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How To Get The Most Out Of Indoor Rowing

Today, we will be looking at one of, if not the, best cardio options available in most gyms; the rowing machine

Many people shy away from rowing when it comes to selecting a cardio machine. The combination of it working your entire body, as well as adding a resistance element to the session, make it one of the most challenging options available for your clients.

The thing is, challenging their limits is the only way to push forward and improve. That’s why I’m going to show you how to effectively utilise indoor rowing to get maximise the results from your client’s training

Here are 7 top tips to help you get started on the rowing machine



1. Selecting The Right Damper Settings


Before we get started, you need to make sure the rower is set appropriately for your clients’ ability level. While most traditional cardio machines will feature difficulty settings controlled by raising or lowering the level at the press of a button, a rowing machine works a little differently.

Most machines that you’ll find in a gym use a device called a damper, which is a lever found on the side of the flywheel casing at the front of the machine. It works by controlling the amount of air allowed into the wheel. The higher the number, the more air allowed in, and the greater the resistance produced.

The majority of rowers feature a damper that operates on a range from 1-10. For most of us, the 3-5 range (or just slightly below halfway on un-numbered machines) is the optimal setting for a well-balanced workout. This provides enough resistance to work your muscles, but not so much that it would limit your speed, which is required for the cardiovascular side of the exercise.

If you are looking to provide a greater resistance element to work the muscles harder, then raising the damper level will achieve this. Conversely, if you are after a pure cardio workout, setting it as low as possible will be your best bet.


2. The Correct Rowing Stroke


Unlike most cardio machines, which are pretty straight forward, you need to understand the correct technique to use a rowing machine effectively.

I always tell my clients that they can ensure they’re using the correct technique by always remembering:

  1. Legs
  2. Core
  3. Arms
  4. Arms
  5. Core
  6. Legs

Remembering that simple pattern will ensure you keep in the correct rhythm throughout your session.

When you are in the starting position, you first want to drive with your legs.

When your legs are at full extension, keep your core tight and use your arms to pull the handle into your stomach.

As soon as the handle reaches you, extend the arms again.

Once they are fully extended, relax your legs to return to the starting position.

While it may seem very simplified, using that pattern is an incredibly effective way to remember the rhythm you should be using. However, if you would like a more detailed guide on perfecting your rowing technique, check out this guide from www.startrowing.com.


3. Warm Up


As with any workout, you need to make sure your clients warm-up properly to avoid injury. You want to make sure you get the blood pumping to all the muscles that are going to be used in the workout.

Firstly, set the damper to around 3. This is so your muscles are working but won’t be put under any real strain.

Using the technique outlined above, row for five minutes, aiming for a distance of roughly 500m. This should be plenty of time to make sure your clients are fully warmed up and ready to go.

Get them to row at a steady pace and find their rhythm. They should stick with this for the duration of the warm-up.

I would also point out that this warm-up is effective before any workout, not just a rowing session. This is due to the fact that rowing uses the entire body, so regardless of what you are training that day, a session on the rower is guaranteed to hit it.


4.Vary Workout Intensity


As is true for any workout, ensuring you switch it up, and don’t do the exact same thing every time is essential for keeping it effective. The rower is a perfect piece of equipment when it comes to variety, as there are so many options available to keep things fresh.

  • You can adjust the damper to vary whether a session is more resistance or cardio-based.
  • You can adjust the speed and length of time at which you row to dictate whether it is an aerobic or anaerobic activity.
  • You can also use different combinations of both those adjustments, to produce countless workouts of differing levels.

There are even different styles of training you can use to further expand your choices. You have options such as:

  • Endurance training
  • Interval Training
  • Fartlek Training

With an almost endless number of combinations available, there is never any reason to allow plateaus or boredom to limit you when it comes to rowing. In addition, many rowers such as the models created by Concept2 have built-in workout programs so there is no lack of opportunities to challenge your clients.



5.Tips For Beginners


While constructing an effective workout using what I have laid out so far should seem straightforward, it’s still important not to overlook the basics. Whether it be little tips on form, or simple ways to improve the effectiveness of the session, there are a few important tips for beginners to keep in mind:

  • Make sure you adjust the foot straps before beginning, so you are fully secured throughout the workout
  • Keep your back straight throughout the workout, to limit the chance of injury.
  • Alternate between overhand and underhand grip to switch the way the muscles are targeted.
  • Make sure to stay centralised and in control throughout the workout to avoid tipping over.
  • Keep tension in your core and contract your back muscles as you pull back with your arms.
  • Many rowers come with a program called “fish game”, this is a perfect 5-minute fartlek workout that is effective for both beginners and veterans alike.


6.Rowing Machine Workout Examples


There are, as I previously mentioned, any number of combinations you can build a rowing workout around. That being said, to get you started I will give you a few simple, yet effective, options.


Workout 1 - Interval

0-5 Minutes - Gently warm-up, row roughly 500m. Damper at 1-3.

6-25 Minutes - Alternate 30 seconds high intensity and 30 seconds low intensity. Damper at 3-5.

26-30 Minutes - Cooldown, at a similar level to the warm-up.


Workout 2 – Endurance

Warm-Up - Row 500m with damper at 2-3.

Main Workout - Row at a moderate, consistent pace for 25 minutes with damper at 3-5.

Cool Down - Row at a low intensity for 90 seconds with damper at 3-5.


Workout 3 – Fartlek

If fish game is present: Perform 6 rounds of the game, with damper at 3-5 throughout.

Without fish game: Row for 30 minutes alternating 5-10 low-intensity strokes with 5-10 high-intensity strokes. Damper at 3-5 throughout.



7.Over to You


As I stated at the outset, rowing is an incredible workout, and one that can have a place in any routine, regardless of your client’s goals. With the guidelines I have laid out, you should now be able to maximise its effectiveness in your clients’ sessions. Just make sure you remember some of the most important points.

  1. Make sure you have the damper and foot straps set up properly before you begin.
  2. Remember the correct rhythm
  3. Keep your back straight
  4. Vary your workouts regularly
  5. Always remember to warm up and cool down sufficiently


If you keep all that in mind, your client is guaranteed to have a highly effective, and rewarding workout.



Author Bio:

Liam Coultman is a performance specialist coach, writer and founder of The Speed Project. He enjoys writing fitness articles and often contributes to a number of sport and exercise related sites.