(Note: This post is re-published from Piquant Prose .) I don't enjoy watching people come close to injuring themselves when they try t...

How to Use a Rowing Machine

(Note: This post is re-published from Piquant Prose.)

I don't enjoy watching people come close to injuring themselves when they try to use one of these:
A rowing machine, aka an 'erg'
I can hardly teach you the technique without a video, which I don't have the capability to take at the moment. However, I can give you a few pointers to teach you how to use one better!

These things give you a great workout. Unlike most cardio machines, you use your upper and lower body at the same time. You also build a lot more muscle than you would running, which means you keep burning calories for longer after your workout.

Because you use your back muscles, you get a really strong back (which is otherwise pretty hard to train) and a great core. It probably won't give you great calves, but the arms, shoulder, butt and thighs are all in for quite a workout.

For the basics on how to use an erg, either look at the pictures on the actual machine, or check out the manufacturer's website. It's got a lot of information on how to get started. Here I'll give you the inside information from somebody who has spent a lot of hours with her butt on one of these machines.

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1. Use the drag setting to your advantage.
Like most machines, ergs are adjustable. In the picture above, the big round fan section has a dark blue dial on it that allows you to adjust the resistance. The higher the dial, the harder it is to pull the handle. Since rowing uses your back, and backs are not fun to injure, START AT A LOW RESISTANCE!!! Even the U.S. national team sets the damper lower than most recreational users who don't know any better. Generally between a 2 and a 4 is a good place to start.

Since ergs vary, if you want a more concrete number, you can get the drag factor instead. If your machine looks like the one above, it's pretty easy to do. On the main menu, hit 'More Options' (the lowest button) and then hit the top button (I think it says 'Display Drag Factor'). If you take a few strokes, it will display a number. If you're on the small side (less than 150lbs.) or not in great shape (yet), this should probably be between 90 and 105, depending on your fitness. Otherwise, I'd still keep it below 120 at all times until you're really comfortable.

2. Think like a rower
In a boat, the erg handle is attached to an oar. More specifically, it's attached to a 12 foot stick with a flat water and wind catcher on the end. Any minor changes in your hand level results in a huge change in the level of the actual blade. Since the goal is to keep the blade very level, your hands have to stay even more level.

This is important on the erg. If you're having to move the handle up and down a lot to take a stroke, you're wasting a lot of energy and risk hurting yourself. When you're moving the handle towards the screen (called the 'recovery'), make sure your hands clear your knees before you start to bend your knees (this requires a bit of flexibility). When you're moving the handle away from the screen (called the 'drive'), try to keep the handle fairly steady and pull straight back. An easy way to tell how you're doing: the chain attached to the handle should be fairly steady.

3. No, really, think like a rower
In a boat, there's really not much boat. In the smallest boats, you sit on top of them as much as in them, because they're about a foot wide and very unstable. How does this translate to the erg? Well, any jerky or unstable motion disrupts the motion of the boat, so the rowing stroke is very smooth. This is hardest to do at the two changes in direction.

When you go from the recovery (going towards the screen) to the drive (going away from the screen), the transition should be smooth. Think of the kind of force you'd need to stretch a rubber band, rather than the kind of force you'd need to tackle an opponent in a football game. When you go from the drive to the recovery, it can also feel a little bit out of control. The easiest way to force yourself to improve this is to unstrap your feet and try rowing. Figure out how to keep rowing without falling backwards. (It's hard!!)

4. Fast on the drive, slow on the recovery
Rowers are pretty smart. We named a part of our stroke 'the recovery' for a reason—you're actually supposed to spend some time recovering from your incredible exertion on the drive. With a good rhythm, you'll spend about twice as much time on the recovery as on the drive.

5. Learn what the monitor means
The big number in the middle of the monitor can be changed between various settings, including watts, calories/hr and split. The split tells you how long it would take you to go 500m if you kept rowing the same pace; the lower it is, the harder you're working. I like this value because it has relatively small changes in value for a change in exertion, so it's pretty easy to try to maintain a consistent pace. If you're just starting on the erg, try for under a 2:30.

The other important number is in the upper right hand corner. This little number is your number of strokes per minute. Try to keep this number between 20 and 30—20 for long, slow workouts and 30 for short, fast interval work. This range will give you the best control over what you're doing and help prevent injury. During a give workout, try to stay in a pretty narrow range. For example, our steady state workouts are usually at a 20-22, and our faster workouts are usually at 26-28 or 28-30, and we try to stay in this range for the whole workout.
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I have a 100 more tips, but most of them you'll figure out just by trying it a few times!! If you're interested in using it, let me know and I can give you tips and workouts. If you use it right, you're really unlikely to get injured and you'll get in really great shape.

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