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Home Workouts Beginner’s Guide to Using a Rowing Machine

Beginner’s Guide to Using a Rowing Machine

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If you’ve recently purchased an indoor rowing machine, congratulations! You’re embarking on an exciting journey into the world of fitness.

Maybe you’re considering taking indoor rowing classes at your local gym but are concerned about feeling out of place. And what do terms like “split time” and “SPM” mean?

If any of this resonates with you, then this article is for you! My name is Petra Amara, and I’ve been rowing on the water since I was a child. However, lately, I’ve been doing most of my workouts on my rowing machine(s) (yes, I have more than one!).

I remember when rowing machine classes were rare, and finding a gym with a rowing machine was like finding a needle in a haystack.

Times have changed in the past 5 years, and now it seems like everyone wants to get on the rowing machine (we’ll get to what an “erg” is soon).

Today, I want to share some top tips for beginners and provide a workout plan or two to help you get started.

People of all ages can begin rowing (with your doctor’s approval) and enjoy the benefits of indoor rowing, even if you’ve never sat on a rowing machine before.

Understanding Rowing Machine Terminology

Although learning to use a rowing machine is not as difficult as it may seem, having some familiarity with the language will make it easier for you. Knowing what people (or the instructor) are talking about will help you feel more comfortable!

  • The Erg– An indoor rowing machine uses a device called an ergometer (or erg) to measure speed, distance, and other data. People may refer to their machine as “the erg” or “their erg” as if it were a person.
  • The Performance Monitor (PM)– This is the device that displays and stores your workout data. Different rowing machine models have different types of monitors, but they all serve the same purpose.
  • Footplates or Footrests– These are where you secure your feet during your workouts.
  • Split or Split Time– The time it takes to row half the standard distance of 1,000 meters (500 meters). A lower split time indicates faster rowing.
  • SPM or Strokes Per Minute– The number of rowing strokes performed in one minute. This can range from slow “paddling” to fast and intense rowing.

Now that you’re familiar with rowing machine jargon, let’s talk about the rowing stroke.

Mastering the Rowing Stroke

It’s crucial to start with the correct technique to avoid injury or strain on your back, elbows, or hips.

If you’ve watched someone row and thought it was all about pulling and pushing the handlebar, you’re mistaken.

Each rowing stroke consists of four phases that need to be executed properly. Missing any of these phases means you’re rowing incorrectly. Here are the phases of the rowing stroke:

  • The Catch– The starting position where your feet are secured, your arms are extended in front, and your torso is slightly forward.
  • The Drive– The power phase where you push off with your legs, straighten your torso, and pull the handle towards your chest at the end.
  • The Finish– The end of the stroke where your torso is slightly leaned back, your legs are extended, and the handle is below your bust line.
  • The Recovery– The phase where you reverse the order and return to the start position: arms, torso, and legs.

Mastering the rowing stroke may seem complicated, but with practice, it becomes second nature. Don’t worry about speed initially. Just focus on getting the technique right. Speed will naturally increase as you become more comfortable.

The Secret to Mastering the Correct Form

Pick drills are fantastic for warming up and teaching beginners how to row correctly.

While it’s tempting to jump right into using your new rowing machine, taking the time to learn proper technique will prevent a sore back that might discourage you from continuing.

Pick drills involve isolating specific parts of the rowing stroke and focusing on them until you master each part.

For example, you can practice leg work on the Drive without using the handle. Sit down, slide forward, and push back using your legs while focusing on maintaining proper form. Use a mirror to monitor your movements.

Once you’re comfortable with the leg work, you can focus on the movement of your torso from the 1 o’clock to 12 or 11 o’clock position. This engages your core muscles. Gradually increase the range of motion as you get stronger.

There are many pick drill variations available online if you’d like to see them in action!

Effective Workouts for Beginners

Now that you’ve learned the rowing stroke, you’re ready to incorporate it into your workouts. Start slowly and don’t push yourself too hard initially. It’s normal to get winded quickly at first.

Rowing Workout #1: The Stack!

This workout focuses on building endurance so you can gradually increase the duration of your workouts. Always warm up for at least 2 minutes before starting.

  • Row slowly for 1 minute.
  • Increase your speed a little for 1 minute.
  • Row as fast as you can for 1 minute.
  • Relax and row at a slow pace for 1 minute.

Repeat this sequence for 20 minutes or until you feel exhausted.

Speed Note: Stroke rate varies for each individual, so focus on what feels comfortable for you. Generally, a slow stroke rate is around 16-18 SPM, a moderate pace is around 22-24 SPM, and a fast pace is around 28-30 SPM.

Rowing Workout #2: Steady, Steady, Steady

This workout might seem easy, but it’s more challenging than you might think. It’s a calorie-burning workout that elevates both your heart rate and metabolism.

  • Start with a slow row for 1 minute.
  • Row at a comfortable pace that you can sustain for the next 10 minutes (approximately 50% of your fastest stroke rate). Aim for a pace that challenges you but still allows you to hold a conversation.

You can increase the duration by 1 or 2 minutes each week until you can row continuously for 30 or even 45 minutes.

Always cool down for at least 2 minutes afterward.

Rowing Workout #3: Jump and Row

This workout is perfect for those who enjoy high-intensity interval training (HIIT) or prefer mixing up their workouts.

Place lightweight dumbbells or resistance bands near the rower, or set up a yoga mat close by.

  • Begin with a warm-up.
  • Row 500 meters at a moderate pace.
  • Then, step off the rower and perform a different exercise such as squats, burpees, or planks for one minute. If you have weights or resistance bands, incorporate them into the exercise.
  • Get back on the rower and row 500 meters as fast as you can.
  • Rest for 30 seconds.

Repeat this sequence 2-3 times, alternating between a moderate pace and a fast pace to maximize calorie burn. The short rest period will help you maintain intensity.

This type of HIIT workout is great for weight loss as it elevates your heart rate, burning calories during and after your workout.

The Bottom Line

My best advice for beginners is to practice, practice, practice, even if it may not sound exciting. Learning the rowing stroke and doing pick drills will pay off in the long run.

Don’t be surprised if, after incorporating pick drills into your routine, you can easily tackle rowing machine workouts while others wonder how you do it.

Lastly, be kind to yourself. We’re human beings with lives outside of the gym. It’s okay to take a break from workouts if needed. Just remember, rest is essential, so don’t quit altogether.

Stay happy, healthy, and make rowing enjoyable!

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