Rowing isn’t just for Ivy league prep school coeds dressed from head to toe in Ralph Lauren. While rowing is certainly a popular high school and college sport, especially in New England, the sport of rowing is for everyone. And, you don’t need to hop on one of those intimidating little boats with four other people to reap the benefits of rowing.
The Benefits of Rowing Workouts and Fitness
Rowing is the ultimate full body cardio workout. Annie Mulgrew, program director at City Row in New York City, explains, “rowing is a total-body workout that works 84% of the muscles in your body.” To the beginner’s eye, rowing appears to be all about upper-body strength, but that couldn’t be further from the true. Rowing, when done correctly, is all about pushing with your legs and engaging your core muscles.
Similar to indoor cycling, rowing is low impact and you get to control the intensity of the workout. Since 2013, rowing has exploded in the fitness world with rowing classes and even rowing gyms opening up left and right in the big cities. Why is rowing so popular? Because it’s one heck of a workout. Auburn University exercise science professor, Michele Olson, says that rowing at five miles an hour offers the same calorie burn as running on a treadmill at 6.7 miles per hour. It burns more calories than even spinning!
Rowing Weight Loss and Fat Burning Potential
Rowing has major weight loss and fat burning potential. Why do you think it’s so popular in CrossFit and gyms across America? An hour of rowing can burn between 400-800 calories. That’s more than spinning!
Of course, an hour of rowing is not for the faint of heart. Rowing is a very cardiovascular-targeted workout and you need to start slow and build your endurance. Thankfully, you have ultimate control on how hard or not you work during your workout.
Rowing Toning and Muscle Building Potential
Most people think rowing is an upper body workout. Anyone who has tried rowing before knows that is far from the truth. Unlike spinning where you use 95% legs and 5% upper body, rowing utilizes about 60% legs and 40% upper body. That means you’re using almost your entire body during a rowing workout.
Let’s break it down. Rowing works nine major muscle groups, including your quads, hamstrings, glutes, lats, core, shoulders, triceps, back, and biceps. That’s essentially your entire body!
Instructional Rowing Videos and Training Tips
One of the best perks about rowing is that anyone can learn it in under 10 minutes. However, form is extremely important in rowing. If you don’t row with the correct form, you can hurt yourself.
The best way to learn the correct rowing form is by taking a class or working with a trainer. If you don’t have access to either then we’ll cover the basics here.
There are three important concepts that you need to master in order to have the perfect rowing form: order, power, and timing.
When it comes to rowing, you need to master order or else you could injury yourself. Since rowing is a total body exercise, many beginners think that legs and arms must move all at the same time. Rowing is a linear progression, meaning your muscles will work at a different time during the stroke. Remember this, legs, core, arms, arms, core, and legs. You’ll see why soon enough.
The power distribution in rowing is not equal throughout your body. Instead it is disturbed between your legs, core, and arms. About 60% of your power comes from your legs, 20% from your core, and 20% from your arms. Many beginners make the mistake by using their arms for power, but you’ll find that you tire quickly. Use those legs!
Just like dance, rowing is all about the count. Most beginners believe rowing is a one count out and one count in movement, but in reality, it’s a three-count movement. Rowing is a one count out and two counts in movement. Jay Blahnik, IndoRow and ShockWave co-creator, tells students to say “Power, patience, patience” to help them remember the one count out and two counts in movement.
How to Row
- Start in the “catch” position. In the catch position, your knees should be bent, back straight, butt back, and arms reaching forward. Your seat should be close to your heels.
- To start the stroke, drive yourself backwards through your feet while leaning back slightly.
- Once you’re leaning back at a 45-degree angle with legs out straight, pull the bar to the top of your upper abs, or just below your bra line, while keeping your elbows lifted. Remember to keep your shoulders down and pinch your shoulder blades together.
- Pause for a second.
- For the return movement, you’ll work in reserve order. Extend your arms first before your torso follows. While keeping your core engaged, bend your knees so you return to the catch position.
Don’t get frustrated if you can’t master rowing in 10 minutes. There is a lot that goes into rowing form. Just remember: legs, core, arms, arms, core, legs.
And, practice makes perfect.
Classes: What to expect; should I take them?
In the recent years rowing has become an increasingly popular exercise with tons of new rowing studios and classes popping up all over the United States. Many gyms have rowing machine and you’ll always find rowers in CrossFit gyms as rowing is a big part of their training methods.
Major cities, like New York, Chicago, and Boston, all have rowing specific studios like City Row, Renegade Rowing, and Iron & Oar. Equinox gyms have designed a unique class called Shockwave that incorporates short bursts of rowing into a traditional bootcamp class.
If you’re taking a rowing class for the first time, it’s important to work at your fitness level. Don’t be the hero and go crazy the first day. Rowing is an intense sport. Additionally, during your first class, focus on mastering the rowing form. Once you have the order, power, and timing down then you can start to add speed and intensity to your rowing workout.
Bring lots of water as you will sweat buckets load!
Total Body HIIT Rowing Workout
Warm-up: 10-minute easy row
Main Set: Round #1 – 10 x 30 sec sprint (max effort), 30 sec easy row
2 minutes of bodyweight or dumbbell squats
1 min rest
Round #2 – 10 x 30 sec sprint (max effort), 30 sec easy row
2 minutes of push-ups
1 min rest
Round #3 – 10 x 30 sec sprint (max effort), 30 sec easy row
2 minutes of crunches or other core exercises
1 min rest
Cool Down: 5 minutes easy rowing
Total Time: 54 minutes
Clothes and Proper Attire
You don’t need any special clothing or footwear for rowing. Just wear comfortable athletic clothing that you would normally wear to the gym.
Rowing is fun, intense full-body workout that will burn calories and tone your muscles. It’s low impact, similar to indoor cycling, but unlike indoor cycling, it works both your upper and lower body in almost equal ratios.
Rowing is easy to learn and can be scaled for all fitness levels. It’s important to master the correct rowing form to ensure you don’t end up injured. Any instructor or trainer can help you with your form. Due to its fat burning potential and total body toning, rowing has become a very popular form of exercise and there are a ton of new rowing studios and classes popping up across the country.