Why Use A Rower?
The rowing machine is an awesome piece of equipment, if you have ever been lucky enough to see one being used correctly, with educated technique and swanlike grace, it’s a thing of pure finest poetry. As a sport Rowing can be traced back to the days of the god kings of ancient Egypt. For most of us today that world is lost. Rowing means the Oxbridge boat race and the British mens team so often dominating at the Olympics. I love the rowing machine, I love to grab my clients, half dead following a gruelling squat and bench press session, drag their almost comatose near-corpselike carcass to the rower and like the drill sergeant from Full Metal Jacket force them, under the screams of duress to complete 3 minutes of all out hell. I don’t love to do this with my own workouts, maybe ten years ago. But seeing their pale faces, drained of all but the final remnants of life, with their backs flat on the floor and their lungs gasping for just one last final breath, oh and the promise, the promise of water, that’s why I love the rower.
Reality Strikes, hard, it always does
In the opening paragraph I mentioned the swanlike grace and near perfect physical poetry of a rowing machine being used by someone in the know. But there is, as with all things in life, another side to this seemingly dreamy tale of ancient colleges and wide muscular backs. Yes, there is the rest of us. The mere humans. Those of us without the benefits of a rowing coach, a school motto and a god only knows how many thousands of pounds worth of a classical education. Long powerful limbs effortlessly driving the movement before the back and arms take over for a short, sharp but fully intended pull that ends full cycle with the chain smoothly sliding back to its starting point are replaced by what can only be described as complete and total mayhem. Not being sure where or how to start, the complete novice will generally, with a back that resembles a fishing rod in battle with a giant catfish, pull forcefully with wildly flailing arms before finally locking out their kneecaps with an unhealthy and very final sounding snap. And as for the chains smooth ride home, it’s more like a blind alcoholic trying to find his way along the M25, messy, ugly and dangerous.
A dish for everyone
The rowing machine has many benefits to the initiated, it builds a strong powerful back with arms to match. Correct core engagement will give you a layer of muscle capable of protecting your spine and vital organs as harderned as any Teflon vest. It will turn your pencil legs into piling drills capable of stomping holes deep into reinforced concrete. OK, so maybe that’s a bit overkill, you won’t become that weird boulderlike chap from the fantastic 4, you won’t even become Butterbean (ten points for remembering him), but you will become a faster, fitter, stronger, healthier and more ready for action human being. Correct rowing will turn you into a modern day spartan.
Rowing isn’t just a stalwart of public school boys and commercial health clubs, the rowing machine has become the conditioning equipment of choice for some of the worlds strongest, most powerful athletes. Professional Strongmen Brian Shaw, Eddie Hall and Zydrunas ‘Big Z’ Savickas regularly throw in some intense indoor rowing to keep them competition fit. If you have (and if you are reading this, you must have) ever encountered the fitness phenomenon which is Cross-Fit then you will know that the Cross-Fit elite use the indoor rower as part of their workouts and their annual games.
Getting it right
Here are some tips for getting correct rowing technique.
- Set the resistance setting to 6 or 7, this is closest to actual water, the temptation will be to head straight for ten. There is no need to set it this high.
- Begin rowing from the catch position. Shins vertical and arms fully extended with a suitable degree of spinal flexion. Have your abs engaged and shoulders relaxed and depressed.
- Power off with the legs with a quick powerful kick, keeping a slightly forward leaning torso for the first half of the movment.
- As the legs approach full extension complete the movement with a powerful arm pull directing the handle towards the upper abdomen. At this stage your legs will be straight and your back angled backwards about 30 degrees.
- Return to the start position by extending the arms and allowing the chain to pull you back into a forward flexion aligning chest and thighs before a slow controlled sliding of the seat back ready to push again with the legs.
- The recovery phase should take about twice as long as the action phase.
The above is only a very basic guide of how to get correct rowing technique, for a more thorough and complete guide I suggest hiring a professional rowing coach just for one or two sessions to show you the ropes.
If used correctly the rower can be a leading tool to build explosive power, aerobic and anaerobic fitness, build and tone muscle as well sculpt a beach ready physique. If used incorrectly, like most exercises and activities in the gym, it can be, at best, largely ineffective at any of the above, and at worst quite dangerous. Always exercise caution and seek guidance and the rowing machine can be the ultimate weapon in helping you achieve your fitness goals, no matter what they are.