Move aside, spinning. Indoor rowing is an overlooked — and superior — workout. Don’t let the comfortable sliding seat mislead you: Rowing can be an intense boost to cardio fitness and weight loss, while also toning muscles and strengthening bones and joints. And the surge of endorphins? You’ll thank us later.
Push (and Pull!) Your Limits
Rowing is indispensable among the cults of CrossFit and Orangetheory, and dedicated rowing studios are popping up like Starbucks. Clearly, the secret is out: Rowing is among the more efficient exercises you can do. “With each stroke, pretty much every part of the body is used. People think it’s all arms, but rowing is much more legs and core,” says Stella Lucia Volpe, professor and chair of nutrition sciences at Drexel University, who in addition to being an exercise physiologist is an avid rower.
Garrett Roberts, founder of GoRow Studios in Hoboken, New Jersey, agrees. “Rowing is a full-body exercise, and it keeps the heart rate elevated. Unlike a bike, which has resistance in only one direction, rowing has resistance in both directions — forward and back — making you much stronger and increasing the rate at which you burn calories.” He notes that rowing burns two to three times more calories than spinning. Rowing devotees thrive on this efficiency (and the fact that they’re working 86 percent of upper and lower muscles versus cycling’s average of 44 percent), allowing them shorter workouts without sacrificing results.
Unleash Your Power
Before you start moving fast and furiously, take heed. Rowing is about power, not speed. Ease into it, focusing on your wattage (aka the power you are producing) and control your strokes. The intensity of the workout is influenced by how much you use your legs, back, and arms to move the handle. It’s all about distribution of power throughout the stroke: 60 percent legs, 20 percent core, 20 percent arms is ideal. If you’re pulling with only your arms, you won’t get nearly as much out of the workout. If the workout feels easy, you are not pulling to your potential; if it’s too challenging, you are in control of lessening that burden.
Studies at Washington University’s School of Medicine and more recently by Andrew Hamilton, a member of the Royal Society of Chemistry and the American College of Sports Medicine, reveal that aging bodies can greatly benefit from rowing, given its impact on osteoporosis and bone health. Rowing can also help you develop lean muscle mass, which correlates to increased bone mineral density.
Physical gains aside, it’s the mental health impact that is immeasurable. Rowers often report a sense of Zen brought about by the fluidity and repetition.
Stave Off Boredom
Consistent exercise is key to our health, but we all hit a wall at some point. Rowing is a solution for combating boredom and adding momentum to any existing routine. Design workouts as you wish, with goals set in time, distance, or calories. Or create challenges such as increasing pace, faster splits, or longer distances without a break. Rowers feature phenomenal tools to measure goals — and celebrate successes.
Row at Home
As evidenced by the Peloton craze, our overscheduled lives benefit when exercises is accessible. Here are some tools to ensure your success when rowing alone at home.
Ergstick: plugs directly into Concept2 monitors, using Bluetooth to transmit your every stroke to your phone. It’s compatible with all heart rate monitors.
Hydro rowing machine: the $2,399 reality rower facilitates streaming outdoor classes. With a $38/month subscription, you get access to instructors (including those from the United States National Rowing Team) who escort you down iconic rivers for live classes an recorded on-demand classes.