Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Workout Getting Stale? Try a Rowing Machine

Fitting a workout into your daily schedule takes effort. The last thing you want is to set aside some time for the gym, get suited up, and then find that none of the machines you want to use are available. Behind the elliptical machines, treadmills, and stair climbers (people actually use those!) you may have seen one machine that almost never has anyone on it – the rowing machine. Most people don’t know how to properly use a rowing machine, and so they either don’t try or they get on and have a terrible time. The good news for you is that once you’ve read this post you’ll be able to take advantage of the fact that the rowing machine burns more calories in the same amount of time than any of the other cardio machines in the gym. This means that if you’re pressed for time you can get on the rowing machine for just 10 to 20 minutes and get an excellent workout. Keep reading for a description of proper technique on the rowing machine, but first take a look at this video to see what good technique looks like:

Step 1: Strap your feet into the footboards, adjusting their length so that the strap sits at the base of your toes. Your heels should be able to move up and down while the balls of your feet stay anchored. Next, make sure you grasp the handle loosely. Don’t squeeze your hand into a fist, but instead try and keep your hand relaxed and let the handle pull against your fingertips. You’ll begin your stroke at the “catch.” Your body should be fully compressed and ready to pull on the handle – arms fully extended in front of you, leaning forward from the waist with a straight back and knees fully bent. Your knees should be pointing upwards, not to the side, and should fit in the space between the elbows of your outstretched arms.

Step 2: Start the “drive.” The first muscle group you should use is your legs. While keeping your arms extended and your back straight, push your knees down as if you were doing a squat. It’s important during this step to make sure the angle of your back stays constant – don’t let your butt shoot out behind you when you push down with your legs.

Step 3: Once your hands start to pass over your knees, start extending your back – make sure to keep your back straight and move from the waist. Think of your back as moving like a metronome – you started the stroke leaning forward, and this is the part where you transition into leaning backwards. Continue extending your legs until they’re straight out in front of you.

Step 4: Once your back passes the point where it’s perpendicular to the floor, start pulling with your arms. You should try and pull in your arms using your mid-back muscles, like when you’re doing a pull-up. You should be able to visualize squeezing your shoulder blades together. If you pull with your shoulders and upper back you’ll tire much more quickly.

Step 5: Continue pulling the handle with your arms until it hits just above your belly button. At this point your legs should be fully extended and you should be leaning backwards, just a few degrees past vertical. When the handle hits your stomach your elbows should be extended outwards, like chicken wings, not straight behind you. Once the handle hits your body you’re at the “finish.”

Step 6: To return to the catch (the start of the stroke), reverse the process that got you to the finish – first let the handle pull your arms forward, then bend forward at the waist, then start bending your knees until you’re back where you started. It’s important to stay relaxed and keep in mind that this is the resting part of the stroke – you shouldn’t be exerting energy to get back to the catch, but instead let the natural tension on the handle do the work for you. This should also be the slower part of your stroke – if you count to one during the drive, you should be able to count to two during the recovery.

Most rowing machines have several display modes. The standard display should show you the amount of time you’ve been rowing, the distance you’ve gone, your pace (in strokes per minute), and your speed (measured in the amount of time it would take you to move 500 meters at your current pace). If you’re starting out, don’t worry about the speed. The best thing to focus on is your pace – a good learning pace is about 18 strokes per minute. Once you’ve settled into a pace you can choose to row for either a set amount of time or distance – 2000 meters is considered a standard sprint workout and 5000 meters is a pretty standard endurance workout. If you want to focus on time instead, a short sprint workout could take around 8 minutes while an endurance workout would take about 20.

Remember to go slow. When you’re starting out, it’s better to take your time on the stroke until you feel comfortable with your form before picking up the pace. Even if you feel like you’re going slowly you’re probably still getting a better workout than the people on either side of you. And you’re definitely getting a better workout than the people standing around waiting for a machine.

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