last comment: 19/03/08

Rowing - A Fantastic Sport

Well, this new sport is so overwhelmingly good that I don’t even know where to start.

I just came back from my first endurance rowing training and am so happy about it that I didn’t even take a shower, but went straight to the computer.

I think it’s a great for almost everybody whatever your sport objective is.

  • If you don’t really like any sort of sport, but are looking for something as effective as possible to make the time spend in the gym worthwhile


  • If you are doing an endurance sport and looking for a resistance training without having to do weights


  • if you are a body builder and looking for a cardio training that won’t eat into you muscle mass and even can enhance the definition and shape of some muscles.

It is the best all over workout I ever had: legs, bum, back, arms – resistance and endurance in one go - just fantastic. So if you are after a beautiful physique it definitely is a great sport.


What I like to do is to look at professional people and see what shapes they have. I have to admit that this actually very much inspires me to go for a certain sport. I like round muscles - lioness rather then cheetah and definitely not gazelle. That is on one hand determined by my bone structure and on the other hand is a matter of taste as well. So these are the kinds of sport I like to put into my shopping basket:

  • Weightlifters (small chest muscles and rather small arms on big bodies) vs. Bodybuilders (big round muscles and smooth when not in competition shape and doing it without taking steroids).

    Thus Body Building is for me!

  • Runners long distance (very often extremely slim, with very long stringy muscles) vs. runners short distance (round muscle powered machines).

    Thus long distance is not for me. Only because I want to do charity runs I do the 5K as there are no 100m charity sprints yet.

  • Gymnasts/heptathlon athletes – Beautiful, but hard to do at home or in the gym, and probably a bit too much of an effort to take on

  • Swimmers – Yummy! But too wet for my taste.

  • Rowers -  Ah, bliss.

Health Benefits

But what strikes me most are the health benefits of rowing, if done right. Today’s challenge was to survive the 5000m with sprints in-between and keeping the style clean.

Well I needed almost 26 minutes what is horribly slow, the British record in my weight and age class is something below 19 minutes. However, what counts is that I felt well worked through, and was happy to have done it in good style.

Technique training

If I want to enjoy this sport for the rest of my life I have to learn how to do it properly. That applies to every sport. Even running needs style training, although we might think: ‘Well, everybody can run; that’s what legs are made for’. Style training is something I believe is severely neglected in gym inductions where usually the settings of the machine are explained, but not the technique. For that, you are expected to buy a personal trainer for 25 quid minimum per hour. I think the gyms should feel more responsible for their members in that respect, but well; that’s another story.

In the movie of the first race you can clearly see the difference between Becky and me. Her style stays rather good throughout, while my style goes downhill quickly, and I only could survive the race with brute force rowing Body Building style. I had to do a lot of huffing and puffing while she was calm and even being a bit faster. The only excuse I have is that I didn’t want to let the team down, but be honest: I never will survive the longer races if I don’t get the style right.

Moreover my concern is that neglecting style training may cause injuries which might make you abandon for good the sport you love most. And that will have an impact on your entire lifestyle.

With the rowing I got lucky that the information is on the internet in the best possible way. I must have done something right today as I have never ever been as flexible as after my 5000m of rowing.

During stretching I almost could jack-knife: usually it would stop somewhere at a 20 degree angle with an ‘ouch - too old for this’.

Without the row
Ooh, that's all that goes!

Fat burning

Additionally the rowing seems to keep the heart rate lower than other endurance sport, except if you do sprints. The lower heart rate keeps you on a fat burning level which is good for everybody who only just got started with sport and wanting to lose a few pounds, as well as for Body Builders who want to avoid the endurance training eating into their muscle tissue.

I always tried to explain this ‘Fat burning level’ thing to myself in the simplest way – which scientifically might be a bit dodgy – but I think it captures the main facts.

Firstly, you need to know that it is much easier for the body to retrieve energy from your muscles than your fat. So the order of energy consumption is

  • Food
  • Muscles
  • Fat

No wonders that it is so difficult to get rid of fat. There is too much other stuff that is accessible much more easily.

Secondly, your body has a starving mode in which it becomes extremely efficient in using energy. A bit like an energy saving light bulb. Gives the same amount of light, but uses less energy. Whenever you are on diet starving yourself or whenever you are exhausting your body what can be measured via the heart rate, it will go into starving mode, thinking: ‘What is she doing? I will run out of resource, I will die, I have to save energy,..!’ Thus doing exactly the opposite of what you want it to do.

Even worse: It might use the few muscles you have first, before eating into the fat, actually making you weaker instead of more energetic. And on top of all that your body will learn to switch into starving mode quicker and quicker.

The idea is to trick it!

Food wise you would want to become a grazer, eating continuously small portions so the body never gets really hungry, but altogether is not getting more than what it actually needed.

Sport wise you would want to avoid to exhaust it. If you are after fat loss then only do 70-80% of what you actually can do and do it for longer, although it might not feel as satisfying. Most of the gym machines have little drawings telling at what age which heart rate is good for fat burning.

For Body Builders that would mean to tease the body into using fat rather then muscle tissue.

As I said before, the rowing seems to keep the heart rate at a good fat burning level. Probably because a certain amount of the training is resistance – what actually builds muscle rather then eating into it.

Cardio Fitness

That is the sort of exercise where it feels as if you lungs wanted to flee your body and the heart is sitting where previously your brain was. It usually is done by endurance exercises on a high level.

Or, is it?

The endurance part is mainly to bring the body to build muscles which can go on and on and on…

But for the fitness of the heart - meaning how well the heart is adjusting to exercise and pumping blood, thus distributing oxygen to the cells – endurance is not really necessary.

Well if you are training for marathon you need the muscles of your leg. But if you are out of breath too easily climbing your stairs, or you can’t keep up with your children playing in the garden, the best thing to do is interval exercise.

  1. Warm up 1 minute
  2. Do a quick burst of 1 minute max (if untrained just 30 seconds) you should feel like not being able to go a bit further.
  3. Then go back to very low speed and recover while moving for 2 minutes
  4. Then you do another sprint 1 minute (or 30 sec)
  5. Recover 2 minutes
  6. Sprint 1 minute (30 sec)
  7. Recover 2 minutes
  8. Cool down to a heart rate of 120
  9. Stretch

When you are a beginner you may need to have a slightly longer recovery time towards the end. However, by increasing the sprints gradually to 1 minute and reducing the recovery times to 2 minutes you can be finished with a proper cardio workout in 20 minutes including stretching.

The more you improve the more you might want to increase to up to 5 sprints of 1 minute. And keep the intensity as high as possible. When you recover in less than 2 minutes already cooling down, you haven’t gone hard enough.

Now, what sport to choose?

  • Running is very high impact on the joints and the speed adjustment of the treadmill is a problem. Having to press the buttons while concentrating on the time and being exhausted is a nuisance.
  • Cross trainer is better regarding the joint impact but one still has to choose the resistance. And it has to do with personal liking. I always felt it only addresses certain areas of my body and neglecting others.
  • The same with biking, and on top of it I particularly dislike it – and it makes my bum hurt.
  • And now my new favourite: The rowing!

    As I said before, it works the whole body. And there is nothing to adjust. You get out of the machine what you put in. It allows recovery easily because you can move on a very slow rate.

    Years ago when I wanted to get fit again I went on a cross trainer and during my recovery phase that thing switched off because I was too slow. This can’t happen on a rower.

Cutting a long story short

A rower can be used as resistance as well as fitness equipment. It works the whole body and it brilliant on fat burning as well as cardio training level.

It is low impact on the joints if done right, and the health benefits are ranging from gaining fitness to becoming stronger and more flexible.

So, what else to ask for?

For me it's the perfect addition to my sport lifestyle, and even my anti-cardio exercise husband got hooked.

There is just one thing. If you want to give it a try: Ask the gym staff to explain not just the display of the rower (there might be different ones) but the technique as well. If you feel that something is not right or you forgot how to work the display: Keep nagging them for help. The displays of the rowers in my gym are definitely not straight forward, and having to wear glasses to see them while not wearing glasses for sport doesn't help either.

Get the help you need - Don't miss out on a great opportunity!

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Author: Rika