When long lines form behind the treadmills and ellipticals, head over to the often-ignored rowing machine. This multitasking cardio machine not only torches hundreds of calories, but also tones your body from head to toe. Not only are you getting a low-impact workout, the rowing machine builds lean muscle mass.
A rowing machine is a customizable workout that lets you choose the intensity. Train in a range of zones from fat burning to the highly intensive anaerobic zone. This lets you decide if you want to keep things at a steady, moderate pace to build endurance or push it even harder with some high-intensity intervals to scorch even more calories. A 150-pound woman can burn 504 calories per hour rowing at a moderate intensity. If she bumps that up to a vigorous pace, she can burn 612 calories per hour.
Unlike many other forms of cardio, a rowing machine provides you with a total body workout but in a low-impact environment. This machine supports your body weight as you row, so you avoid any jarring motion. With rowing, there are four phases: the catch, drive, drive end and return. During the return, you engage your calves, hamstrings and erector spinae muscles. During the catch, you engage all of these muscles plus your quadriceps and rhomboids. In the drive, you add in your wrist, chest, trapezius, deltoid, triceps, rectus abdominis and glute muscles. Finally, at the end of the drive, you also engage your biceps and obliques but disengage your calf and glute muscles.
To maximize your workout and avoid injury, proper form is essential. Your rowing stoke should be both smooth and continuous. The seat should slide back and forth, allowing your knees to fully bend and straighten. Begin with your knees bent and your shoulders and arms reaching forward. Hold the handle so it is centered in front of you. Engage your leg muscles and push to straighten your knees. When your legs are nearly straight, bend your elbows and bring the handle towards your upper stomach. Return to the starting position. Avoid letting your knees bend prior to your hands passing over them as you return to the starting position.
If you are new to the rowing machine, aim to do just 15 minutes. After you have rowed for a few weeks or you have a solid fitness base, gradually increase your time on the machine. If you want to up the intensity of your workout, increase your resistance and stroke rate. Avoid combining a high resistance with a slow stroke rate; this can lead to a back injury. On your first stoke, never pull as hard as possible. Take three to five strokes to reach your maximum effort. Include five minutes of slow and easy rowing warm-up to reduce the risk of injury.
Fitzalan Gorman has more than 10 years of academic and commercial experience in research and writing. She has written speeches and text for CEOs, company presidents and leaders of major nonprofit organizations. Gorman has published for professional cycling teams and various health and fitness websites. She has a Master of Arts from Virginia Tech in political science and is a NASM certified personal trainer.