Getting your cardio fix indoors can feel like an uphill battle. Running can be a great way to get from Point A to B in the great outdoors, but once you take your workout inside the gym or even to your living room, you’ll find yourself on a treadmill. These machines can make your cardio workouts a boring, sloggy nightmare reminiscent of a scientific lab study (there’s a reason people refer to them as “dreadmills,” after all). The same goes for stationary bikes, especially if you’re not the type of person who appreciates the overly-peppy, #fitspo fueled boutique class setup that’s 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 multiple muscle groups, and engage your brain, you should consider the rowing machine.
Stationary rowers take an age-old movement pattern (people have been rowing in ships and boats since time immemorial) and transposes it into a fitness setting, no water required. 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 stale biking and running sessions. What’s more, the pulling movement engages big muscles in your back, posterior chain, and even your arms, giving you some strength training benefits as you sweat.
There’s more than one reason why rowing machines show up in all kinds of fitness protocols, from basic warmups to serving an integral role in some of CrossFit’s toughest workouts.
“Indoor rowing is an excellent low-impact option for improving cardiovascular fitness and muscular endurance,” says Hollis Tuttle, CITYROW Go Lead Instructor in New York City. “Since 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 injury 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 to both your muscular strength and cardiovascular strength, you get two for one,” notes Tuttle. Here are four great benefits you can get from 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 Warmup
“A proper warmup is key to having a successful workout; it should prepare your heart, muscles, joints, and mind for the harder efforts to come,” says Tuttle.
Warming up on a rowing machine will help prep you for a safe, efficient training session.
“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, that means you can do a high-intensity rowing workout without putting a ton of stress on your body.
“For example, your body will not endure the same level of impact rowing ten 400-meter sprints at 85 max intensity as it would while running ten 400-meter sprints at the same intensity. The possibility of injury while completing rowing sprints will also be a lot less than running sprints,” notes Tuttle.
Since you’ll be beating your body up less, it will take less time to recover between hard rowing workouts than equally challenging running workouts, for example.
“Personally, I greatly benefited from rowing when returning from a fractured tibia. I simply converted my running program to the rower—I strapped on my heart rate monitor and rowed the set distances in the correct heart rate zones. This enabled me to enhance my cardiovascular system and keep my muscles strong while recovering, and for this I am grateful,” she notes.
Just remember, this doesn’t mean that you should keep rowing when you’re actually injured. Make sure to clear any activity with your doctor or physical therapist first.
Rowing Can Help You Zen Out
Plus, rowing can also help you to get into a mentally healthy place since you have fewer external stimuli, compared to other workouts like running outside.
“Rowing can be super meditative,” says Tuttle. “Once warm and a comfortable rhythm has been established, you can close your eyes, connect your breath to your body, and simply enjoy the gift of movement.”
And if you don’t have a lot of time, it’s a great exercise to burn calories fast.
“Compared to indoor cycling, you will burn more calories indoor rowing, assuming that both activities are done at the same level of intensity,” says Tuttle. “In other words, it is a great option when you don’t have a lot of time.”
Rowing Is a Great Finisher
If you’re looking to end your workout with an explosive finish, getting on the rower can serve as the perfect burnout activity.
“It’s hard to pass up a good 5 to 10-minute long EMOM (Every Minute On the Minute) row 100 to 200 meters, depending upon your fitness and skill level,” says Tuttle. “Each effort should be about 90 percent max 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. “Don’t forget to track your progress and celebrate the little victories along the way!”
Emily Shiffer is a freelance health and wellness writer living in Pennsylvania.
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