Rowing as a Form of Exercise
The row ergometer is a machine used to simulate the movement of actual on-the-water rowing for exercise and training purposes. The machine has been around for a long time, but its popularity has recently increased. It is easy to see why, since it is a low-impact activity, full body workout, and can be performed by individuals of all fitness and functional levels. For individuals with a disability affecting their lower body, the row ergometer can be excellent for an upper body workout.
The resistance of the row ergometer machine, also known as the damper, is adjusted through a movable dial on the side of the air-resistant flywheel of the rower. The setting levels are typically one through 10, with one being the least resistance and 10 feeling the heaviest. A beginner should start between levels two and five, which is most similar to rowing on water. Intermediate to advanced exercisers can row at a resistance of six to 10. The rower's display screen shows various ways to measure and track a rowing workout, including meters traveled, calories burned, strokes per minute, and the minutes it takes to travel 500 meters. If using the lower body, feet are placed on the footholds and secured with straps tightly enough so they do not slide.
Proper form is necessary throughout a rowing workout to ensure the exerciser achieves maximum health benefits and avoids injury. Proper form includes an appropriate beginning position, catch, and drive.
- Adjust and secure feet in the footholds with straps.
- Grasp the handle with an overhand grip. Extend legs to where they are straight but knees are not locked out. Pull the handle until it reaches the chest.
- Keep back straight throughout the movement and do not allow it to bend or hunch.
- Establishing the correct “catch” position is important for a strong drive motion.
- Straighten arms out first, followed by the rest of the upper body.
- Keep back straight and do not slump. The upper body will change from slightly angled back to slightly angled forward.
- Slide body forward by bending knees. The seat will move forward with the rest of the body.
- A powerful drive is crucial for a good rowing workout.
- If using legs, push backwards on the footholds and straighten legs. Keep arms straight during this movement.
- Once legs are straight, pull the handle to the chest.
Individuals with Lower Extremity Disabilities
For individuals with a lower extremity disability who are unable to perform the leg movements, a rowing workout can be accomplished with a few modifications. If some lower body control is available, feet can be placed in the footholds and legs can remain in an almost extended position, with knees slightly bent. The legs will need to be mildly engaged in order to maintain their position during the upper body rowing. If there is no or minimal lower body function, the original seat on the row ergometer can be removed and replaced with a stationary seat. This will allow the body to remain in a sitting position, with hips and knees flexed and feet on the floor. The steps of the beginning position, the catch, and the drive can be executed using only the upper body. If core function is limited, a seat with a backrest can be used with a strap placed around the backrest and torso for stability. For individuals who have a weak grip or poor hand function, grip aids such as specialized gloves, wraps, or ACE ™ bandages can be used to secure the rower’s hands to the handlebar.
- For individuals who use wheelchairs, rowing can help strengthen posterior muscles of the upper body. These muscles are often weak due to constantly pushing a wheelchair. This creates muscle imbalances leading to poor posture, rotator cuff tears, impingement syndrome, and general overuse injuries. Since rowing is a pulling activity, it can help re-establish balance between the anterior and posterior upper body muscles. This also applies to individuals who use walkers and canes.
- Rowing can improve both cardiovascular endurance and muscular strength in a single exercise activity. The rowing movement requires that muscles be engaged and an increased output from the heart and lungs. This means that exercisers achieve both extra health benefits and a high caloric expenditure. Essentially, rowing is one of the best activities for exercisers who want to get the “biggest bang for their buck.”
- Rowing uses all of the body’s functional muscle mass, meaning every muscle that can be engaged will be engaged at some point during the rowing movement. For the upper body, rowing uses the chest, back, shoulders, biceps and triceps. For the lower body, quadriceps, hamstrings, calves, and glutes are all working. Finally, rowing also targets the core, as abdominals, obliques, and erector spinae are all involved.