So you've just unpacked your rowing machine, found your the page written in your language in the over-complicated user manual, and finally assembled the rower with only a handful of odd-looking screws and bits and pieces left over.
So now what? You just sit on it and row of course. Well you could, but may soon get bored with the same routine each day, and you'll get less and less benefit if you keep doing the same thing.
I get a lot of emails asking what sort of workouts are best on a rower. Thankfully, many models come with pre-set programs so you don't have to think about it - just select a program, press the button and the console will do the rest. But you still have to know what type of workouts will help you achieve the results you're looking for.
But if your rower doesn't have any programs, you can still vary your training with three variables.
The first one, resistance, is the setting that will make it easier or harder to pull back the handle. There are four ways for a rower to give your muscles something to work against - air, hydraulics, magnets and water. You can read more about each type and the advantages and disadvantages here. But for now, all you need to know is how to adjust the setting. This is usually done by turning a knob, sliding a piston or lever, or pressing a button or two. You can refer to that manual for your own model.
The higher the resistance, the harder it is to pull. So use high resistance to work your muscles and increase your heart rate. However, don't think that having the resistance at its highest level means you're going to work harder. Having the setting in the middle can give a better cardio-vascular workout, higher than this can reduce your aerobic workout by putting more stress onto your muscles. You can see more on the benefits of monitoring your heart rate for fat loss and cardio training here.
The second is stroke rate. This is the number of times you're moving up and down on the rail (note: it's not an accurate measure of how fast you're rowing, because this also depends on the resistance level). All but the most basic models will display your stroke rate on the monitor in the form of strokes per minute. A combination of resistance level and stroke rate will determine how hard you're working out and obviously, how many calories you're burning. A better measure to find out how fast you're rowing is the watts generated - see part two.
Competitive rowers can reach a rate of around 46 per minute in the last part of a race, but it's a challenge to maintain this for long!
Set a target is a great way to measure your progress. You can do this by recording your time to row a specific distance at the same resistance level, say 1000 meters for example. Most displays will show your workout time, if yours doesn't you can use a stop watch or timer on a Smartphone.
The other way to do a target workout is to set a time and record the distance you've rowed during that time. You can either set a short time of two minutes and row at your top stroke rate at a medium resistance level. Or row for a longer period of perhaps ten minutes at a comfortable level. At the end of your time, check your distance and keep the result on spreadsheet - some top models are PC compatible and will do this for you.
The key factors in getting results are... variation and progress. Avoid doing the same thing every time you sit on your rower and you'll keep coming back, Measure your results and you'll see the progress you're making and stay motivated.
Please click here for a list of the types of rowing workouts and which are best for cardio-vascular training, fat-burning or weight loss.
For a complete list of workouts and programs for the beginner right up to an elite rower, please see The Complete Rowing Machine Workout here. It's available as an instant download as a PDF or for the Kindle.
Good luck with your training :0)
Roy Palmer is an athletics coach, teacher of The Alexander Technique and a rowing fanatic.