Rowing is Good for You!

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Like many other aerobic activities, the health benefits of rowing include positive changes to cardiovascular fitness and a reduction in the risk of developing type 2 diabetes and various cancers. Unlike cycling, stair climbing and treadmill walking, rowing provides a full body workout by engaging both the upper and lower body. Full body involvement not only enhances aerobic conditioning, but also improves flexibility and mobility around the major joints. However, since full body exercise can quickly lead to fatigue, especially for beginners, it is important to slowly integrate rowing into an exercise program.

Rowing is a suitable form of exercise for all ages and levels of fitness and has recently been shown to prevent age-related loss of muscle which occurs in older men. Calorie expenditure from rowing is greater than cycling and can complement any workout program. A sturdy, well-conditioned and smooth home model will cost approximately $1,000 to $1,200.
Common Injuries
Rowing is a low impact activity, but requires co-ordination, skill and practice to avoid common injuries. Since rowing requires consistent action of the knees, elbows, wrists, lower back and shoulders, a previous injury to one of these areas may inhibit your rowing performance. People who try an indoor rowing machine commonly complain about pain or discomfort in the lower back region. The rowing technique requires a forward bend in the back, a powerful thrust with the legs and a follow through with the arms bringing the oars into the abdomen and driving the upper body back ten degrees at the end of each stroke. Consistently performing 15 to 30 strokes per minute for 30 minutes can cause fatigue and strain in the core area.

A recent study published in the Clinical Biomechanical Journal investigated changes in the electrical activity of the lower back while subjects exercised on a rowing machine. Results showed that rowers experienced a high level of forward bending and lower back fatigue as the trial progressed. It is important to have a strong core and to use proper form with each stroke in order to minimize strain. And, since the amount of energy required to perform the activity is higher for non-rowers, a slow and progressive program in both duration and intensity (strokes per minute and tension) will aid in the development of muscular coordination and strength and the prevention of injury.

Is Rowing for You?
If you have a membership to a gym, you’ve probably seen a few rowing machines tucked away from the popular treadmills, steppers and elliptical machines. Rowing is a fun and invigorating form of exercise, but it can be intimidating. The addition of rowing to your exercise program will add variety and challenge to your workouts. When you compare rowing to treadmill running, the seated position during the row has the added benefit of improving the heart’s efficiency to pump blood and the return of blood to the heart which allows you to exercise at a lower heart rate, but at the same relative intensity of treadmill running.

If you belong to a club, ask a professional trainer to show you the correct form for rowing or watch an instructional video. As a beginner, exercise for no more than 10 minutes at a stroke rate of eight to 10 rows per minute. A moderate to experienced rower generally aims for 15 to 30 rows per minute for a total of 20 to 30 minutes. Furthermore, you may choose to warm-up on the rower for five minutes and perform the final five minutes after completing your resistance training routine. Resistance training is important to improve overall body strength and exercises such as seated pulleys, body squats, back extensions, abdominal crunches and bicep curls will improve the integrity of your row, delay fatigue and prevent injury.
Take-Home Message
Unlike many aerobic activities, rowing engages the strong action of both the upper and lower body muscles, but requires proper technique to help prevent injuries and improve the efficiency of a workout. A gradual integration of rowing into your workouts will not only add variety, but also enhance your overall level of fitness. If you have a chance to row outdoors, enjoy the scenery and the challenge of overcoming the resistance of water. For indoor rowers, the scenery may be different, but the experience and benefits are always the same.

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