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An Introduction to Indoor Rowers

An indoor rowing machine (rower, erg, etc.) is an outstanding piece of fitness equipment. It offers a low impact alternative to other forms of cardio and still provides a full body workout. You’ll hit your quads, hamstrings, lats, back, biceps, glutes and more. This while stimulating both aerobic and anaerobic gains. That makes indoor rowers among the most popular, versatile and appealing workouts for all levels of fitness.

What makes rowing so beneficial for overall fitness? It engages upwards of 80% of the body and focuses particularly on leg and core development. More than anything rowing is a pushing exercise. You drive power to the stroke through your legs and finish with your arms. And if you’re a calorie-counter that is a good thing. Indoor rowing has been shown to be the most effective method for blasting calories.

Compared to traditional methods of cardio (running, walking, biking) rowing burns more calories per hour at the same level of intensity.

Types of Indoor Rowers

There are four types of indoor rowers.

The most popular and well-known of the rowers are those that use air resistance or a flywheel. These flywheel rowing machines generate resistance from the pulling motion of the row. This motion spins the flywheel, generating wind resistance. Resistance is manipulated by changing the angle of the blades or by increasing the intensity of the pull.

Popular models are:


Magnetic Resistance Rowers are somewhat new to the indoor rowing market but have gained in popularity due to their performance, easily manipulated resistance and virtually silent operation. These rowers utilize a magnetic brake system to control the flywheel. That means better, more fluid resistance adjustments for workouts of all types. The nearly silent operation of magnetic resistance rowers is appreciated by many as well. No friction means no sound.

Popular models include:


Water Resistance Rowers are designed for those who want to row as close to the outdoors as possible. The rower uses water resistance to provide a natural water feel, pull and motion as a user exercises. While some can have their resistance adjusted based on the angle of the blades, most will have resistance manipulated based on the amount of water in the drum and the strength of the pull.

The most popular models when it comes to water resistance rowers are those by WaterRower. They come in a variety of different colors, woods and compositions.

Other popular water resistance rowers include:


Hydraulic Rowing Machines operate through pistons. Tension is provided and adjusted by the air or fluid within a piston. And while they are low cost and more compact than other types of rowers, many find it hard to classify them as a true rowing machine. That’s because hydraulic rowers don’t allow for the full, synchronized rowing experience of other, more traditional rowers.


The Rowing Motion

Rowing is a natural motion. It is low impact and stimulates much of the body. To reap the most benefits from your indoor rower you need to learn the proper form. Doing so will help you engage your core, develop your legs and finish with your back.

There are four steps in the rowing stroke.

The Catch

The catch is your starting position. Grip the bar using an overhand grip and have your arms fully extended. Your legs should be bent and body leaning forward. You are preparing for your row.

The Drive

The drive is commonly referred to as the work portion. To perform it all you need to do is press with your legs until they are nearly all the way extended. Then pull your arms back, making sure to leave your shoulders relaxed. The pull should be made towards your upper-abdomen.

The Finish

The finish is about completing the drive in proper form. Your upper body should be leaning back, legs extended and shoulders relaxed. The handlebar will be positioned towards your upper-abdomen.

The Recovery

The recovery will reset you to the catch. Straighten your arms by extending them. Then proceed to bend your legs towards the flywheel, forcing the seat forward as well.

Once all the way reset you are ready for the next stroke!


Working Out on An Indoor Rower

If you’re just beginning to incorporate indoor rowing into your fitness routine it is important to take it slow. Make sure you are performing the motion correctly before rowing at more intense levels.

Once you establish the proper rowing form, however, there are endless possibilities. That is the beauty of the rower. It functions both as a strength builder and cardio improver. You can do a steady state, low intensity session or sweat it out with a calorie-torching interval workout.

Workout intensity should be measured by resistance level and strokes per minute. Most who use rowers will do so in intervals. This can mean rowing at a particular stroke rate for a given amount of time, rowing to a particular distance or rowing to reach a particular calorie expenditure.

Interval workouts are popular with rowers because they produce some of the best aerobic and anaerobic results. For a great workout try the following:

5-minute warmup

Row 2 minutes at 30-35 strokes per minute

Rest 1 minute at 20-25 strokes per minute

Repeat 5 times

5-minute cooldown

This 25-minute indoor rower workout is efficient, effective and challenging. As you progress you can vary the interval levels to accommodate your goals.

Soon enough you’ll be championing the benefits of rowers too!