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The Most Undervalued Piece of Equipment in the Gym

9 Reasons to Try the Indoor Rowing Machine
  -- By Jennipher Walters, Certified Personal Trainer
Are you sick of the same-old cardio machines at the gym? Bored by the treadmill? Tired of the elliptical? Can't stand to do another mile on the stationary bike or another flight on the stair climber? Well, then, it's time you head over to the indoor rower. Yes, that rower—the dusty piece of equipment over in the corner of your health club that doesn't get used very often. The one that has a big handle and straps for your feet—that's the one!

The indoor rowing machine is awesome. It used to be fairly popular back in the early health club days but fell out of vogue when the newer and fancier stair climbers, treadmills and ellipticals came on the market. Now though, with more people looking for a complete full-body workout, indoor rowing is experiencing a resurgence in popularity, no doubt thanks to the popular Crossfit style of exercise that often uses indoor rowers in their workouts. And it's with good reason that rowing is becoming trendy again: There are a ton of reasons to love it. In fact, here are nine!

9 Reasons to Try the Indoor Rower
1. Anyone can do it. Old, young, good knees or bad knees, indoor rowing is a low-impact exercise that is easy on the joints. So no matter what size you are or what limitations you face, you can probably do it. In fact, it's the exercise du jour for many people who are recovering from an injury because it's so easy on the body, yet provides a great workout!

2. Rowing burns big calories. Hop on the rower, start moving, and burn some major calories. A 160-pound person will burn about 250 calories in just 30 minutes of rowing, which is as much, if not more than, what you would burn on the stair climber or the elliptical.

3. Strength and cardio in one. The reason why the calorie burn is so high is because rowing requires you to use both strength and cardio endurance at once. The pulling motion of your upper body along with the pushing motion of your lower body requires strength of the legs and torso, while the full movement itself requires the increased cardio output of your lungs and heart. Meaning, your muscles are pushed and you get out of breath. Talk about multitasking!

4. Rowing uses your full body. When it comes to indoor rowing, the question isn't which muscles are used, but which muscles aren't used? From your shoulders to your chest to your back and biceps and triceps, your entire upper body is used. On the lower body, everything from your hamstrings to your quads to your glutes and your calves are engaged when rowing. And don't forget the core! Your full torso, including your abs and erecter spinae (back) are used to power through the rowing motion. It is functional fitness at its best!

5. Good for the mind, too! All kinds of exercise have been shown to boost mood and decrease anxiety, but rowing is particularly relaxing due to its rhythmic nature. Something about that repeated pull-and-push motion is reminiscent of waves washing on the shore, which is good for calming the mind! Increase this feeling by listening to high-energy, feel-good songs while you work out or by turning on a travel show with beautiful scenery for you to watch while you row, row, row your . . . self.

6. New option for cross-training. For runners and endurance athletes, rowing is a fantastic option for cross-training, yet it's usually one that's forgotten. Many times people don't cross-train (even though they know it's important!) because they either get bored with activities or they simply don't enjoy them. But rowing—unlike cycling, swimming or the elliptical—is a totally new motion that you can throw into your cross-training mix! And unlike most cross-training activities that only work the lower body, indoor rowing also works the upper body and core—and strengthens the low back.

7. Its range of motion rocks. Rowing has a very unique push-and-pull motion of both the upper and lower body that you don't see in a lot of stationary cardio machines. Not only that, but this movement allows your muscles to work in a full range of motion. The sliding seat on the rower and its adjustable pedals allow people of all heights and sizes to move completely and fully. Working in a full range of motion is great for joint health and flexibility.

8. You can track your progress. Just like tracking your speed when running or logging how many miles you walked, you can track your distance, speed, calories burned and time on the rower, too. As you get fitter and accustomed to the rower, have fun with setting goals based on how fast you can row a 5K or how far you can row in a set amount of time. See how long it takes you to burn 200 calories or how long you can maintain a certain pace without wavering. Most indoor rowers even have a way for you to increase or decrease the resistance to make for an easier or harder workout. Play with your indoor machine's settings, set goals and be proud of yourself when you reach them!

9. It's fun! Did we mention that rowing is a good time? Sure, you may not be outside on a lake rowing the day away, but just rowing back and forth on the sliding seat is kind of enjoyable. And it's fun to focus on your form: using your legs to push off with power, pulling the handle toward your core to generate more speed as you lean back, and then controlling your body as you bring the handle back up and toward the rower. You can time your row speed to the beat of a song, your breathing or just go "out for a row."

Getting Started: Proper Rowing Form
The important thing to keep in mind about a good rowing stroke is that while it can be broken down into steps to explain its mechanics, it should be completely fluid in practice. When you first sit down on the rowing machine, make sure to adjust the foot pads to properly fit your shoe. You want the toe strap to be adjusted securely around the middle of the upper part of the foot, just below where your toes begin. Then grab the handle with an overhand grip. Now you're ready to row!

1. Start with your knees bent and your body angled forward with arms fully extended. Make sure to relax your shoulder and engage your abdominal muscles.

2. Begin the row by pushing off powerfully with your legs. As your legs straighten, your body will open into a wide V.

3. As your legs are just about to reach a straight position, pull the handle with your arms until it reaches your chest.

4. Allow the handle to pull your body forward until your arms are straight again then bend your knees back into the starting position.

5. Repeat!

While this sequence might not feel smooth or natural at first, over time it will become a single, fluid movement. As you progress, watch out for hyperextension at the knee and elbow joints. Also, check in with your core from time to time to make sure you're always keeping these muscles active throughout your stroke.

So what are you waiting for? Hop on an indoor rower today! While many gyms will have an indoor rower or two near the other cardio equipment, other health clubs and group exercise studios are hopping on the indoor-rowing trend by offering challenges and group rowing classes. Some gyms even offer workshops on how to improve your stroke and get faster! So stop in and ask what your gym offers.
 
Have you ever tried indoor rowing before? If so, what do you love about it? If you haven't tried it, will you now?

This article has been reviewed and approved by SparkPeople fitness expert Nicole Nichols, certified personal trainer.

Sources
Angela Hart. "Rowing Technique." The Crossfit Journal. October 2006.

Breaking Muscle, "Josh Crosby Talks Benefits of Indoor Rowing," breakingmuscle.com, accessed on September 11, 2013.

Concept2, "Muscles Used," www.concept2cts.com, accessed on September 11, 2013.

Concept2, "Benefits," www.concept2cts.com, accessed on September 11, 2013.