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Indoor Rowing: The Ultimate Guide

Indoor Rowing: The Ultimate Guide


14 minute read

Indoor rowing is universally renowned as one of the most effective aerobic training tools in modern sport. A typical rowing stroke is a full-body workout, demanding action from 86% of your muscles across your legs, arm, core and back. The rise of at-home training, driven by the COVID-19 pandemic, has contributed in turn to a 27% increase in people beginning their indoor rowing journey, purchasing machines and setting them up in garages, gardens, kitchens and back-rooms. Not only does indoor rowing condition all your key muscle groups and enable weight loss in half the time that a run or cycle would, it is high-intensity without impacting joints – it works your lungs and does not usually lead to longer-term damage to your knees, ankles and hips.

The benefits of indoor rowing are numerous as demonstrated by the growing number of people getting involved with the sport. However, it is only truly transformative when practiced properly with correct form, reliable equipment and a robust training plan.

That is why asensei have chosen to make rowing our keynote sport. asensei is an app for indoor rowing that allows athletes to join coaching programs created and delivered by world-class coaches, but be guided, monitored and corrected through these programs by your very own personal coach; asensei. We believe the workout or class you take part in should change in real-time, according to your practice and performance. From studio fitness for the masses, to personal instruction for the individual.

In the following, we will guide you through the process of getting started on your indoor rowing machine with the help of asensei.

1. Where can I buy a rowing machine?

2. Rowing Machine Set-Up

3. How To Perfect The Rowing Stroke – The Basics

4. How To Perfect The Rowing Stroke – The Catch and The Finish

5. Split Time – Why Does It Matter?

6. Stroke Rate – Why Does It Matter?

7. Workouts

8. Injury Prevention

The ultimate guide indoor rowing

1. Where can I buy a rowing machine?

As a market grows, so do its key players. Indoor rowing is no different and the past five years have given rise to a wealth of new names who provide variants on the ergometer theme. When it comes to indoor rowing, the original is as popular as ever. Concept2 were founded in 1976 and have grown from a provider of indoor equipment for the hardcore rowing community to stocking most public gyms and workout spaces worldwide with their machines. Their models are typically selected for international competitions and that means they are always compatible with the latest software and virtual training tools. They’re built by rowers for rowers, which means the design and delivery of the machine is ideal for a simulation of the on-water experience.

Head to Concept2’s website and you’ll be redirected to their local dealerships. You can also pick up the machines on marketplaces like Amazon. Should you be looking to compete in certified indoor rowing events, a Concept2 is typically what you’ll need. If, however, you want to opt for something a little more stylish, that might look more at home in your home living areas, we’d suggest looking seriously at either a WaterRower or a FluidRower.  These machines use water to create resistance, which has the benefit of being more quiet and both manufacturers offer a wide range of viable and elegant alternatives, but are sometimes a little pricier. The emergence of Peloton has also led to several insurgent indoor rowing brands (Hydrow, Aviron, CityRow Go, Ergatta) springing up and offering machines with streaming workouts – but you need to sign on via a monthly subscription.

With asensei, you can purchase a machine and leverage our interactive and comprehensive training plans via Bluetooth on an existing Apple iOS device (phones, tablets), giving you an even better-connected coaching experience.

2. Rowing Machine Set-Up

So, you’ve taken delivery of your shiny new indoor rowing machine – what next? There are several things to pay attention to when setting up an erg, as detailed below. The below is based on a Concept2.

a) Drag Factor

On a Concept2, you can navigate via the menu function to set your Drag Factor. The flywheel at the end of the machine is what turns when you pull the handle and you can adjust the amount of resistance you encounter by moving the right-hand-side needle up and down. We’d typically recommend a Drag Factor of around 130 on-screen/between 7 and 8 on the needle. Pull on the handle for a couple of strokes and watch the number change on-screen. Adjust the needle to find the appropriate on-screen number (as mentioned, between 125 and 130 is recommended but feel free to settle wherever feels comfortable).

b) Monitor optimization

On a Concept2, there are several ways to track your progress whilst rowing (number of calories burned, number of watts generated, split time). Ultimately, the split time is the most helpful here – it tracks how fast you are going by relaying to you how long it will take you to cover 500m at your current speed. This number will fluctuate (international rowers will be looking at a number between 1:20 and 1:30 for a 2000m piece) but if you’re new to the sport, the asensei app can help to determine the ideal pace for you. We will go on to explain why split times are important later in this piece.

c) Selecting Workouts

Concept2 machines give you the option to pre-select a typical rowing distance/time (2000m, 5000m, 30 minutes etc.) but you can also customize this to suit your preferred length of time. Be aware that 5000m on the rowing machine for a complete beginner is probably 25 minutes of exercise (averaging a 2:30 split).

3. How To Perfect The Rowing Stroke – The Basics

The machine is set up, you’ve selected your workout and you’re just about ready to begin your journey as an indoor rower. Although rowing is often publicized as a sport that relies primarily on strength and physiological capabilities, there is a lot of technique involved that, when mastered, can make your life easier and your exertion more efficient. Good form is free speed. The rowing stroke can be split simply into two parts – active and recovery. Active is when you’re travelling from the front of the machine to the back (from the catch to the finish) and engaging your muscles to turn the flywheel. Recovery is when you’re travelling back up towards the flywheel and there is no resistance.

In rowing, there is a sequence of events that should happen whilst taking a stroke and it is important to remember the order. As you take a stroke, you should engage your legs first – they’re the strongest muscles in your body and should be responsible for taking most of the load. As your legs travel back, your back and torso should follow and only then do your shoulders and arms start their journey. All of this should happen in quick succession over the course of a second or two, but the sequencing will mean you’re optimizing the strongest components of your body properly. On the recovery, the opposite order should occur – your arms and body move first followed by your legs (your arms should ideally be straightened and over your knees before they begin to bend).

If you download the asensei free trial, the first two lessons of Olympic Champion Eric Murray’s (RE)COMMIT program will help you learn the correct stroke sequence. You can row along with him as many times as you wish to perfect the technique and set yourself up for success. For paying members of asensei, the British Rowing MASTER THE BASICS program will also support you in learning the stroke.

4. How To Perfect The Rowing Stroke – The Catch and The Finish

We’d recommend reading this section once you’ve completed the asensei (RE)COMMIT program and gained an understanding of the stroke – this section will fine-tune either end. If you use the asensei learn to row programs, there are a collection of drills that break the stroke down into manageable chunks and isolate the specific technique required to maximize efficiency and form.

As mentioned, the rowing strokes has two ends which we call ‘the catch’ and ‘the finish’. The catch occurs as you’re about to take a stroke and the handle is as close to the monitor and flywheel as it ever will be. The finish (yep, you guessed it) happens at the completion of the stroke, when your body is essentially sitting upright at the back of the machine.

For the catch, it is important to keep your back as straight as you can. Your shins should be at a 90-degree angle and your arms outstretched and ready to pull on the handle.

For the finish, try not to let your body and back slump – rowing is tiring, and it can be tempting to slouch. You can make life a lot easier for yourself by embodying good technique. At the finish, the handle should be between your ribs and abdominal muscles and your legs should be straight. Once you feel you’re in that position, you can begin your next journey down the slide…

5. Split Time – Why Does It Matter?

Think of your split time as how fast you’re going. It measures how long it will take you to cover 500m at the pace/effort you’re currently exerting – the lower the number, the faster you’re going. As you repeat workouts you enjoy, remember to track the split time and try to get a lower average number each time you take to the machine. For instance, if you’re trying to row 2000m and your split time reads 2:00, it will take you 8 minutes to finish the 2000m at the pace you’re currently travelling at.

The asensei app will track the split times for every segment of the workout and can also be used to set split time targets through your workout. It calculates what you can and should be aiming for based on past performances and potential.

6. Stroke Rate – Why Does It Matter?

The stroke rate is the number of strokes you are taking per minute (SPM). Many people fall into the trap of believing that the higher the stroke rate (i.e. the higher the number of strokes you are taking per minute) then the faster you must be going. This theory only works if an appropriate level of power is being applied during the active phase of the stroke. It is best to learn to row at a lower stroke rate (typically between 18 and 22SPM) so that you have more time between strokes to master the technique. Competitive rowers often train at 20SPM for longer periods of time and only really transition up into higher numbers when they’re taking on races or shorter pieces of work. If you’re unable to go fast at a low stroke rate (i.e. if your split time suffers as your stroke rate drops), it is because you have not yet applied the fundamentals of an efficient stroke to your practice. It can be difficult to track both SPM and split time simultaneously so asensei takes care of this for you – our tool embeds SPM, understands what rate is optimal for individual workouts and prompts you to adjust based on our data system.

7. Workouts

If you ask any rower for their favorite indoor rowing machine workout, they will probably all give you different answers. The international benchmark for indoor rowing competition is typically 2000m – the fastest rowers in the world complete this distance in around five and a half minutes on the men’s side and six and a half minutes on the women’s side. An average competitive rower would probably be around 45 seconds to a minute slower for each gender. If you’re new to the sport, 2000m is a good way to map your progress. If you have purchased a Concept2, leverage the logbook to pace yourself against people with similar ability. The asensei (RE)COMMIT program, as led by Eric Murray, is a six-week cycle that will help you to complete your first 2000m and then help you shave off seconds and, hopefully, minutes as you repeat the training and get fitter, stronger and faster.

Other workouts that rowers typically complete on the indoor rowing machine include longer, low-rate pieces (30 minutes at Rate 20, 10000m at Rate 18, 2x6km at Rate 20) or shorter, higher-intensity bursts (5000m at Rate 26, 10x500m at Rate 28-32). Our (RE)FOCUS program allows you to build towards higher distances and gives you a platform to potentially enter your first indoor rowing competition. We've put together a list of our favorite indoor rowing programs to help you find something that works for you.

8. Injury Prevention

Although rowing is commonly acknowledged as a sport that can shed weight, build muscle and improve cardiovascular fitness without unnecessarily causing lasting joint-based/muscular issues, it is important to qualify that proper technique and training are the only way to achieve this balance. Common rowing injuries include lumbar back discomfort, knee pain and wrist tension. With asensei’s beginning rowing programs, you can ensure that your tutelage comes from the very best and is personalized for your body and aims. Not only can we provide a platform for improvement but the skills and technique you learn via an asensei program will help to protect your body from unwanted injury and help you achieve your personal goals, be those losing weight, gaining strength or learning to row.

If you’re serious about pursuing rowing as more than just a casual hobby, we should also stress that cross-training remains a large part of a typical rower’s regime. Strengthen your core via abdominal-based workouts and practice yoga to increase flexibility and conditioning of key muscle groups. Lifting weights – provided you have experience in the gym and know what you’re doing – can also help drive down your split times. Stretch after every workout, particularly the muscles groups most involved with indoor rowing i.e. your glutes and lower back. The asensei DRILLS AND SKILLS program offers standalone stretching regimes whilst our complimentary DARK HORSE OFF-ERG program guides you through the best body weight workouts.

Conclusion

So, you’ve made it. With the help of asensei, you should now be able to take on an indoor rowing workout. From studio fitness for the masses to personal instruction for the individual, the technology and connected coaching that asensei brings to your home gym can enable you to learn from the best and set yourself up for long-term accomplishment in a sport that gives a lot back.

The wonderful world of indoor rowing is growing in popularity. At asensei, we spotted this trend and realized the awesome potential of rowing when coached properly. Our commitment to perfect practice and mastering the fundamentals of a sport tally perfectly with the technical and physical demands of indoor rowing and that is why we’ve developed the optimal training program created by rowers for rowers of all abilities.

Keep your eyes peeled for future articles around the indoor rowing ecosystem and reach out via support@asensei.com if you have specific questions around any asensei product or program.

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