Home Equipment #12: Rowing Machine

While it doesn't have the familiarity of treadmills or bikes, the rowing machine is in many ways superior to both. So it rates a high position on our home equipment list.

Treadmills offer a more practical movement: we walk and run every day but rarely wind up rowing around town. But rowing is more of a full-body movement using both the upper body (horizontal pull) and lower body (hip extension).

Rowing machines also tend to last much longer than treadmills as they have no motors or decks with belts. They're generally quite simple and require very little maintenance.

Whilst they're mechanically simple, using one correctly is another matter. Using one badly, or stupidly, is way too common.

Those are some extreme examples, but improper rowing form appears to be more the norm than the exception in most gyms.

Here's a short video that does a decent job of showing proper rowing form:

Hey, that looks like my rowing machine! Breaking the movement up into sections helps with explaining and learning but can also be misleading. For example, she says that in "arms away" the torso doesn't move but it does when she performs the full movement (as it should). Also, on "body forward" the handle shouldn't go all the way to the ankles before bending the knees; it just needs to get past the knees. She does these correctly when performing the full movement but not in the explanation.

Anyway, most videos (including this one) talk about using the legs but fail to mention hip extension also known as part of the "hip hinge" which you may recall from the post on movement patterns. It's there in the rowing movement but is rarely acknowledged. Just don't overdo the extension and lean too far back.

The three main points I'd make on rowing technique are:

  1. It's primarily (by a lot) a lower body exercise. If your arms and/or shoulders are fatiguing first, you're using them too much.
  2. Don't lean back.
  3. Let the handle go past your knees before bending them on the return. If you have to move the handle up to clear your bent knees, something's wrong.

Rowing can give you one of the best aerobic workouts because you're using so much of your body. Rowing your fastest 2k is ridiculously tough. The good news is you can easily control the intensity of your workout by changing your pace...how hard you pull and/or how many pulls per minute. The harder you pull, the more resistance you encounter. Do a casual 5k or an all-out 500m.

Like most treadmills, rowing machines usually come with some built-in training programs. Mine is old and quite simple but includes some standard workouts (e.g. 5k, 2k) and some kind of games that I don't use. Newer models offer many more options but this is fine for me.

I like to row 500m as part of my warmup before lifting because it gets much of your body working and in a nice range of motion. Plus it's good practice.

I've had my rower about 12 years and still use it regularly. I highly recommend one. Just make sure you'll actually use it!

Be seeing you.


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