From health-clubs catering for fitness-conscious professionals to the body-building gyms filled with big necks and tiny vests, the rowing machine is a mainstay of establishments around the world. There are many good reasons for this- and more on those soon- but the main reason is simple: they’re a fantastically versatile and effective piece of equipment.
You could argue no other exercise (or single piece of gym equipment, certainly) gives you the ‘bang for your buck’ you get from the humble rower when it comes to the health and fitness benefits. I’m not going to get into that debate right here but what I will do is list the reasons why it’s earnt its lofty reputation.
- There’s no other full-body workout quite like it <H2>
Think about it. You’re driving out with your legs, core engaged, and then you’re using your arms to bring the pulley towards your chest. Then back in again for the ‘recovery’ phase. It’s a simple, rhythmic movement that incorporates every part of your body. In the four phases of the row- the catch, the drive, the finish and the recovery- between 80-85% of the muscles in the body are used. 80-85%!
Many people associate rowing with the yanking of the pulley and might expect that arms benefit the most but if proper technique is used the legs actually do most of the work: roughly a 60/40 split in their favour. Concept2
The quadriceps are used when you drive out from the machine. You core needs to be engaged to maintain stability while you do. Your biceps bring the pulley into you, then you hit the upper back and traps as it reaches your chest. On the recovery phase, you activate the triceps but the main benefactors are the glutes, hamstrings and calves. All the while, of course, your lower back is getting a good workout.
I love hitting the treadmill to sweat out my days frustrations but it just can’t compete with the sheer full-body benefits of the rower. Which brings me neatly on to…
- It’s fantastic for fat-burning <H2>
Full-body exercises burn more fat than isolation exercises or ones that only target one body part (like bicep curls or the treadmill). It’s fairly fairly common-sense: the more muscles you involve in any given exercise the more energy/calories that get burned while you do. So if you are using 80-85% of your body it stands to reason that you will be burning more than if you are just using your legs, for example.
A 185-lbs man will burn upwards of 300 calories with just 30 minutes on the rowing machine Openfit
Plus it’s the gift that keeps on giving: full-body exercises keep your metabolism stoked for longer than isolation exercises too.
And even if fat-burning is not the priority for you that it is for many…
- The rower is great for toning and helping build strength <H2>
Obviously, it doesn’t pack the meat on like chucking those dumbells around but the rower works the muscles that facilitate your strength-building goals as well as providing enough resistance to tone up both the upper and lower body. What do you picture when you think of professional rowers? It’s usually standing riverside after the race, their vests rolled down to their waist. That athletic, sculpted, lean muscle mass. Beefy but not-too-beefy. Rowing built those bodies.
- It strengthens the cardio-respiratory system <H2>
Whatever your goal- getting stronger, getting fitter or losing fat- everyone wants the benefits the rowing machine brings to your cardio-respiratory system.
As your heart rate increases and your breathing gets faster and deeper, it increases the amount of oxygen in your blood. The more you row the better you are conditioning your body to use this oxygen more efficiently (your aerobic capacity). Modernfit
So as well as the fat-burning, the lean muscle mass-building and the toning, it’s also great for your muscular endurance and conditioning!
- It’s high-intensity but low impact <H2>
Unlike the pounding that, say, running gives your knees, ankles and joints, the rower puts much less stress on your body. So if you are recovering from injury or exertion it allows you to keep up your fitness without any added stress.
And it doesn’t just go easy on them…
- It improves muscle and joint mobility <H2>
Rowing employs a wide range of movement, helping minimise stiffness and boost flexibility. It also strengthens stabilizer and neutraliser muscles that improve your off-balance movement.
- It helps boost your mental health too! <H2>
The consistent, rhythmic strokes make for a more meditative form of exercise than most. Strap yourself in and once you set your pace and establish your rhythm, the whole body working in total synergy, you can almost slide into a Zen-like state!
This is one of the benefits is shares with things like the treadmill- it requires co-ordination but once you’ve got going you can almost forget what you are doing. And with it, forget the stresses of the day.
The rower it helps me unwind like few other exercises. I find my mind switches off from the constant chatter I brought in with me. It’s something about the movement and the rhythm. I know that sounds a bit hippy-dippy but that’s the best way I can explain it!!!
Back to something a bit more scientific, you’ll be happy to hear… A good blast on the rowing machine leads to your body releasing it’s endorphins, which in turn help you feel less stressed. That famous post-exercise buzz I’m sure you know by now.
Physical exercise has also been shown to slow cognitive decline so your little grey matter will thank you too!
And- on a more practical note- it has all these benefits while being incredibly versatile and time-efficient.
As well as being a great workout on it’s own or as part of a circuit routine, many people use the machines as a warm-up prior to weight and resistance training, or even a warm-down after.
It’s there if you fancy a lung-busting 10k but it’s also perfect for the High-Intensity-Interval-Training for anyone more pressed for time. You have likely heard of them: short blasts of intense exercise interspersed with periods of rest. 30secs rowing like a maniac; 30seconds rest. Rinse and repeat for 10, 12, 15 minutes and you’ll stagger off the machine knowing you’ve had a workout.
And quite aside from the time-saving (which is useful enough) HIIT has been proven to boost your metabolism and keep it boosted for up to 48 hours after you take your feet from the stirrups. Healthline Not too shabby, eh?
So there you have it. No matter what your goal, there’s a good chance a rowing machine will help you reach it.
It will help you burn fat and lose weight.
Help you get fitter, stronger and more toned.
Help you improve the flexibility and mobility of your joints.
Boost your mood and help you ward off stress.
In fact, ask it nice enough it’ll probably brush your teeth for you too!