your thighs – and calves will really feel the burn, as will your butt (again: think “swimsuit”). Like with elliptical training, the coordination required to row effectively will also improve your overall flexibility and balance.

Core and lower body workouts burn more calories than their upper body counterparts as you may know, so let's crunch some of those numbers for the rowing machine. Mixing bursts of Ben Hur with more leisurely strokes – a rowing machine's version of high-intensity interval training – you can shed around 1,000 calories an hour. Compare that to an elliptical's 600 per hour or 500 for a stairmaster, and you'll begin to understand why no one on your college's crew team was even close to overweight.

A key to the efficacy of the modern rowing machine which your granddad didn't enjoy is the damper. That's the device on the side of the flywheel that controls the drag. If you're a rowing machine n00b, set it from 3 to 5, and choose “pace” as the mode.

Are there any risks to rowing? In a nutshell, you can hurt your back pretty badly if you do not maintain proper form. Follow this six point guide to safe and effective rowing:

  • Wrap your fingers lightly around the handle and keep wrists straight.
  • Extend your arms in front of you, keeping shoulders relaxed
  • Hinge forward from the hips and bend knees until they’re over ankles
  • Push through feet, extend legs, and lean back slightly, keeping your shoulders relaxed
  • Draw your elbows straight back to sides until hands reach ribs
  • Start the next stroke by extending your arms and then bending your knees to slide the seat forward.



Sources: Men's Fitness