Every now and then, a fitness regime emerges and becomes all of a sudden so popular despite the fact that it has been around for ages. Rowing is one such fitness trend that has transitioned out of water into gyms and homes and, in a short period of time, has gained an almost cult following which includes the likes of Nicole Kidman, Jason Statham and Kevin Bacon. If you are a fan of the fantastic Netflix show House of Cards, you probably remember Kevin Spacey’s character Frank Underwood exercising, between meetings with heads of state, on the rowing machine his wife bought him. Rowing is one of the very few exercises that are both aerobic and anaerobic, it is an incredible fat burner and it really does engage almost every single muscle in your body. To quote Garrett Roberts, an exercise physiologist, personal trainer and the founder of GoRow Studios in Hoboken, New Jersey: “Rowing burns two to three times the amount of calories of Spinning.”

So, let us explain in bit more detail the benefits and the reasons why you should consider rowing which is considered by many as the unsung hero of the fitness world. This just might be the thing that will change your fitness routine forever.

1- Mental benefits

Let’s face it. Rowing is not easy. It requires real effort and dedication if you really want to make it work. It also demands a certain level of mental toughness that is higher than in other fitness regimes. Some of the most mentally strongest athletes out there – from MMA fighters to the Ironman competitors – swear by rowing and these guys know how mentally challenging serious exercise can be. Rowing can certainly help you with building mental strength because it requires of you to be steadfast, persistent and dedicated. And it certainly is not for wimps and quitters, excuse the choice of words. Another thing that rowing does is build confidence. Setting your personal record at the rowing machine in your local gym will do wonders for your ego and will give you a fresh boost of self-esteem which will rub off on other areas of your life. Let’s not even talk about rowing reducing stress to the almost non-existent level. It is also excellent for relaxation and meditation, to clear one’s mind and to help one sleep.

Waterrower gym

2 – Health benefits

Oh, this is going to be quite a long list…. Let’s just say that, when you take up rowing, you will row your way to a longer life. There is a huge body of scientific evidence which shows that rowing can incredibly improve your health providing that you are serious and steadfast about it. Case studies have proven that rowing is a superb method for building all around muscular endurance, it improves the heart function, lung and circulation systems, it increases bone density which is great news for people suffering from or being at risk of osteoporosis, it burns fat (Did you know that the body fat of world-class rowers is only 10%?), it eliminates cellulite, and it reduces stress, anxiety and blood pressure. A study conducted by Harvard University shows that a person who weighs around 190 pounds can burn up to 377 calories by rowing for only half an hour.

Also, rowers have the highest absolute maximum oxygen uptakes of any athletes in the world and the highest intakes of air of up to 300 litres per minute. Can you imagine what a wonderful effect that has on your body? And you are doing all of this by sitting down while the risk of injury is very little. Because rowing is a smooth, rhythmic activity it is completely impact free. It is also quite versatile – you can row indoors or outdoors, competitively or easily. It’s up to you. The only requirement is that you enjoy yourself. Additionally, rowing is a very time-efficient workout since you can accomplish a lot in less time.

Last but not least, your posture will drastically improve. How many of us can say that we have excellent posture, ballet dancers excluded? Like most people, you are probably a hunchback in making which is an unfortunate consequence of our everyday lives and sitting at our desks all day. Rowing will wake up literally every single muscle in your back thus perfecting your posture.

man working out on a rowing machine

3 – How it benefits various athletes from runners to martial arts experts

Many Olympic athletes have incorporated indoor rowing into their regular training routines. Runners, weight lifters and wrestlers swear by their rowing exercises as they build stamina and endurance like very few other training routines. CrossFit Endurance coach and 100-mile trail run fanatic, Brian MacKenzie from California says that rowing “has become an invaluable tool for runners.” “When you learn how to do it right, it lights up weaknesses you didn’t know you had. It helps runners and cyclists find power in muscles they hadn’t used before”, he adds. Runners, by the way, have a notoriously bad posture which, in turn, leads to bad form and, to quote MacKenzie again, “beating the hell out of yourself”. Rowing helps to develop your midline stability and, by doing so, immeasurably improves your posture.

4 – It’s aerobic and anaerobic at the same time

Now this claim has had us scratching our heads trying to figure out how can an exercise be both aerobic and anaerobic. Well, it’s simple. The aerobic part of it is pretty much easy to understand – since rowers move their arms and legs for a long period of time in order to keep their momentum going, this activity increases their heart rate which forces them to breathe more deeply and more often which, in turn, supplies much more oxygen to their muscles. In fact, 84% of the body’s musculature is in use during rowing. Anaerobic part is all about resistance. When it comes to rowing, the resistance never ceases. Rowing machines are designed to simulate the resistance in water which forces you to really work those muscles which, in time, get stronger and are pushed harder than during aerobic conditions. So, rowing does the trick both in the aerobic and anaerobic aspect – it will build your cardiovascular fitness level and your overall strength at the same time.

Man rowing on a lake

5 – Rowing technique

If you think that rowing is all about pulling that cord on the rowing machine or getting those oars working, you are sorely mistaken. In order to do it properly and get the maximum benefit from it (while avoiding straining your muscles too much), there is a technique that you should be mindful of. It is called Catch – Drive – Finish – Recover and you are strongly advised to adhere to it every single time you row. Before you apply this technique, make sure that you are sitting properly.

The Catch is all about your starting position. You have to straighten your body, contract your abdominal muscles and grab the bar of the indoor rowing machine in a palms-down-grip while bending the knees. Your spine should be as straight as possible.

The Drive consists of driving back your feet to make your legs straight and pulling the bar with your arms. The pulling movement needs to be quick and horizontal.

To finish, your legs need to be completely extended, shoulders pushed back and the bar should be held against your upper abdominal muscles.

The exercise ends with Recover which implies stretching your arms out, body moving forward, knees bending and the seat moving to the ‘catching’ position.

Rowing Technique and muscle groups

If you are exercising on an indoor rowing machine, you are advised to keep the resistance set between 3 and 5 out of 10 (this applies to most models out there). This is to lower the chances of lower back injuries and to ensure that all active muscles are in balance. Here are also two great articles to read if you feel like you are making mistakes while rowing and don’t know how to correct them – http://www.menshealth.com/fitness/correct-your-rowing-form and http://dailyburn.com/life/fitness/rowing-machine-mistakes/

6 – Rowing Machines

As you may have noticed, we at Jebiga.com, are great fans of indoor rowing and have featured a great article about rowing machines in an effort to get you to cover more distance than just the one between your TV set and your fridge. Although some of the rowing machines that we have featured are not on a cheap side, trust us when we say that they are worth every penny. And if we have been convincing enough and you decide to get yourself a rowing machine, please don’t let it collect dust underneath your bed. Clench your teeth, say to yourself “today is the day”, put that flywheel to use and, in no time, the results will amaze you.

7 – Locating Rowing Machines

If, by any chance, you are not near a rowing machine and you need your rowing workout badly, here is a useful tool that will help you to find rowing machines while travelling. Concept2 Indoor Rowers’ website has you covered. However, this is only applicable to the U.S. and Canada and for finding rowing machines elsewhere, you can contact the Concept2 authorized dealer in your respective country.

8 – Performance Monitor

Since you will be putting a lot of effort, sweat profusely and shed quite a few tears in the begging of your rowing adventure, you would probably like to track your progress and find out how well you are doing. That’s when a performance monitor can come in handy. The monitor will give you very detailed and reliable information about every exercise you do on your machine. Not only that, you will be able to compare your results to the results achieved by other fellow rowers across the world, if you are that competitive. Again, Concept2 offers a great tool called Online Logbook. The Logbook will keep an online track of all of your rowing workouts; you will be able to see your personal chart history, access your weekly and monthly statistical data including the total metres covered and the time it took you to cover them. You will also be able to participate in Concept2 online challenges.

Concept 2 performance monitor

Did we get you interested? Are you considering it? Can you envisage yourself with toned torso, a six-pack and strong, lean legs? Are you checking your bank balance right now to see whether you have enough money to buy a rowing machine? How about inquiring where is the nearest indoor rowing centre? How about getting your best friend to go with you so that you can exercise together? In any case, know that getting off your backside, switching that TV off and putting down that last slice of pizza is always a good call. If you choose to incorporate rowing into your new daily routine, all the better. Rowing is a sport that should be respected and the results that you can achieve rowing will be nothing short of amazing. Not only that, you will prove yourself that you can do it and that you have what it takes to finally get what you want – be it body of your dreams, overall health or mental well-being. Good luck and row away! watch videos below

A beautifully filmed video from the Western Australian Rowing Club.

Watch the video below if you need inspiration/motivation.

This video demonstrates the proper way to row.

And this last video shows common rowing mistakes.

Guide to rowing and the benefits


Daily Newsletter

Subscribe to Jebiga for a dose of the best in gear, design, rides, tech and adventure.