One of our top recommendations right now for getting a great cardio workout at home is the rowing machine. Very few pieces of equipment offer the reasonable footprint, low cost, all-body resistance, and massive calorie burn offered by a quality indoor rower.
Several online and offline publications rate rowing in their top 5 list of most recommended machine-based cardio exercises – and for a good reason. Once you set your body inside a rower for the first time, you’ll never want to use any other piece of cardio equipment ever again.
Here’re 6 benefits to including a rower in your home gym, along with a few tips on what to look for before making a purchase decision:
Anyone can do it.
As you continue to read, you might find yourself being scared away from rowing when you hear just how hard a single session can work your body. However, the beauty of rowing is that you control the intensity.
Regardless whether you choose to use water or air impeller rower; all true rowers output intensity relative to the effort you put in – just like real world rowing. The harder you pull on the handle and drive with your legs, the more resistance will be created by the impeller.
What all this means is that it doesn’t matter if you’re 15 or 94, indoor rowing is perfect for people of all ages and fitness levels.
Very low impact exercise.
Men’s Health listed the CrossFit Games favorite rower, the Concept2 Model D as one of the 5 best cardio machines on the entire planet. While everyone will have their own favorite brand and model, a rowing machine offers arguably the lowest impact of all aerobic machines, when considering the sheer intensity one can exert while using them.
Used with proper form, as demonstrated by CrossFit athlete, Jason Khalipa in the video below, the only impact rowing will have on your body is the impact on your muscles (heart included!).
Offers entire body cardio workout.
Rowing taxes virtually every muscle in the entire body, with perhaps the triceps being the only exception. This exercise requires the equal use of legs, upper body, and core to drive the impeller which creates the resistance you feel. Very few pieces of cardio equipment can tax the entire body unless you go with something like the Jacob’s Ladder (expensive $$$) or Assault Airbike (unusually loud).
Proper rowing technique can be learned in as little as 10 minutes of online or in-person instruction by a professional. It’s very easy to do but does require you to maintain proper rhythm between what your upper and lower body is doing on the machine. Over time, you may find that the improved coordination you develop on the rower will transfer into other areas of your lifestyle.
Keep in mind that you don’t need to be perfectly coordinated to row, so even if you’re not a ballroom dancing champion, you can still enjoy all the benefits indoor rowing can offer.
Burns massive calories.
Because this aerobic exercise works the entire body so evenly, indoor rowing can burn up to 800 calories per hour (400 per half hour). If you’re using a machine like the professional Water Rower which is designed to mimic real-world rowing to near perfection, you can be sure you’ll hit these calorie-burn goals every time you sit on your rower.
The calorie burn is much different from treadmills, stationary bikes, and elliptical machines because each of those machines allow you to coast. Particularly allowing you to rest your upper body whenever you wish. Rowing forces your entire body to work, regardless of how hard or soft you pull on the handle.
Reduces stress levels.
We here at the Best Home Gym advocate the use of resistance exercise to build a healthy body and to reduce the stress levels created by a hectic, busy lifestyle. When you do work or perform exercises that taxes the entire body on a regular basis, it helps keep cortisol levels (i.e., the stress hormone) in check.
Since rowing uses nearly every muscle in the body and forces your heart rate into the optimal zone each and every time, any excess cortisol circulating through your bloodstream will be burned off, and hormonal balance instantly restored after an intense session of rowing.
What to look for in a rower:
Nearly every source you ask will tell you that the only two considerations when it comes to a true rower that offers performance similar to real world rowing are the Concept2 lineup or the original Water Rower. If neither fits your budget, the best thing you can do is read reviews of cheaper models very carefully, paying particular attention to any criticisms you read.
Here’s a short list of things to consider when buying a quality rower:
- Materials used: nearly every part of the machine, other than the impeller cover and seat cushion, should be made of steel. Cheaper machines will use lots of plastic parts including the impeller. Cheap parts will lead to a poor feel, limited resistance, and a limited lifespan (hint: a 1-year warranty should make you very suspicious as to the quality of what you’re buying).
- Footprint: Look for machines with a 76 – 100-inch footprint front-to-back. If you’re less than 5’10, a 76-inch machine will likely do just fine. If you’re taller, you’ll want something that’s at least 84 inches long, or you may not be able to fully extend your legs. Higher end machines will also bend in the center, and have casters on one end for easy storage if you plan to move it or tuck it in a corner between workouts.
- Digital monitor: You want to track things like distance rowed, total time, pacing, and calories burned during your workout. This helps to stay motivated while exercising and gives you a goal to shoot for from one workout to the next.
An indoor rower is the perfect addition to any home gym. It can be used alongside your current resistance training equipment, or as a standalone machine you can use to work your entire body, reducing stress and burning way more calories than you would using a treadmill, bike, or elliptical.
Once you start rowing, you’ll be hooked for life!