In all honesty, I can't 100% truthfully claim to be a rowing machine virgin. But considering my first experience with a rowing machine workout took place on a weekend morning several years ago, following an indulgent night of cheese bread and alcohol, I'm going to go ahead and claim a clean slate where this particular workout is concerned. (Translation: I barely lived to tell the tale and swiftly wiped the tragic experience from my memory.) Since I was solely concerned with remaining conscious rather than the workout itself on that fateful morning, I figured a redo was in order, especially considering rowing machine workouts are quickly gaining popularity, cultivating an almost untouchable reputation where bang-for-your-buck impact, results, and yes, even fun are concerned. Stay with me here.
Ignoring the past two weeks of my life, which were spent on the couch, in the kitchen, or in front of varying screens evaluating my Netflix and Hulu accounts (hey, that's what vacations are for, right?), I'm usually fairly committed to some form of exercise routine, and over the years, I've dabbled in almost every fitness trend and group exercise class you can think of. (My gym bag is a graveyard of those Orbit Gum–size membership cards.) So, before I could talk myself out of it, I booked a 7 a.m. class (ambitious, I know) at LIT Method—the crème de la crème of rowing machine workouts here in L.A. To top off the experience, I also spoke with one of the founders of the celebrity-loved studio, Taylor Norris, to get the lowdown on the workout and what makes the class so darn effective (and, as I later found out, addictive in the best way possible). Curious to learn more about rowing machine workouts? Keep reading for everything you—and your fitness goals—want to know.
The Basics + Benefits
Though there are plenty of rowing workouts available to fitness consumers, it could be argued that in comparison to cycling classes, yoga, Pilates, barre, and other such well-known forms of exercise, rowing machine workouts still manage to fly relatively low on our radar. (Although they totally shouldn't!) Depending on the studio or gym, the format of a rowing class might vary, but overall, every kind of rowing class will still boast the same basic idea.
"There are many unique benefits of using a rowing machine," Norris explains. And unlike some other cult-loved classes and forms of exercise, an hour of rowing will truly give you a full-body workout. "With the rower, you are able to increase strength, stamina, and mobility throughout your entire body! Not to mention regularly incorporating rowing into your fitness routine will help increase core strength and can even help correct your posture," Norris shares.
But that's not all, as rowing can also have an exceptional effect on the efficiency of our metabolism and how well—and quickly—our body utilizes energy (aka burns calories) in the hours following a workout. When I asked Norris if and how rowing machine workouts improve metabolic function, she didn't miss a beat. In short, these types of workouts are metabolic powerhouses.
"By incorporating rowing intervals during class, we are able to put your body in EPOC (excess post-oxygen consumption), which will keep your body burning calories long after the workout is over," she confirms. "Rowing is the only cardiovascular exercise that offers a 60/40 split between lower and upper body, making it an extremely balanced movement. Unlike traditional cardio machines, the rower works over 85% of your muscles in a single stroke while placing little to no impact on bones and joints."
In other words, rowing machine workouts are one of the most efficient and beneficial forms of exercise if you're in the market for maximum payoff sans the possibility of eventual injury or exhaustion.
How to Prepare + Recover
Of course, in order to reap all those cardiovascular and metabolism-boosting benefits (and avoid said injuries and fatigue mentioned above), it's important to prepare and recover from class in proper form. Luckily, Norris shared her exact prescription for success.
Before: "The best way to prepare for a rowing workout is to properly hydrate and fuel your body prior to your HIIT session. Make sure you have plenty of protein and complex carbs before heading into the studio." (Although word to the wise: It's a good idea to give yourself at least an hour-long window between eating and starting your workout. This allows food some time to digest before you shock your system with exercise.) A healthy protein bar is a great option. "Also," Norris continues, "make sure to give yourself ample time to foam-roll and stretch before you exercise to aid in injury prevention."
After: According to Norris, recovery is just as important as the workout itself. Her recommendation: "Take time to properly foam-roll and stretch after class to aid in recovery and reduce the risk of injury. Plus, make sure to refuel your body with protein within 30 minutes after your workout." Oh, and whatever you do, don't forget to drink lots and lots of water! (Because trust me when I say you. will. sweat.)
Thoughts + Experience
Typically, I'd categorize myself as an evening exerciser. Not so much because the sound of working out after a long workday sounds particularly pleasant, but because it's usually preferable to waking up before the birds. However, one of my goals this year is to fit in more activity prior to parking myself in front of the computer for the day, so I figured booking an early morning (i.e., 7 a.m.) class at LIT Method, would be a positive place to start. Plus, it's also kind of strategic. At this time of day, I'm still relatively comatose, failing to truly comprehend the huffing- and puffing-infused torture that awaits. Therefore, I'm significantly less likely to talk myself out of going. Conversely, if I have the whole day to be nervous with anticipation, the workout will 100% not happen. So, bleary-eyed and still somewhat confused as to where I was, I found myself inside LIT Method's modern, cool, dimly lit studio at 6:45 a.m. And to be honest, I was completely unprepared.
I knew the workout was going to be hard, (the online description and a co-worker's personal testimony pretty much spoke for itself), but I hadn't anticipated how hard. After all, I'd be lying if I said I hadn't been slightly disappointed and suspiciously sweat-free following other buzzy workouts that have boldly touted nearly Olympic-level challenge. After checking in, I quickly touched base with one of the instructors, Matthew Gavigan (by the way, he's amazing, and if you're in L.A., you should definitely take his class), who debriefed me on the format of the workout and showed me the ropes. (In addition to rowing, the class also features strength intervals using TRX bands hanging from the ceiling and walls.)
The class was to last a total of 50 minutes, but I was already sweating and shaking by minute nine. Throughout the workout, Matthew led the class seamlessly between breathless cardiovascular bursts on the rower to challenging strength work with the bands on our neighboring mats. At first, I attributed my exhaustion to having had a fairly lackadaisical approach to exercise during my two-week holiday vacation, but by the time we were halfway through, I realized that though I was, indeed, a tad out of shape, the class was just plain hard—period—which I loved.
The rowing machine was relatively easy to maneuver, and Matthew, with the help of another fabulous instructor, consistently helped with form, modifications, and some much-needed (but not scary or intimidating) motivation. Since we were consistently switching up our movements, I never got bored, and the workout was difficult enough to keep me 100% focused on not collapsing. IMHO, there is nothing more torturous than a class that's hard enough to be uncomfortable but not hard enough to keep your mind from wandering and painfully obsessing over how and when it will be over. With LIT Method's rowing machine workout, I remained focused and engaged and was honestly shocked when the 50 minutes were up and we began the cooldown. After five minutes of stretching, foam rolling, and thanking my lucky stars that I'd made it through the class, I was out the door, drenched in sweat, and already thinking about when I could come back for another go-round.
Yes, the class was hard (and I suspect pretty much any rowing machine workout would be equally challenging), and yet it still manages to be a great option for everyone and anyone—regardless of your level of fitness. As I mentioned, Matthew was consistently offering and demonstrating modifications, and I never felt too intimidated or unable to slow down my personal pace if I was getting to a point where I needed to take a moment to take a sip of water and recenter. I appreciated the dynamic, the amazing playlist, and the efficient and immediate impact the rowing action had on my heart rate, and although I know I'll be sore tomorrow (which I think always signals a bit of success), I know I won't have some of the aches, pains, and even bruises that I've noticed after other workouts that demand higher impact on joints and muscles. Suffice to say, I'll be back.