Restoring your cardio indoors can feel like an uphill battle. Running can be a great way to get from point A to B outdoors, but once you take your workout inside the gym or even to your living room, you will find yourself on a treadmill. These machines can make your cardio workouts a boring, sloppy nightmare reminiscent of a scientific lab study (there is a reason why people refer to them as “dreadmills”). The same goes for stationary bikes, especially if you’re not the type of person who appreciates the over-spicy, #fitspo-powered boutique class setup that has become the norm for spinning. If you want to get a good cardio workout on a stationary machine that will push your heart rate, use various muscle groups and engage your brain, you need to consider the rowing machine.
Stationary rowers take a centuries-old movement pattern (people have been rowing in ships and boats since ancient times) and transform it into a fitness environment, no water needed. Yes, the rower can be just as repetitive as other cardio implements – but if you know what you’re doing, you can modulate your workout to make it more engaging than the same old cycling and running sessions. What’s more, the pulling movement involves large muscles in your back, posterior chain and even your arms, giving you some strength training benefits while you sweat.
There is more than one reason why rowing machines appear in all kinds of fitness protocols, from basic warm-ups to an integral role in some of CrossFit’s toughest workouts.
“Indoor rowing is an excellent low-impact option for improving cardiovascular fitness and muscle endurance,” says Hollis Tuttle, CITYROW Going Head Instructor in New York City. “As it is a low-impact sport, rowing reduces the risk of damage to weight-bearing joints, such as hips, ankles and knees, which tend to be prone to injuries and soreness when doing high-impact sports.”
Hollis adds that rowing is a viable workout for all abilities, ages, sizes and fitness levels.
“Since rowing promotes improvements in both your muscle strength and cardiovascular power, you get two for one,” Tuttle notes. Here are four amazing benefits you can get by adding rowing machine workouts to your routine (if you need one for your home gym, check out our list of 20 of the best).
Rowing is a great warm-up
“Proper warm-up is the key to a successful workout; it should prepare your heart, muscles, joints and mind for the more difficult endeavors that come,” says Tuttle.
Warming up on a rowing machine will help prepare you for a safe, effective workout.
“Since rowing is a safe total body movement, it is a perfect warm-up activity, even if your program for the day does not include rowing.”
Rowing adds variation to your workout
Since rowing is a low-impact sport, it means you can do a high-intensity rowing workout without putting a ton of stress on your body.
“For example, your body will not tolerate the same level of impact if you row ten 400-meter sprints at the same intensity with 85 maximum intensities. The possibility of injury during the completion of sprints will also be much less than running sprints, ”says Tuttle.
Since you will be beating your body less, it will take less time to recover between hard rowing workouts than, for example, equally challenging running exercises.
“I personally benefited a lot from rowing when I returned from a broken tibia. I simply switched my running program to the rower — I attached my heart rate monitor and rowed the set distances to the correct heart rate zones. It has enabled me to improve my cardiovascular system and keep my muscles strong while I recover, and for that I am grateful, ”she notes.
Just remember, this does not mean you have to keep rowing when you are really injured. Be sure to clarify any activity with your doctor or physiotherapist first.
Rowing can help you get out
On top of that, rowing can also help you get in a mentally healthy place, as you have less external stimuli, compared to other workouts like running outside.
“Rowing can be very meditative,” Tuttle says. “Once warm and a comfortable rhythm is established, you can close your eyes, connect your breath to your body and simply enjoy the gift of movement.”
And if you do not have much time, it is a good exercise to burn calories fast.
“Compared to indoor cycling, you will burn more calories in indoor rowing, assuming both activities are done at the same level of intensity,” says Tuttle. “In other words, it’s a great option when you do not have much time.”
Rowing is a wonderful finisher
If you want to end your workout with an explosive finish, climbing on the rower can serve as the perfect burnout activity.
“It’s hard to pass a good 5 to 10 minute long EMOM ride (Every minute on the minute) 100 to 200 meters, depending on your fitness and skill level,” says Tuttle. “Each attempt should be about 90 percent maximum intensity and your goal is to finish with 20 seconds or more to recover before the top of the next minute.”
This is a great way to track your fitness progress.
“As you improve your fitness and skill, you can increase the distance covered in each minute, increase the number of sets, or both,” says Tuttle. “Do not forget to keep track of your progress and celebrate the small victories along the way!”
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