It’s a crosstrain day. I look around the gym to see my cardio options – I see a couple of stairsteppers, plenty of ellipticals and exercise bikes and in the corner, is a lone and rarely used, rowing ergometer (erg).
I wonder why the erg is an unpopular choice in my gym. Are people unfamiliar with the many ways an erg can improve the major elements of fitness? From your cardiovascular capacity to muscular strength and endurance, as well as flexibility and body composition.
The erg has been my preferred mode of cross training especially when I’m short on time. A 2000m row done at a moderate to high effort literally takes my breath away.
My first experience with rowing was back in college when I joined the rowing team without much knowledge of what it took to be a rower. All I knew was I get to be in a boat and I need to row in sync with the rest of the team. First day of practice, I noticed at 5’1″and less than 100lbs, I was the smallest one on the team. When I tried to help carry the boat, it was awkward for me since everyone else was much taller. When I rowed the force of the water against my oar was much more I could even handle. That first practice let me know this sport was not for me. I didn’t leave the team the next day though – I stayed for a couple of weeks and experienced a few torturous workouts on the erg. Eventually the coach offered me the position of a coxswain – I think that’s what he intended in the first place since my size fit the bill. However just sitting in the boat as a director and motivator for the rowers wasn’t for me.
From that experience, I learned that rowing is an excellent workout, both satisfying the strength and cardiovascular components of fitness.
How does rowing improve the five components of fitness?
1. Cardiovascular – increases VO2max due to the significant mass of body muscle used when rowing. Studies have also shown the role it plays in increasing mitochondrial density over time. These two factors are a huge benefit for runners.
2. Muscular Strength – both lower and upper body is used while rowing equivalent to about 70% of the muscle mass used. Rowing is perceived as an upper body workout but your glutes, quads and hamstrings are also engaged during the ‘drive’ phase of the stroke when the knees and hips are extended.
3. Muscular Endurance – just like running, rowing is a repetitive form of exercise. Therefore the continuous and numerous repetitions of force against resistance develop muscular endurance.
4. Flexibility – The recovery phase of the stroke plays a role in improving flexibility in the posterior chain especially the hamstring. Recovery starts after the pull with the upper body and arms engaged with the legs fully extended. To recover, the arms are extended first then the hips are hinged and trunk is moved over the legs. The knees are bent last. It’s important to have control when recovering up the slide, so your hamstrings do the work eccentrically to slow it down.
5. Body Composition – as already discussed, rowing is a total body workout. Because it’s low impact and more gentle on joints, it’s an excellent choice for building muscle and improving aerobic capacity.
With all these benefits to your fitness, what’s not to love about rowing?!
Have you tried rowing? What is your favorite cardio machine?
Resource: IDEA Fitness Journal “Row Stronger”, by Jacque Crockford, MS