Monday, August 25, 2014

Row, Row, Row Your Boat

Looking for a full body, cardiovascular workout?  Try indoor rowing.

Rowing has become more and more popular over the past few years.  It’s a fairly simple cardiovascular activity using the entire body.  It's easy to learn and entirely up to you to control the time, distance, and intensity.  Rowing is great for burning calories, increasing your stamina (through heart rate training!), and strengthening your muscles.  It’s also a low impact activity with much less pressure on the joints than walking, running or jumping.  Joints move through a wide range of motion and when I say the entire body is working, I mean the entire entire body.  With every stroke you are using your calves, quads, hamstrings, glutes, core, pecs, biceps, triceps, deltoids, lats, and so on.

Technique is important.

Before you hop on a rowing machine and start rowing, make sure you learn proper form.  Technique is important to keep you injury free and more efficient so you can row better and faster.  Some of my clients are worried about straining the lower back during rowing exercises but if done correctly, power comes from the legs putting minimal stress on the lower back.

The Rowing Sequence

There are two phases in the rowing stroke: the recovery phase and the drive phase.  These two phases can be broken up into 4 positions: Recovery, Catch, Drive, and Finish.

During the recovery phase, your triceps work to extend your arms out in front of you and your upper body (abdominals flexed with back muscles relaxed) is leaning forward at about a 30 degree angle.  Start to bend your knees allowing the seat to slide forward.  The catch position is when your shins are vertical and the balls of the feet are in full contact with the footplate.  To protect your knees, you never want to compress your legs past that.  Your arms are still straight with shoulders level.

The drive phase begins with arms straight and upper body still leaning forward at 30 degrees while beginning to push off the footplates with your legs.  During rowing, power is generated in the drive phase with the muscles of your legs.  Your shoulder muscles are also contracting during this time.  As you straighten your legs, lean your upper body back at 30 degrees, using your core to support your lower back.  Use your biceps to bring your hands back in a straight line toward your lower ribs.  Your glutes and hamstrings are also contracting to extend the hips.  This brings us to the finish position with legs extended, arms at the lower ribs, flat wrists, upper body engaged and still at 30 degrees, head neutral with neck and shoulders relaxed.

Adjust the damper setting

The most common misconception about the Concept 2 Rower is the damper setting.  I’ll admit that I even had this all wrong.  On the Concept 2 Rower, the lever is 1-10 on the flywheel.  The damper setting does not control the level or resistance.  Let me repeat.  The damper setting does not control the level or resistance.

The damper setting controls how much air flows into the flywheel cage.  High settings will allow more air in which takes more work to spin the flywheel.  This doesn’t necessarily mean you will go faster or farther, it just means you will work harder and your muscles will fatigue quicker.  Lower settings allow less air flow making it easier to row.

How do you change the resistance?  You pull harder!  It depends on the leg strength and power behind your push off and how hard you pull using your arms and back muscles.

Start with a setting or 3-5 and experiment with different settings.  Typically 3-5 is ideal for aerobic exercise and building endurance.  Higher settings turn your aerobic exercise into more of a strength workout.

Warm up & start out slow

Before you begin a rowing workout, warm up for 3-5 minutes.  Start out slow and gradually increase your time, distance, and intensity.  Getting too ambitious your first few sessions on the rowing machine will set you up for injury!

Focus on your breathing

Breathing is often overlooked when exercising.  With each inhale, you are filling your lungs with fresh oxygen and supplying muscles with nutrient rich blood whereas each exhale you are flushing out the bad carbon dioxide and waste.  Holding your breath, breathing too fast or too shallow will have an effect on your workout.  Our goal during rowing is deep and relaxed breathing and creating a breathing rhythm related to the rhythm of each stroke.

Most rowers either take one breaths per stroke: inhale during recover, exhale during the drive.  Rowers rowing at high intensities may sneak in a quick second breath per stroke.

See what works best for you and continue the same breathing pattern throughout your workout.  This will keep your muscles happy with continuous and regular oxygen supply.

Last but not least—have fun!

Blog post by Jen Skiba.

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