Effectiveness of Rowing Machines for Fitness

Effectiveness of Rowing Machines for Fitness

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The rowing machine is a hidden gem in many gyms.

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When you walk into the cardio section of your gym, you often find rows of treadmills, exercise bikes and steppers. Once in a while, however, you might also find a rowing machine tucked away somewhere. Rowers, also known as ergometers, aren't prominent in health clubs and rarely will you find more than one or two. It's even more rare to find someone actually using them. These things might lead you to believe that rowing machines provide a sub-par workout -- but that couldn't be further from the truth. Rowers provide an amazing, calorie-incinerating, cardiovascular workout, making them a worthwhile addition to your fat-burning, muscle-building arsenal.

The Benefits

According to Frederick Hagerman, director of the Work Physiology Lab at Ohio University, the rowing machine is a calorie-burning king that puts both running and cycling to shame. In fact, rowing burns 10 to 15 percent more calories than cycling at the same level of exertion. This is because the rower is a total-body workout, involving more muscles than most other sports or exercises. The primary muscles worked are the quadriceps, hamstrings and gluteals, but the shoulders, back and arms also get in on the action. Rowing is a great core workout because the abdominals are engaged throughout the entire motion. Because the rowing machine is a low-impact exercise, it's a great option for those with joint issues.

Why So Unpopular?

So with all these benefits, why isn't there a line of people waiting to use rowing machines? The main reason, according to rowing coach Noel Wanner, is that most people just don't know how to use them. Others may shy away from rowers because they provide a challenging workout, and some people just want to slump over a treadmill. Also, for those who prefer distractions to pass the time, the rowing machine isn't conducive to reading or watching television.

Proper Use

In the starting position, known as the "catch," the knees are bent, shoulders and arms are reaching forward, and shins are vertical. Initiate the "drive" phase of the movement by pushing your feet against the machine's platform, straightening the legs until there is just a slight bend in the knees. Begin to pull the handle toward your lower chest by bending your elbows as you lean slightly backward, keeping your back straight. Initiate the recovery phase by returning to the starting position. The motion of rowing should be fluid and continuous.


If you're just getting started, the American College of Sports Medicine recommends starting out slowly with a five-minute warm up, followed by a 15-minute workout and a five-minute cool down. Steady rowing will provide an efficient endurance workout, especially if you increase the machine's resistance. If you're short on time or are more interested in high-intensity training, the rower is the perfect choice for intervals. You can perform simple timed intervals, such as rowing at your maximum exertion for 30 seconds and then recovering for 30 seconds. You can also perform intervals based on strokes. For instance, perform 15 strokes at maximum intensity, then recover by rowing for 30 seconds at 50 percent of your maximum effort. Follow that with an interval of 20 strokes at maximum intensity, then 25, and so on.

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