The Definitive Guide to Indoor Rowing for Rookies


By: , SparkPeople Blogger
  :  30 comments   :  30,476 Views

Is rowing the new spinning? Although indoor rowing has been around for centuries, its popularity has been gaining speed in recent years. Those seeking a low-impact, high-intensity cardio activity—or a cross-training workout for running, swimming or CrossFit—are flocking to gyms and specialty studios to row, row, row their way to a fitter physique.

What makes rowing a strong contender to other aerobic exercises? According to instructor Ann Weixel, owner of Ride & Workout, this power endurance activity is an efficient calorie burner. "Not only do you recruit 84 percent of your muscle mass, your cardio-respiratory system also works hard," she says. As a bonus, unlike indoor cycling, Weixel points out that you can't "hide" on a rower—you have to push, hinge and pull every stroke and truly give it your all. 

Although it's often assumed to be an upper-body activity, rowing is powered primarily by the lower body, as the quadriceps, hamstrings, glutes and calves work together to complete each stroke. Meanwhile, the abdominal and lower back muscles work to stabilize and support while your mid- and upper-back muscles aid in pulling. "If you don't utilize your back muscles properly, your arms and shoulders will fatigue very quickly," warns Weixel.

Many also love the mental stimulation the sport provides. "Rowing isn't mindless—you have to think about technique with each stroke to maintain efficiency," says Kristen McAuliffe, certified WaterRower instructor at It's Working Out. "This really helps the class fly by—there is no mind wandering or clock watching." As an added bonus, the classes foster a sense of healthy competition and camaraderie, as the two "teams" encourage one another during challenges.  

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  • 30
    I enjoy rowing at the gym. - 10/29/2017   2:30:32 PM
  • 29
    Any recommendations for a brand of rower for a beginner to purchase for home? - 10/5/2017   10:39:02 PM
  • 28
    Rowing is so hard but worth it - 10/5/2017   8:24:25 PM
  • 27
    Thanks for the demo. Form is very important. - 6/8/2017   11:35:19 PM
    I tried rowing, but the arthritis in my shoulders cut that real short real fast. Bummed me out. - 5/1/2017   12:51:54 AM
    thanks for posting very useful for me & maybe I will go in for it - 4/27/2017   12:23:39 AM
  • 24
    Thank you for a good article. Right now I don't use the rowing machines. - 4/24/2017   8:50:45 PM
  • 23
    The Orange Theory Class I take incorporates the water rower and it's such a workout. I love the intensity at such a low impact on my knees! - 4/23/2017   11:51:29 PM
  • 22
    Years ago I use to row.The only excerise I stuck to. - 4/23/2017   6:29:49 PM
  • 21
    This article was very helpful - 4/23/2017   5:10:00 PM
    great info here - 4/23/2017   4:58:31 PM
  • 19
    Great informative article! - 4/23/2017   12:28:15 PM
  • 18
    Stretching is very important to eliminate injuries and blood pooling. - 4/23/2017   12:12:15 PM
  • 17
    I believe I've tried every machine except the rowing one, after reading this article full of know how, I believe I will venture over to the machine this week.Thanks for Sharing! - 4/23/2017   10:59:42 AM
  • 16
    Thank you, I love my rowing machine. I want to work out on it everyday but I don't have a trainer, and the internet says not to work out on it everyday, but I needed this article to row correctly. - 4/23/2017   9:20:29 AM
    Form is critical - 4/23/2017   9:10:38 AM
  • 14
    I love the rowing machine, but it IS addictive!!! - 4/23/2017   9:01:41 AM
  • 13
    I wish my gym had a rowing machine, I would love to do it! - 4/23/2017   8:26:05 AM
  • 12
    I have never done rowing but I might give it a try. - 4/23/2017   4:38:44 AM
  • 11
    Thanks! - 4/9/2017   11:29:24 PM
  • 10
    Thanks!! - 3/20/2017   6:53:43 PM
  • 9
    I've loved rowing for a long time. Several years ago I used a tax refund to buy my own Concept rower. My elderly father (in his 80s) would even use it. When he went to the doctor, the doctor wanted to know what he was doing because his numbers were so good. My dad just grinned and said he'd been rowing. - 3/16/2017   4:34:18 PM
  • 8
    Thank you - 3/14/2017   7:54:40 AM
  • 7
    I love indoor rowing, my indoor cardio machine of choice.

    "Not only do you recruit 84 percent of your muscle mass, your cardio-respiratory system also works hard"

    I don't think there is another indoor cardio machine that can compare to this, plus it is low-impact to boot. - 3/5/2017   5:19:13 PM
  • 6
    Love my rower. Go to Concept2's website for more information and helpful videos on technique and form. To fully benefit from the erg, you really need to have proper technique down. - 3/2/2017   11:52:48 PM
  • 5
    My gym does not have a rower like the ones pictured. Ours has a seat you sit on with a vertical pad in front of the chest that you lean into in the forward motion. There is a metal plate on the floor of the machine with an incline to press your feet against. The seat does not move. There are two curved bars in front that you lean forward to grab. You pull this back to complete the upper body rowing motion. Weight can be set to increase the resistance. - 3/2/2017   11:42:37 PM
  • 4
    Correct form is MUCH more important than speed or duration. If you cannot find a trainer or instructor, have someone record you as you row so you can compare against 'proper form.' and are very useful sites, no matter what brand of erg you're using.

    I also recommend stiff soled workout shoes. Since my cycling shoes have no clips, I wear those. - 3/2/2017   5:12:46 PM
  • 3
    Rowing on the water is my sport but I got into it after rowing on an erg in the gym. I think aiming for a split of 2 minutes or less is fairly ambitious for beginners!
    I'd say the most important things are to learn how to complete the stroke sequence correctly (legs body arms - arms body legs) and that a higher resistance and faster rates aren't necessarily better. - 3/2/2017   10:35:22 AM
  • 2
    I tried rowing at my old gym and actually liked it, to my surprise. I want to get a rower for the home gym I'm creating. - 3/2/2017   9:48:24 AM
  • 1
    I have been wanting to try rowing. It's looks fun. - 3/1/2017   5:00:49 AM

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