Forget your elliptical machines and treadmills for torching fat and getting fitter -- the rower is the new cardio kid on the block. Not only does rowing incorporate upper-body muscles that most other forms of cardio neglect, it can burn 50 percent more calories than an elliptical workout, says Danielle McNally of "Shape" magazine. Like any cardio though, it's not necessarily what machine you use, but how you use it. The key is to make your rowing workout as effective as possible to keep your gym time to a minimum and results to a maximum.
Interval training combines all-out high-intensity bursts of rowing with slightly more sedate resting periods. Rowing instructor Anna Cummins recommends getting your feet wet -- though not literally -- with a 20-minute interval session. Warm up for three minutes at a steady pace, then row for three minutes at an intensity level of around five to six out of 10. Increase this slightly to a level six for the next two minutes, then do one minute at level seven. Take a minute to stretch out, before jumping back on the rower. Go at level six for four minutes, level seven for three minutes, then blast your way to a level eight to nine for a gruelling minute. Finish with a two minute cool-down. You can make this easier or harder by changing your effort levels or playing around with the timings.
Time for Tabata
You may think that four minutes isn't enough time to get in an effective rowing session, but you clearly haven't heard of Tabata. Start with a few minutes of light rowing to warm up, then work at maximum intensity for 20 seconds, before easing back and going steady for the next 10 seconds. Repeat this eight times. Tabata is a great option when you're pressed for time and considering skipping the gym altogether, notes personal trainer Callie Durbrow of Durbrow Performance Training.
Going the Distance
If you fancy something a little different and want to give yourself a test, try rowing for a set distance. The most common racing distance is 2,000 meters, notes strength coach Sally Moss, but 5,000 and 10,000 meters are good choices if you want to go a little longer. Opt for 250, 500 and 750 meters if sprinting's more your thing. The best thing about rowing a certain distance is you can time yourself and aim to beat it every workout.
Tips and Pointers
Vary which type of rowing workout you use. If you're splitting up weights and cardio sessions then performing three rowing workouts per week, or if you'd rather combine the two, then hop on the rower after a total-body weights session. Your strokes on the rower should be fluid and smooth, advises Moss. Keep your chest and head up to avoid rounding your back and push hard with your legs to initiate momentum on every pull. While these workouts are designed for an indoor rowing machine, there's no reason why you can't brave the great outdoors, join a local rowing club and replicate them on the open water.
Mike Samuels started writing for his own fitness website and local publications in 2008. He graduated from Peter Symonds College in the UK with A Levels in law, business and sports science, and is a fully qualified personal trainer, sports massage therapist and corrective exercise specialist with accreditations from Premier Global International.