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You may have seen a rowing machine tucked among the treadmills at your gym. Should you brave it? Yes.

The rowing movement is a graceful, full-body exercise that works different parts of the body roughly in proportion to the amount of the muscle in them. It asks the most of your legs, followed by your core (the muscles all around it — abs, back, and sides), and then your upper body. This leaves you with good, proportional strength, and a nice stable core, which can banish back pain.

If you are trying to figure out how to get started with strength training, the rowing machine can be a particularly good choice. It builds some resistance training into a good cardio workout.

Tips for Pleasant Rowing

Study the technique video: The ideal movement is much less extreme than many people assume — or than you may see in the gym! (Concept2 also offers information about breathing techniques and other tips.)

Keep the damper setting low to medium: Concept2 recommends damper settings (changed with a lever on the side) in the 3 to 5 range. There is lots more to know about this setting, which is not a “resistance setting” as you might see on other gym machines, but this is a good start.

Don’t go too fast: Beginning rowers often rush up and down the slide, with “stroke rates” (strokes per minute) over 30. Practice with a much slower stroke rate — 22 to 26 strokes per minute is recommended by Concept2 — while you learn the motion. Concept2 offers workout suggestions with different patterns.

Rowing Seems Kind of Hardcore

There are lots of hardcore rowers (and runners and cyclists and so on), but you can get a lot of benefit from the rowing machine at any level. You can row hard (applying LOTS of pressure with your legs) or easy (less pressure), at a fast stroke rate or a slow one, at a fast pace (to test yourself, or to try different paces and learn how they feel) or a leisurely one.

Because rowing is a seated, no-impact movement, it is easy to balance while rowing, and it’s easy on your joints. When people say they hate the rowing machine, they’re usually using it for sprints (and sometimes have not mastered the form that makes rowing efficient and comfortable). There is no reason to use it in a way you hate!

I have linked to Concept2 information, because the Concept2 rower is a popular, well-designed machine, common in gyms. Also, Concept2 really goes the extra mile to support the rowing community, working extensively with competitive teams and also providing lots of resources and activities for recreational rowers. The basic principles are the same with other rowers, although the machines may operate differently.

Have you wondered about a piece of gym equipment? Which one?

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