When you walk into a gym for the first time there is a lot to take in, lots of mirrors, weights and lots of cardio machines. It can all be a little too much for some people and they are left thinking “where do I start?”. Well I have the answer to this question and it may not be what you expect it to be! Alongside the ‘all singing and dancing’ treadmills, the upright bikes as well as the steppers there is a machine that can give you all the benefits of the above and more!
The machine I am talking about is the indoor rowing machine, there are lots on the market but the one that I am going to talk about today is the CONCEPT2 rowing machine. Now excuse my bias on the subject of this amazing machine, it is an fabulous piece of cardio equipment but only when you know how to use it properly! In this weeks blog I am going to try and get as many of you as I can to jump on the rower next time your at your gym and take it for a ‘row’! If you work at perfecting your technique on this machine your strength, aerobic capacity and body shape will all change and improve.
The Concept2 indoor rower is used by many as purely a warm-up machine, I have had many new clients come to their first session with me and say that their last PT put them on it to warm up! Now letting the client sit on it for a gentle row to slowly warm up before their main weights or cardio session is perfectly fine and I practice this in my own sessions. What I don’t agree with is putting the client on it and giving them 10 reps of 30 secs on and 30 secs rest where they are thrashing about for most of it, increasing the risk of injury to their lower back! A Lot of PTs (I am not generalising either!) think that the rowing stroke is all upper body when in fact it around 60% legs, 30% hips and around 10% arms. When people are told this they are usually surprised as they think the stroke is all about pulling but I am here to tell you the stroke is all about PUSHING!
You see, you push with your legs then open your hips and swing your back on the drive back, thus, giving you the power in your stroke and the handle should be the last thing you bring to you, it should feel light so no tugging is needed. If you watch a person that has perfected the indoor rowing stroke you will see a smooth rhythmic action where there doesn’t appear to there being much force applied in the stroke as the rower always seems relaxed, but if you take a look at the screen 9\10 the pace is quick but the power is being applied from the legs and the hip swing so when there’s no pulling of the handle it makes the stroke smoother and effortless - it really is a thing of beauty to watch!
I have been rowing for around 4 years now and I am still watching my technique, videoing myself every couple of weeks to try and maintain my good form. Once you lose that then it's all downhill, the energy expenditure in the stroke will get higher but it will be wasted as you are either
-overreaching at the beginning of the stroke, so your shins are in front of your ankles- they should be vertical
-Your posture at the beginning of the stoke is too upright so your bottom is under your shoulders when you really want your shoulders in front of your bottom, this will give you the power when you swing those hips back on the drive making the handle come to you easier and without yanking it.
-leaning far too back at the end of the drive - this is a serious fault as it can lead to lower back issues but also wasting of energy as its going to take you longer to get back to the beginning through the recovery
-your shoulders maybe rounded as your hunching over on the recovery back instead of swinging forward from the hips much like a deadlift hinge - this again will cause injury in the middle, upper back and could cause shoulder pain.
-Your pulling from your shoulders so your lats aren’t activated - again this can lead to shoulder pain, and a tight upper back - I sometimes envisage pulling from under my armpits when trying to make sure my lats are doing the necessary work.
All the above are only a few of the faults that we can all suffer from once in a while, as the rowing stroke is always a work in progress, you will also find that your form suffers when you perform a particularly challenging session, but you can still be mindful to keep it in check, if you do this risk of your risk of injury will be decreased tenfold!
Now you have the basics of the rowing stroke, lets get some sessions done, What are your goals for training, sprinting, endurance or long distance? All of these kinds of sessions are easily doable on an indoor rower much like the treadmill but without the pressure on your joints. Indoor rowing is a great low impact cardio exercise so fantastic for all ages, it helps posture, core strength and builds stamina, it really is a machine that offers it all! If you have an injury caused by running so can’t get out to tread the pavements the indoor rower is a great tool for injury rehabilitation too!
The popular distances to row are 2km, 5km and 10km but there are also 1\2 marathons and full marathons that can be rowed too. The best piece of advice I have regarding training is to have a goal distance and you can build on it every week. So say 5km is the distance you want to improve, first of all you need to build up your stamina, start off with 2km and add on 1000 every time you row, use a moderate pace and when you get to 5km you have your baseline pace per average 500m split to work from. Keep a note of the time and try and beat it every time, you will be surprised how quickly you progress! To help you with achieving your targets there are lots free training plans out there such as ‘Pete’s plan’ which is easily found on the internet, it's simple to follow for beginners and will have you rowing a 5km in a great time if you commit to the task and use the rower consistently! There are also some remote indoor rowing coaches that will send you sessions weekly to perform in your own time and then give you feedback, the choice on how to train is yours!
SO next time you walk into the gym and see the indoor rower seat empty, jump on it and have a try, you may even like it!