The World Rowing Championships – the main event in the rower’s calendar – occurs at the end of the northern hemisphere summer. From junior rowers to elite athletes, from indoor rowing – yes machine rowing is now a sport in its own right – to racing in the open sea, from veterans to para-rowers, the Championships have got it covered.
Although Helen Glover went from beginner to Olympic gold in four years, becoming an elite rower is no walk in the park. It takes grit, determination and discipline. Rowing involves a dynamic mix of endurance and explosive, lung-tearing bursts of power. It needs both aerobic and anaerobic fitness, the ability to keep a skittery boat level in the water, and a cool, mechanical feel for rhythm and timing – not to mention an ability to drag every last ounce of energy screaming from your body. And the only way to build all that is through testing hours on the water and in the gym. The path to Olympic gold shines with blood, sweat and tears.
Helen Glover tore up some clichés about rowing – principally that it involves very tall young men with floppy hair and Herculean shoulders. These days, partly due to Glover’s legacy, more and more women are taking it up. And for good reason. Even for those whose sights are set a little lower than Olympic gold, rowing ticks a bunch of exercise boxes.
It’s a calorie-burner. An hour on a rowing machine can easily torch 600 calories, making it among the most time-efficient weight-loss exercises going. Put in an hour and a half and you are pushing half your daily recommended calorie consumption. It’s also a whole-body workout. Every major muscle group gets a look-in. In addition to those Herculean shoulders and lats, it targets your quads, hamstrings, glutes and that all-important core. It’s also low impact, making it ideal for anyone whose injuries or joint problems rule out higher-impact exercises like running – which makes it a favourite for those who want to keep fit and active later in life. And it’s hard to beat as a cardio workout – you can get those lungs screaming just as much as you like.
Join a club, get out on the water and rowing is more than just a work-out. You’ll get your daily dose of whatever sunlight is going, plus, for those not after the quiet pleasures of a solo row, there’s the social, team-building side. It’s not a bad way to meet people and make a few friends.
Most people will have their first taste of rowing on a machine in the gym. So here’s a beginner’s guide to that all important stroke:
- Strap your feet comfortably into the footplates
- The first part of the stroke is called ‘the catch’. Your knees should be bent, buttocks close to your heels, back straight, arms extended, handle gripped
- Push off with your legs. 60 per cent of your stroke power comes from your legs. Keep your arms extended and back straight
- Once your legs are straight, use your core to tilt your body back about 45 degrees, keeping your spine straight
- To complete the stroke, bend your elbows and pull the handle until it touches you just below your chest
And avoid these common pitfalls:
- Overpulling with your arms rather than driving from your legs – although it might feel like you’re getting a better upper body workout, it’s unsustainable – and risks injury
- Setting the gears or damping too high – start off at a level that works for your level of fitness
- Curving your back. Done properly rowing strengthens your back and core. But if you don’t keep that spine straight, you risk injury
Whether you’re a budding Helen Glover or Alex Gregory, looking to improve your technique or are completely new to rowing, look out for our training video later this month. In the meantime, if you fancy giving it a go, sign up for our FREE 7 day activity pass for unlimited Gym access and try out one of our Concept 2 rowing machines. Who knows, it might just be the change you’re looking for.