Strength training, Sweat Often, Workout Tips

Should Rowing Be Your Go-To Cardio Workout?

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By Emma Stessman

With techy at-home workout equipment like MIRROR and Peloton, it’s now totally possible to get in a workout that rivals most in-studio boutique classes without ever leaving your living room.

And rowing is the next wave. After the success of classes at popular spots like CityRow and Row House, companies are expanding into the at-home erg experience. Of course, these aren’t the old-school rowers you might find in your parent’s home gym. The NordicTrack Rower, for example, lets you stream live and on-demand workouts with top trainers from around the world. The SKILLROW from Technogym provides a resistance level similar to water, so you’ll feel like you’re actually rowing on the river, regatta-style.

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Beyond their tech features and sleek design, these machines provide a total-body cardio and strength-training workout that can be just as effective (some say more so) than your regular session on the bike or treadmill. “Rowing requires an understanding of how the body moves and how to generate momentum using your weight,” says Nick Karwoski, a nationally ranked triathlete and trainer at Hydrow, another leading brand in the at-home rowing space.

“If you’re someone who likes cardio but doesn’t like to bulk up or someone who likes that post-lift feeling but finds it hard to add cardio into the mix,” rowing is a great option, he says.

rowing workouts

The Benefits of Rowing Workouts

While your leg muscles provide most of the power, rowing works nearly every part of your body. “You can guarantee that all your body’s major muscle groups will be ignited,” Karwoski says. “The back of your legs, your butt, your entire back, and abs will be forced to press and release together for every single stroke.” As you progress through the strokes, it likely won’t take too long before your heart starts pounding and your breathing gets heavier, which like any other high-intensity workout gives you optimal benefits in a short period of time.

“Because it is a whole-body workout, it is a unique sport that can utterly exhaust someone in 10-20 minutes with only a few hard intervals,” he says. Over time, rowers can see improvements in cardiovascular function and VO2 max (how efficiently your body utilizes oxygen during exercise).

Rowing works nearly double the number of muscles in your body as compared to cycling or running, Karwoski says. Bonus: Unlike running, it’s low-impact.

RELATED: How to Do No-Impact Cardio Like a Ballerina

How to Do Rowing Workouts Properly

While rowing seems like a simple enough motion to master, there’s a lot more to it than simply pulling and releasing the handlebar. The real workout comes with each of the three points of contact, Karwoski explains.

Start your stroke with legs bent at the top of the machine, feet in the stirrups, and the handle in a close grip in front of your legs. “The first 60 to 70 percent of each stroke is leg dominant,” he says. “The majority of the power built with each stroke is done with your legs.” Use your legs to propel you backward. As you do this, your arms will naturally straighten, putting the handlebar just above your knees. “

As the handlebar passes over your knees, your abdominals stay engaged in order to transition the momentum from your lower body to your upper body to finish the stroke,” Karwoski says. Lean back and bend the arms at the elbows, pulling the handlebar into your ribcage. Follow the steps in reverse to return to the start (this will serve as a second or two of recovery in between strokes so cherish it).

Repeat over and over, until you’re panting like crazy…and can feel yourself getting stronger.

(Photos: Hydrow, NordicTrack)

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