The rowing machine is one of the most effective yet most neglected pieces of equipment in the gym. The reason for this probably that it takes a bit of practice to get the technique right, but it is essential that you do.
Have a look at this before you begin: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zQ82RYIFLN8 and then spend a bit of time trying to break the stroke into its four components. The biggest mistake I see people make is using the arms too much. The stroke starts with the legs, then the back and finally the arms. The recovery, that’s the way back, goes in reverse – arms away from the body first, then lean forward and bend your knees until you are all the way forward to the beginning. Once you’ve cracked it, you will be training your whole body during a cardio session. There are very few machines that can offer that!
There are of course many different workouts that you can do on any cardio machine. In the boathouse, during the winter season, we often row at a low level for up to two hours to build a deep core aerobic fitness. This will be coupled with strength training on the other days. In the race season, much more time is spent on the water with a few short session on the ergo to work on strength endurance. The workout I am going to share with you is a pyramid session, which is where the intensity builds to a peak and then drops off again towards the end and is designed to build on strength endurance.
Before you do this workout first make sure that you have spent a few gentle sessions on the ergo making sure that your technique is up to scratch. Get the trainer in the gym to watch you and give you advice. You should set the monitor up so that you can read strokes per minute (SPM) and pace over 500 metres.
Set the resistance to somewhere in the middle range and then row for 15 minutes at a level which makes you breathe a bit harder but where you think you could keep going for an hour… the equivalent to a gentle jog. Try to keep the stroke rate down to less than 23 SPM at the same time a pushing enough with the legs to keep the pace up.
This is your staring level – take note of the pace over 500m and the SPM.
The 30 minute pyramid workout
Set the resistance to a middle range – 5 on a Concept2. You will begin at your starting level and row for ten minutes. At ten minutes, up the pace by 5 seconds per 500m. After two minutes, up the pace again by five seconds. Do the same four more times, to take you to the 20 minute mark. Keep this up for one minute and then start to slow down again, dropping the pace by five seconds every two minutes until 30.
Here is an example. Let’s say that your starting pace is 2 minutes 20 seconds for 500 metres (2’20” / 500m). You would warm up at this pace for 10 minutes then increase to 2’15” /500m until minute 12. Keep increasing by 5 seconds every 2 minutes until minute 20, where you will be rowing at 1’55”/500m. Keep that going for 1 minute and then drop the pace back down to 2’00”. Keep dropping by 5 seconds every two minutes until 30 minutes are up.
This is a cardio workout that is best done after a short session on the weights where you are working more on chest and shoulders than back, legs and arms. It will not only improve your stamina, but also give you the ability to workout harder for longer as it concentrates on strength endurance. I would build this into your usual routine twice a week for six weeks and then change your cardio to another machine for six weeks. Keep changing your plan every six weeks to encourage the body to develop muscle through different planes of movement and also to prevent cardio session becoming predictive and stale.