Does it have to feel real?
I recently reviewed the Sunny RW5624, a full-motion that, as far as I know, is unique in using magnetic resistance as opposed to hydraulics. When I say full-motion, it refers to the feature that means you can row (as in a gym machine), scull (wide arm movement as in a real boat) and sweep row (using both hands on one oar).
The scull and sweep row are authentic movements you'd use on the water, but does a machine have to replicate 'real' rowing to be beneficial?
Well no, it doesn't, otherwise Concept2 wouldn't be the preferred option of ergo (technical term for an indoor rowing machine) for just about every rowing club in the world. Rowing clubs use ergos for a number of reasons. One it's obviously a good way to train all-year round to stay in shape regardless of weather or conditions on the river. But they're mainly used to record performances of individual rowers and help determine optimum members of a crew based on their strengths.
A straight up and down slide on the beam, pulling a handle that bears no resemblance to an oar, and doesn't even move like one, will still deliver a great workout. And if it's suitable for a professional rower, it's going to be absolutely fine for someone who just wants to get fit.
So why do some brands bother with bringing a full-motion onto the market?
It's because they still have a role. Three stroke options allows the user to workout in three different ways and exercise a number of different muscle sets. It also brings a little variation into what can become a repetitive motion - believe it or not, some people do get bored of rowing. Of course there are other ways to 'spice' up your sessions - see 'Getting Creative with your workouts' for more ideas. But using three stroke types effectively could triple your targets by measuring your 500 meter times with each stroke.
Sunny have a good video - see below - on the 3 stroke styles. You can read my review of the machine used in the video here.
Many people fail to continue with their fitness regime - especially when home equipment is involved (the amount of secondhand machines advertised as 'hardly-used' and 'in excellent condition' proves that!)
So anything that adds variation and additional challenges has to be welcome :0)
Roy Palmer is an athletics coach, teacher of The Alexander Technique and a rowing fanatic.