Rowing machines are starting to nudge aside elliptical trainers in many health clubs, gyms, and workout schedules. Indoor rowing classes are proliferating, sometimes including music, teamwork, and/or interactive video technology to provide scenery and competition.
There are good reasons why rowing should make a comeback. Among the very fittest of all athletes are members of the Olympic rowing teams. Rowers typically use more muscles and burn more calories than just about any athletes except cross-country skiers. They get the aerobic benefits of running a marathon without impact on their knees or feet, plus they get an upper-body and “core” workout.
If you want to invest in a rowing machine for your home, keep these factors in mind:
l A good machine whould mimic a real scull – the type of boat used in Crew, the sport of competitive rowing – with two handles to simulate oars or else a single bar, attached to adjustable pistons or a flywheel-and-pulley system to provide variable resistance. The padded or contoured seat slides on rollers or ball bearings along the stationary frame.
l Foot rests should hold your feet firmly in place; some swivel as you push back.
Getting a grip
Here are some basics in rowing technique.
l Avoid gripping the handles or bar too tightly. Hold on securely but semi-relaxed, with your wrists straight, not bent.
l When you extend your arms forward, don’t hunch or tense your shoulders.
l Use your legs to push, lean back slightly, and engage your core muscles, still keeping your shoulders relaxed.
l Pull back until your hands are in line with your ribs; don’t lean back too far.
Rowing with proper technique doesn’t strain back muscles, so it’s usually good for people with low back pain, but consult a doctor or physical therapist before taking up rowing if you have back, shoulder, neck, or knee problems.
There’s a good reason why exercisers burn more calories on the treadmill than on the stationary bike. You might be subconsciously slacking on the latter. A study at the University of New Mexico compared treadmill runners and stationary cyclists. According to subjective reports, the two groups were working at the same effort, but when scientists ran the tests, the exercisers’ oxygen consumption and calories burned were significantly higher on the ‘mill.
Get Set, Go
ONE IS AS GOOD AS TWO If you feel as squeezed for time, this news should please you: Toss out the tired “two sets of eight to 12 reps” mantra and adopt a less-is-more attitude. By lifting slightly heavier weights, you’ll find you’re getting nearly the same payoff in half the time.
Dozens of studies have shown that amateur weight lifters seem to glean as much from pumping one set as we do from pumping three. The benefits go beyond muscle strength to include reduced body fat, improved endurance, and maybe even stronger bones.
But there’s a secret to earning that sort of return: You have to aim for failure. (Finally, permission to poop out.) Start with a weight you can barely heft a total of eight times. If that eight rep doesn’t burn, add a pound or two. When 12 reps feel easy, add more weight.
That’s the timesaving routine. If you’re new to strength training, you may initially be more comfortable with the traditional, two-set regime using lighter weights – at least until you’ve mastered the moves. That’s fine, too.
Keep in mind, however much you’re lifting, that although it’s okay to feel a little stiff the next day, weight lifting should never make your joints hurt. And any muscle pain that lasts longer than 48 hours is likely a sign you’re hefting too much. That means – ease up.
HOT EXERCISE TIP
JUST COOL DOWN!
A simple trick of cooling your hands can make exercising easier.
Here’s how it works: Hands help regulate body temperature. With their relatively large surface area and extensive supply of blood vessels, they dissipate heat when core temperature rises. So it’s not surprising that several studies have shown that cooling your hands before, during, or after workouts helps enhance heat dissipation.
If you’re very overweight, you’re more likely to get overheated while exercising because you have more adipose (fat) tissue, which acts as an insulator. Or if you don’t like getting hot and sweaty, cooling your hands may be worth a try. Carry a bottle of cold water in each hand. Or try immersing your hands in cool water for 10 minutes before you exercise. There are also special palm wraps, basically gel packs that you freeze before using.
Caution: Overdoing it or using water that is too cold however may cause blood vessels in the hands to constrict, which could prevent heat dissipation.
Reebok University Master Trainer & A.C.S.M. Certified Health & Fitness Professional, solves your workout dilemmas
BIG & SMALL BENEFITS
Q I go to the gym couple of times a week to lift weights. I manage to work all the major muscles – legs, chest, shoulder, back, arms, abs – in these sessions. What I tend to neglect is exercises for my forearms and wrists, and inner and outer thighs due to lack of time. My questions:
1. Do these areas get worked while doing the regular exercises, like squats, lunges, bench press, etc?
2. Is it necessary to devote special attention to these body parts – meaning do I need separate exercises for them? If yes, how often?
Shalini Shetty, Mumbai
Vinata Shetty answers:
A If you’re weight training only a couple of times a week, priority should be given to working the major muscle groups. However it’s also true that by incorporating closed kinetic, multi joint moves like Squats, Lunges, Step ups, Push-ups, Pull ups, etc you’ll be able to exercise some of the small muscles you ‘neglect’ by default.
That said, you could include some variations to the above exercises so as to engage multiple muscle groups. For e.g.:
Sumo squats wherein your feet are at wider-than-hip-width distance and toes turned out slightly, will work the inner and outer thigh muscles along with the bigger ones (quads, glutes, etc.)
You can do the same move holding a medicine ball between your thighs, or a resistance band tied around your thighs, when you squat.
Eke out a set of wrist curls and reverse wrist curls while you’re resting between sets of biceps curls.
Just keep in mind that functional exercises that involve multiple joints target big and small muscles.
What is chi running?
It’s a form of running that incorporates some principles of tai chi, a martial art that uses slow, dancelike, low-impact movements, often done now as a form of exercise. The goal is to transform high-impact running into a more relaxed, body-friendly, mindful activity.
Developed by Danny Dryer, an ultra-marathoner and tai chi practitioner who wanted to improve his running technique and make it less stressful on the body, it focuses on core strength, proper posture, and mindfulness. The technique involves using core muscles to power movement; leaning forward slightly and keeping legs more relaxed; and landing midfoot instead of heel first (more like barefoot running )
Those with certain biomechanical problems, such as ankle problems or feet that roll inward or outward excessively, may have trouble with some of these techniques. Any time you alter your running gait substantially, you risk injury. It often helps to work with a skilled coach or trainer and/or a physical therapist if you have biomechanical issues or past injuries.
Runners can also just incorporate some common sense tenets of chi running simply by being more mindful and more focused on body mechanics and alignment.