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The humble rowing machine – the cinderella of the fitness center.

While the fancy treadmills and the high-fashion elliptical machines entertain the guests, showing off their incline adjustments and their new digital displays the rowing machine sits off to the side, all alone. Exiled to the corner as if it were a bad child in a classroom.

In a recent UK survey, 44% of women found men that row as ‘sexy’ . Fellas – do you need more motivation than that?

(I personally use and recommend the Concept2 line of indoor rowers. They are near indestructible!)

The occasional gym-goer will wander over to play briefly, but only for a bit of a warm-up before they are on their way again. Generally speaking, the rowing machine gets left alone in the corner to gather dust.

Live in Denver?  Go to WWW.FITNESSBYATLAS.COM to get a free pass to one of our classes

Shame on us for not giving this excellent machine the respect it is due.

The rowing machine is one of my favorite machines in the gym. It helps to develop cardio, strength, flexibility and all the muscles you need for great posture.

A common problem I hear from runners and cyclists is that that have great cardio, nice legs but a flabby upper body.

Problem solved.

Still need convincing that Rowing is a great sport for the total body?

Enough said. Moving on.

2 reasons why you want to integrate your local rowing machine into your workouts and cardio days:

1. Better fat burner

Rowing with proper technique works both the upper as well as the lower body. More muscles worked means more calories burned in the same period of time, which means more fat burned for your cardio dollar!

2. Better for posture

Imagine the view when you see someone walking on the treadmill – especially if they are reading their US Weekly or the new People mag. People tend to have poor posture on the treadmill, bike and elliptical machine.

If you are hanging on to the rails as if you are ready for the machine to spontaneously switch into rodeo mode – then chances are you are leaning forward and your posture is suffering.

Take the the normal treadmill/elliptical/bike user:

Are they a picture perfect model of posture or are they a hunched over hunchback of hunchville? (So I’m channeling Dr Seuss?! What’s it to you?!)

Would you, could you, in a rowing machine?

The downside of the rowing machine is that it is not magazine friendly (which might be an upside, depending on your perspective).

This means that instead of catching up on the latest hairstyles and dog handbag fashion, you will actually have to do some real work (but that’s why god created the ipod – so you can listen to your music/Harry Potter on tape/best of John Denver as you happily row away).

Rowing works the legs as well as all the muscles of the back

It is fantastic for strenthening the biceps, shoulders, upper and lower back as well as all the major muscles of the legs.

The major drawback is that you probably don’t know how to do it

But thats about to change: You can learn about rowing technique here.

Or if you would rather have the visual, here is a 3 minute vid:


There are different ways to row, but just pick one and go for it. Your body (and your posture) will be grateful for it.

Once you have the technique down, for my vote its the best fat-burning machine in the gym that also works the upper body in such a way that your posture will never feel better.

Do you row? Put in your two cents about what rowing does to your body to help others understand just how good this machine is.

Jamie Atlas

Live in Denver?  Go to WWW.FITNESSBYATLAS.COM to get a free pass to one of our classes

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  • giz Jul 12, 2008 Reply

    Thanks for the links for proper form! There are two in my gym, but I’ve hesitated to really show them to people since I really didn’t know much about them myself yet, except a vague notion that full-body cardio must be better than lower body only. I’m a fitness consultant, studying to be a personal trainer – and I want to be a good one, not a rep counter – and am still learning as I go. I appreciate that you took the time to write this; thank you.

  • Philip Jul 12, 2008 Reply

    I’m a rower and have done so many sports before, but rowing is, by far the most physically demanding. When competing the limits that you push yourself to physically and mentally are unbelievable – if you ask any rower what the most painful thing they have experienced is, they will say that it is a 2000m test that we do on the ergo. It’s basically 7 minutes of pain (well longer for the average person).

    Those machines may be boring if you do a long workout, but they provide the most benefit to your body, as well as your overall fitness.

    I think I may post a link to this post on my blog, as I just recently did a post on correct rowing technique.

  • Laure Oct 2, 2008 Reply

    There are two rowing machines that sit at my gym, in a back corner, never used. I looked at them today and thought “Why not” and gave one a try. What an incredible workout! I could feel it in my legs, glutes, chest, back and abs! I could tell that not only was I getting a great cardio workout, but resistance too. I will definitely be including this great find in my daily routine.

  • Jim Martin Oct 13, 2008 Reply

    Jamie, could you please suggest a sample of rowing workouts? Do you suggest long steady pieces, intervals, or a combo of both? Thanks!

  • Mike Tolliver Nov 14, 2008 Reply

    I sprang my ankle while running so I saw the Concept 2 in the corner and started working out. Its a bit challenging and I have stop for water and a towel like every 10 minutes but I am building towards not stopping at all. I know it works the back muscles so now I row every other day and on the off day I bench and curl. I have about 30 pounds to lose so I see it as a perfect challenging exercise and hardly anyone uses it so it’s always open.

  • jamieatlas Nov 14, 2008 Reply

    Thanks for the contribution Mike! Good for you for being inventive with your workouts – it always amazes me that a machine like the concept 2 is often left to collect dust when it is such a great addition to anyones workout. Keep on rowin’!


  • jamieatlas Nov 14, 2008 Reply

    Jim, great question on the sample rowing workouts – I definitely suggest a combo of the intervals and long steady pieces. Try this out for size:
    Day 1, 3 and 5:
    30 seconds max speed, 90 seconds 1/2 speed x 10

    Day 2, 4:
    10 minutes 60% max speed, 10 mins 80% max speed, 5 mins 100% max speed.

    Make sure to keep good form as you go through but those two should keep you truckin for about 4 weeks before you start to plateau. Mix it up and let me know what happens!


  • Gary Jan 1, 2009 Reply

    Great topic! I bought a used Concept2 three months ago after trying the gym and other exercises on the floor. They’re not for me. I tried walking for an hour everyday but that was a waste of time too with limited results and meant I was dependant on weather and the time of day. Finally I found the magic bullet I had been searching for – a rowing machine!

    I am trying to shift lots of middle-age spread from too many beers and the wrong foods. The “spare tyre” round my middle makes me SO uncomfortable and stops me wearing the majority of my wardrobe now.

    I started by changing my diet a bit and lowered the size of my meals while incorporating a row into my daily routine. The rowing machine sits in our garage full-time so there’s no excuses for not using it.

    I jump on the rower as soon as I arrive home from work. With my radio blearing music alongside my floor-standing fan blowing full-bore into my face I row and row and row some more! I love rowing because I sit at a desk all day and this allows me to let off some steam when I get home. It clears my head and gives me so much more energy to do other things around the house afterwards.

    I use Concept2’s online Logbook system to record every row I’ve done as this keeps me motivated (362,794 metres to date).

    Results? Well 3 months later my lower back feels great for the first time in years. I’ve had two surgical operations on it and was resigned to the fact it will be sore for the rest of my life – not now!

    That spare tyre? The only trousers I could fit before are now almost too large for me and I’m wearing three other pair that I haven’t been able to fit for at least 12 months. I feel great, with more energy than ever and am more confident in public now that my middle doesn’t sag like it used too!

    I have lost 5 kilograms so far and so I still have a way to go as I am trying to lose 10KGs (currently 91kg, down from 96).

    For anyone looking for a magic-bullet to lose weight I can’t recommend a rowing machine enough!!! I am totally hooked. Nothing I have tried comes even close to producing results as fast as the rowing machine.

  • Mark Jun 7, 2009 Reply

    I have a rower at home and not sure of a workout to do I use it 3-4 times a week for 30 minutes each time aiming for about 45 strokes a minute is this good or bad

    • jamieatlas Jun 19, 2009 Reply

      Hey Mark thanks for your question. The real answer is not that it is good or bad but that you are doing it. Depending on your fitness goals you want to emphasize being in different zones. If you want to be lean, I would recommend 30 minutes with a 1 minute blast every 3 minutes. You will find your metabolism goes through the roof but also that you enjoy it more (I find that is the case anyway). Your stroke rate is a tad high, I might pull harder and slower so you feel about 6/10 intensity on the straight, 8-9/10 intensity on the 1 minute blast I just mentioned. Hope that helps! 🙂 Thanks for the question.

  • Arthur Jan 26, 2010 Reply

    I absolutely love my rower. I own both a concept 2 (owned for several years) and a WaterRower (which I love). Have gotten up to an average of approx. 11,000 meters 6X per week. My times average 55 minutes. My first goal is to row 1 million meters and I have 483,000 meters to go. I am not sure if the distance/time of my rows are adequate for real results but I can feel a difference. My last 5 rows have been between 16,000-21,000 meters.

    My starting weight was 261 lbs. I am 5’11. I have vowed not to weigh myself until I hit the 1 million meter milestone. However, I can feel myself getting much stronger and have more energy. The clothes fit better. At my weight, rowing is the only exercise besides walking that I am comfortable with as I have had knee problems in the past. I cannot wait to reach my first goal so I can move on to the next 1 million meter goal. I am so glad I have found a healthy activity that I have been able to incorporate into my daily routine.

  • Media Books Jul 15, 2010 Reply

    Thanks for the vid i think i will improve my rowing after seeing that. I have recently started and am rowing 10km every two days on the concept2. I am the only person in the gym, which is busy, that uses the rower and it makes me feel good to know that!

  • Jeff Oct 28, 2010 Reply

    hey stop telling people about, its the only machine in the gym i can guarantee i can get on, sshh don’t tell anyone but its also very low impact on joints like hips, knees and ankles, so i wont be looking for a hip replacement like the runners will. 🙂

  • Lawson Stevens Jun 22, 2011 Reply

    I am 79 years of age. I keep fairly active every day and walk around 45 minutes, 5 days a week. However, my posture is poor, with round shoulders. My doctor recommended back strengthening exercises, recommending rowing or simulated rowing. Would a rowing machine be too hard for me in your opinion?

    • Elijah Cooper Jul 1, 2011 Reply

      Hey Lawson,

      It depends on how strong your posterior chain is (spine). Strengthening it will prevent injury on the rowing machine.

      I recommend trying about 50-100 strokes and see how it feels.

  • Wez May 13, 2012 Reply

    I row, have been the last 7 weeks while in the gym trimming down. Started doing 5 min session first week and building up. Now i can row 4.5km in 20 mins tho i still wanna push up to 30 mins and this is after doing a heavy weight session. I find its a great workout to do and am seeing results of this. Note my diet has changed so no alcohol intake at all so factor that in as well. Hugh jackman swears by this exercise and now i know why.

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