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Row, row, row for health

Row, row, row for health

Rowing is both a strength and aerobic activity. But can it also improve one's posture? We find out


Rowing is an Olympic sport. Most nations compete for glory as their rowers extend every sinew to touch the finish line first. If one observes the rowers closely, one will find them completely exhausted at the end of the race. It requires stamina to push the waters of the lake or sea back and thrust the boat forward. This in turn increases muscle power and lung power. But then only a chosen few can participate in outdoor boat races involving vigorous rowing, whether local, national, or even an Olympic or world event.

The best alternative comes in the form of the indoor rowing machine. Even outdoor competitive rowers are provided lessons on these machines which simulate actual rowing.

According to experts, a workout on a rowing machine is a very good aerobic exercise. It is a full-body workout and can impact a majority of muscles in the human body. Doing so can improve the posture as most people today have their heads down on laptops or mobile phones. It helps improve the functioning of the larger muscles of the body. Benefits are much faster than with other exercises.

“A workout on a rowing machine is beneficial to the largest muscle group in the body – the latissimus dorsi. It is the largest muscle in the upper part of your body which starts below the shoulder blades and goes down to the spine in the lower part of your back,” says Gokul Chandran, a fitness trainer at Game On fitness, Bengaluru.

“Rowing machine workouts twice a week is sufficient. You have to give some time for the muscles to rebuild. Normally, back muscles need at least 24 to 48 hours of rest in between,” explains Chandran. “Then you have the levator scapulae, a smaller muscle beside your neck that extends to the shoulder blade, which we call scapula. Rowing is something we advise people to do depending on their health requirements and issues if any. It is good for men and women.”

“There is an increasing demand for the usage of the rowing machine. Nearly everyone who comes to the gym works on it,” says Farooque Sheikh, the manager of the gym. Asked to specify the number, he says, “about 40 people every month use it regularly”.

Consequently, gyms everywhere have installed rowing machines and the demand for it is only increasing. “I enjoy working on a rowing machine. I do it almost every day for about 20 minutes or so. I never get tired or bored while using it and it helps me to relax a lot,” says Shashikant Naik, a fitness enthusiast from Bengaluru.

“Rowing has both an aerobic aspect to it and also a strength aspect. You can adjust the tension of the machine for a heavier pull and you’re still driving through your legs. Your back also gets a workout as you shift back and forth on your pulls. There’s a postural aspect, working on the strength in your upper back. That’s a big thing as we see so many people staring down at computers or phones all day. Improving that upper spine posture is important,” says exercise physiologist, Chris Dempers in an article in cleavelandclinic.org.

“It’s (indoor rowing) up there in terms of burning calories. I’d rank it below running but above an elliptical machine. Certain factors affect how many calories you burn, like your speed, intensity and resistance. But it’s still a good workout no matter what. Because it’s a resistance exercise done in a seated position, you’re not putting as much wear and tear on your back and knees. You’re not sacrificing your cardio exercises by choosing rowing over something more high-impact like running. If you’re strictly looking at it as an aerobic exercise to replace something like running, then you can do the rowing machine for half an hour and get a great cardio workout,” Dempers opines.

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