It’s time to row yourself to better health.
As an engaging and cardio-and-strength-combining piece of equipment, rowing machines are immaculate for total-body fitness.
And, rightfully so. While you typically think of exercise bikes and elliptical machines to be the forefront of any gym, rowing machines are the diamond in the rough, especially if you want to focus on boosting your endurance levels and diving into a full-body, immersive workout.
Because rowing machines are certainly the investment to your home gym — much like treadmills — it’s important to understand which features are worth looking into and how to properly row. Ahead, we consulted two professional rowing experts to explain the ins and outs of rowing — from some quality machines they recommend to how to properly work the equipment.
What are the benefits of using a rowing machine?
“Rowing improves your cardiovascular fitness as well as your overall strength and mobility, especially in the hips as the fundamental motion of the stroke is the extension through the legs and hips,” Annie Mulgrew, VP founding instructor of CityRow, told the Post. “Using a rowing machine allows you to get a total body, high-intensity workout (major calorie burn!) that is also low impact, reducing the risk of injury.”
What’s more, rowing eliminates the force that other cardio exercises put on joints, making it one of, if not the best piece of cardio equipment, according to Mulgrew.
What muscles does a rowing machine work?
“Rowing uses 86% of the muscles in your body; it’s a total-body workout that uses all of the major muscle groups including chest, back, shoulders, arms, most significantly, your legs and glutes — which makes it a killer calorie and fat-burning machine,” Mulgrew adds. “Remember, your largest muscle groups use the most energy in order to function- — with the pulportionary part of the rowing stroke being 90% legs and hips. This means [with] each stroke, you’re maximizing your energetic reserves!”
How to use a rowing machine correctly
“The rowing stroke is considered in a four-part process: catch, drive, release (or finish) and recovery,” USRowing Level 2 Coach and UCanRow2 Instructor Nancy Saylor, who has 19 years of professional rowing experience, told the Post.
Below, she highlights exactly an easy-to-follow guide on how to use a rowing machine:
- Catch: This is where the seat is all the way forward with the knees bent, arms straight. If you were in a scull, your blades would be “catching” (dropped into) the water to take a stroke.
- Drive: This is the only phase of the stroke where energy is expended. From the catch position, the legs are engaged by pushing through the heels as the legs straighten and the arms bend.
- Release/Finish: The legs are down flat, arms are bent with hand bringing the handle into the body. “I like to refer to this phase as ‘release’ over ‘finish’ because the word finish tends to make people pause here and there should be no pauses in the rowing stroke,” she adds.
- Recovery: This is the phase where you let the drive phase do it’s work; it’s a rest period. Your body gets set with straight arms and the knees start to bend as the seat moves toward the flywheel in preparation for the next stroke.
Ahead, find the top rowing machines our experts recommend, paired with top-rated rowing machines that fit the bill. And, be sure to check out our expanded, expert-backed FAQ at the end of this guide for more advice and information on rowing.
“If you want to be competitive, Concept2’s monitor can’t be beat for recording and tracking your times and is the industry standard,” Saylor said.
This highly acclaimed rower boasts incredible performance tracking with its monitor, has adjustable footrests and an ergonomic handle for an easy-to-use equipment that’s just over $1,000.
“The WaterRower is a beautiful piece of equipment because it’s made of wood, and stands upright when not in use,” Saylor said.
Be sure to keep in mind that the monitor is a bit slower to respond than the Concept2, though the water tank will add more resistance to your workout.
Enter the Hydrow, the high-performance rower that has an incredible HD display, a paired app to measure your progress and heart rate plus a 10-roller system for effortless drag and operation. Also, it looks incredibly sleek in your home gym and is a perfect quality rower for consistent use, whether you’re a beginner or advanced trainer.
As one of the most popularly searched-for rowers, the Teeter Power10 Rower is the rowing machine and elliptical hybrid you didn’t know you needed. With bi-directional resistance, you’ll engage more muscles than the traditional rower for relatively the same price.
No, rowers don’t have to come with a high ticket price. The Sunny Health & Fitness Magnetic Rowing Machine is one of the best budget rowers out there, which includes an LCD monitor, ergonomic and slip-resistant foot pedals and 16 levels of tension to customize your workouts.
As a top brand for treadmills, there’s no surprise NordicTrack made the cut. Its RW500 Rower is less than $1,000 right now and has an impressively comfortable, molded seat, oversized pivoting pedals with adjustable nylon foot straps and a beautiful display that highlights total strokes, distance and more.
We’re all about the Snode Water Rowing Machine because it features a virtual community that encourages you to hit your fitness goals and according to the experts we spoke with, it’s basically unmatched. This model comes with a trainer-led workout app and stunning display that’ll have you motivated for your full-body rowing workouts.
A wooden beaut, The Ergatta Rower is a splurge-worthy model that looks sharp and classic in your home gym. Notably, its game-based workouts provide fun challenges to your fitness routine while its digital touchscreen makes your sweat session more streamlined.
If you’re working out in a tighter space, look no further than Marcy’s Foldable Regenerating Rower. It’s foldable (which we love) and it still has all the basic features you need to reap the benefits of rowing.
Modern and affordable, Joroto’s Magnetic Rowing Machine has a gorgeous LCD display and is designed with a high-quality aluminum flywheel that’s ideal if you want a smooth row and a quiet workout. Plus, you can render the machine in a standing position for space-saving storage.
All your rowing questions, explained by professional rowers
Is rowing considered a strength workout?
“Yes, rowing is both a cardio and strength workout that uses the power of resistance to build muscle,” Mulgrew said. “The resistance provided in water [rowers] as well as the effort put into the stroke by the rower allows for a much more natural feeling of resistance and helps you get stronger, faster.”
What’s the best way to row while preventing injury?
According to Saylor, “good form and technique” coupled with “knowing your limitations” is important for preventing injury.
“Once you have your technique down, you will be able to work to higher intensities,” Mulgrew adds. “Because of the low impact nature of the rowing machine, the risk of strain to the joints is significantly lower compared to other forms of cardio like running and spinning.”
What are the best rowing exercises for beginners?
“Beginners can start by working on their form and with short intervals of rowing to get a feel for the machine and the movement,” Mulgrew recommends. “You can work your way up by testing out different resistance and stroke rates to find what works for you.”
What are the best rowing exercises for advanced-level athletes?
“Being an advanced rower means that you are able to be consistent in both your stroke rate and your split times,” Mulgrew said. “So, the best advance level rowing workouts are ones that demand higher intensities for longer periods of time.”
What should I look for in a rowing machine?
“If your goal is to be competitive, the monitor is key,” Saylor advises.
“A padded seat will give added comfort during your workout and foldability is key for those living in smaller spaces to stand and store,” Mulgrew adds. “A rower with a waterwheel simulates the experience of rowing on water, which makes for a more natural, organic feeling.”
How often should I row? Should I row every day?
“To feel and see results, you’ll want to be consistent in your rowing workouts by doing at least 30 minutes two to four times a week,” Mulgrew said. “Rowing can be done daily depending on the intensities at which you row (and your own specific goals may have you rowing daily), but it doesn’t have to be done daily to reap all its benefits.”
Plus, consistently committing to two times a week for months at a time is better than burning out after doing seven times a week for only a few weeks, Mulgrew explained.
Can I lose weight by rowing?
“Like all calorie-burning workouts, rowing can result in weight loss if it’s included as part of a healthy lifestyle,” Mulgrew said. “With consistency, you’ll not only lose weight, but rowing’s resistance will help you develop muscles throughout your body. To feel your best, commit to a varied weekly routine that includes rowing as well as strength and mobility workouts.”
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