As most of us don’t have the skill or means to row on a river in a specialist rowing boat, the information given here concerns the indoor type of rowing machine that we see in most gyms up and down the country. This means most of us have easy access to a very useful piece of exercise equipment.

So beneficial in fact, most fire stations have some sort of rowing machine in their gyms for firefighters to train on.

Although indoor rowing machines are used by professional oarsman and women to enhance their training, indoor rowing has become established as a sport in its own right. The British Indoor rowing championships are held every year and attract thousands of participants who usually race over a set distance of 2000 metres.

Machine layout

Rowing machines are sometimes referred to as ‘ergometers’. The most common layout consists of a flywheel connected to a chain and handle. The rower sits on a sliding seat and pulls on the handle to turn the flywheel which creates resistance to re-create the feeling of the oar moving through water. This resistance can be adjusted by using a braking system that is either pneumatic, hydraulic or magnetic, which enables the user to tailor the workout to their specific aim, whether it be speed work or strength building.

A small computerised screen will the display information to the user such as time, distance, speed, calories used and strokes per minute. The most popular type of rowing machine is the Concept2 rowing machine and this is the type of machine used at competitions.


The beauty of training on an indoor rowing machine is that it is impact free, unlike running which stresses the joints through impact, and it can be done all year round, unlike rowing outdoors.

Rowing is a strength-endurance sport and rates highly as one of the best forms of exercise for a weight loss program as it is an intense calorie-burning drill.

Indoor rowing primarily works the cardio-vascular system but stresses many muscles of the arms, shoulders, back and legs, hence why it falls into the category as a strength-endurance sport.

The standard measurement while rowing is the 500 metre split which tells the rower at what rate of speed they are rowing to cover 500m and the measurement will be displayed as time / 500m. A fairly easy rate would be 2.30 / 500m, which means 2 minutes 30 seconds per 500 metres.


Rowing’s most common injury is lower back problems which can be attributed to bad technique. A good technique takes into account the mechanics of the movement and correct breathing. People new to rowing will often put too much emphasis on their upper body and neglect the importance of the legs in the stroke which give the stoke power in the drive. Back problems occur when the user leans too far forward or too far back which stresses the lower back muscles and leads to injury.

Correct technique involves keeping the back fairly upright during the stroke and using the legs to begin the pull. Once the legs are straightened, the upper body comes into play to continue the stroke to the finish. Correct breathing is also important to keep a rhythm, so try to consciously breathe out on the drive and in on the recovery.

Rowing is an intense sport and extremely high levels of fitness can be achieved on an indoor rowing machine. For more information, visit the Concept2 website.

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