The rowing machine doesn't get a lot of love at the gym. After all, with easier-to-use pieces of equipment such as the treadmill and elliptical available, hopping on a rower can seem dicey when you don't know what you're doing. But a rowing machine can contribute to a killer leg workout while raising your heart rate for a cardio workout as well. Just make sure you know what you're doing so your foray into rowing doesn't turn you into an injured landlubber.
Before you even sit down on a rowing machine, you should have a good grasp of the proper technique. Start by sitting in the seat and rolling yourself -- by walking your feet -- up to the front of the machine. Place your feet in the holds and position yourself so your shines are perpendicular to the ground. Grab ahold of the handle bar. To complete your first row -- called the "drive phase" -- push back with your feet rather than pulling with your arms. Push until your legs straighten and then hinge at the hips as you pull the bar tight to your chest. You can then enter the recovery phase by allowing the tension from the handle cord to carry your hands out to your knees. Begin bending your knees until you come back to start position, with your shins vertical.
The wrong posture on a rowing machine does more than just make you look bad -- it could result in injury. Remember that a rowing machine is a leg-based machine. Yanking on the handle with your arms means you're doing the exercise wrong. Instead, your body should maintain a fluid motion, with the power coming from your legs. Your back should remain straight and never hunched or curved during the process. Instead, focus on hinging at the hips to catch and pull the handle while your legs drive the process.
You might feel like an Olympic-status athlete, but that doesn't mean you're an Olympic rower just yet. Starting with a lower resistance gives you time to adjust and perfect your form. A beginner should be starting at a resistance of around two to three. As you improve over time, you can adjust your resistance so that you're completing 20 to 25 rows per minute. Rowing on a rowing machine shouldn't be about speed, but killer technique and tons of power and strength.
If you're less than enthralled with the same back-and-forth motion of the rowing machine, don't let boredom deter you from getting a killer workout. Instead, vary your speed or resistance to change up your workout and get the most out the routine. For instance, you could try five minutes at a slower pace and higher resistance and then dial back the resistance and pick up the pace for one minute. A varied routine can help raise your heart rate and keep you engaged so you can easily complete a 10- to 20-minute rowing session.
Kay Ireland specializes in health, fitness and lifestyle topics. She is a support worker in the neonatal intensive care and antepartum units of her local hospital and recently became a certified group fitness instructor.