Archives for August 2013

How to use the rowing machine | tips on form and a workout too

The only organized sport I’ve ever participated in was crew. (I train for the sport of life!)

Way back when I ‘manned’ the number two seat in an eight woman boat. Despite despising the 5 am workouts, I enjoyed the time spent on the water, the camaraderie of the group and the weekend regattas/48-hour long parties.

Women's 8 crew

This is a stock image. Back when I rowed we didn’t have digital cameras to capture action shots.

Because spring training began long before the lake thawed, I also learned how to use the rowing machine.

Lately, I’ve been re-visiting my youth; turns out that the rowing machine is one of the few forms of cardio training that doesn’t aggravate my Achilles tendonitis. In addition to being a great cardio workout, rowing is also a fantastic, whole-body strength workout. Legs, butt, arms, back and core are all required to work together to move the ‘boat’ through the water.

People new to the rowing machine often complain of a sore back; both lower and upper back pain can be caused by improper form.

In addition to giving them a program to strengthen their mid-section (check out this challenging core workout), I also spend considerable time on technique, explaining the three phases of the stroke and reminding them of what the various movements are supposed to be simulating (funny how most people forget that the handle they’re holding represents an oar which must be moved efficiently through the water to propel the boat forward).

Improve your own form using the (blurry iPhone) photos and tips below.

How to use the rowing machine

Set yourself up for success:

  1. Choose your resistance level. Most rowing machines have a ‘fly’ wheel with a dial for changing resistance. If you’re new to rowing, set the resistance between 3 and 5. Work on form before increasing resistance to avoid putting excess strain on your lower back.
  2. Find a comfortable position on the seat. Make sure you’re centred and that the seat slides easily from back to front.
  3. Place your feet in the stirrups. Adjust the foot plates so that the straps cross your foot midway between your ankle and toes. Ensure that the straps are done up tightly to prevent your feet from slipping as you start to row.
  4. Reach forward and grab the handle with palms facing down and hands approximately shoulder width apart. Keep your grip on the handle relaxed to avoid forearm fatigue.

how to use the rowing machine

Phase 1: The Catch

  1. Begin with the seat close to the fly wheel, hinged forward from the hips and arms outstretched in front.
  2. Knees will be in line with your ankles with your shins perpendicular to the floor.
  3. Your back will be nearly straight, with a slight forward lean at the top.
how to use the rowing machine

The Catch

Phase 2: The Drive

  1. Press through your heels to push the seat backwards, straightening your legs as you do so.
  2. Keep your arms extended until your knees are about half way down. At this point, start pulling the handle back towards your body.
  3. Once legs are extended fully (knees will be soft, never locked), continue pulling handle towards your body (between lower ribs and navel), elbows driving backwards and slightly out to the sides, shoulders staying down away from your ears.
  4. Keeping your back straight, lean back slightly to finish the stroke.
  5. Wrists should remain straight at all times.

Phase 3: The Recovery

  1. From the ‘legs outstretched’ position, straighten arms and reach them forwards.
  2. Once the handle has reached your knees, bend legs so that the ‘slide’ moves forward as well.
  3. Return to starting position, with arms fully outstretched and hips hinged forward.
how to use the rowing machine


Imagine you’re on the water:

  1. Focus on increasing the length of your stroke; reach forward and lean back farther to move the boat through the water more quickly.
  2. Aim to keep the chain parallel to the floor throughout your stroke. Doing so increases the efficiency of the movement and just feels more professional!
  3. Keep your eyes forward. Not only will it minimize upper back and neck fatigue, lateral movements as small as the turning of one oarswoman’s head can throw off the balance of the boat.
  4. Don’t slow down until you’re past the finish line! Races are often won or lost by mere inches!

I love to finish my strength training sessions with cardio intervals on the rowing machine. Try the following program below for a great, full body workout (and a ‘finisher’ to boot)!

How to use the rowing machine

If you liked this video and/or plan on trying the workout, please ‘like’, ‘pin’ and ‘share’!

Are you a rowing machine fan?

Ever rowed in a ‘real’ boat?


Muscle fatigue vs muscle soreness vs muscle strain | what’s the difference?

Discomfort is an integral part of strength training. In order to increase muscular strength, power or endurance, you need to move beyond the comfortable. (I’ve been known to tell my class participants “discomfort is where the magic happens”)

Sometimes discomfort is temporary. For example, when you’re completing the final repetition of an exercise set.

Sometimes it doesn’t make an appearance until the day after a strength training session. Not causing pain, but remaining with you for another day or two.

Sometimes it begins during or immediately after your workout and continues for days, weeks or even months.

muscle strain

Knowing the difference between mild temporary discomfort, moderate intensity longer term discomfort and immediate, long lasting muscular pain is important as if affects how you respond to the discomfort and whether you require medical attention.

1. Muscular discomfort that occurs towards the end of an exercise set is referred to as muscle fatigue.

Muscle fatigue is the consequence of a variety of physiological changes within the working muscle, including lactic acid build up (“feel the burn”), increased tissue acidity, nerve impulse interference and chemical energy depletion (“hitting the wall”). It is typically mild, temporary in duration and the discomfort passes once you cease performing the exercise.

Rx? Take a break, perform a different exercise and stretch it out before beginning your next set. No other attention required.

2. Muscular discomfort that doesn’t manifest until 24 to 48 hours following a strength training session is called Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness (DOMS). DOMS is typically associated with eccentric muscle contractions (the non-working phase of a lift) and is most likely the result of microscopic tears in the muscle or connective tissue. It can range from mild (just a bit of stiffness) to severe (sitting on the toilet is painful) and may take a day or two to diminish. (Personally, I enjoy feeling a bit of mild DOMS; it reminds me that I worked hard in the gym and have pushed myself well outside my comfort zone!)

Rx? Depending on the severity of the discomfort, you may need to take a day or two away from strength training the affected muscle group. Suggestions for alleviating the discomfort include warm baths, stretching, range of motion body weight movements and acetaminophen. No need to see a doctor of physiotherapist required.

Note that DOMS is NOT a sign of overtraining, just over-doing it on a particular set of exercises on a particular day.

3. Intense muscular discomfort that begins during or immediately after your workout and continues for several days or weeks is most likely due to a muscular strain. Strains are classified as mild, moderate or, in the case of a tear or complete rupture, severe. Strains can occur within the body of the muscle or in the tendon (the area of the muscle that attaches directly to the bone).

Rx? Regardless of severity, all muscular strains should be seen by a health care professional. The sooner the better. Although strains heal on their own, the scar tissue that results from the body laying down new collagen tissue is often weak and tight, thereby limiting your range of motion at the joint unless treated by a physiotherapist or chiropractor. Note that strains of the tendon typically take much longer to heal than comparably severe strains of the muscle itself (I can attest to this personally; it’s now been 7 weeks since I strained my Achilles tendon and despite daily stretch and strength therapy, I’m still not 100% 🙁 ).

Interested in learning more about DOMS and how to treat it? Check out the end of this post by A Doctor In the House (she’s included some scientific references to support the ideas; I love it when bloggers do that!)

Have you ever experienced DOMS or a muscular strain?

Do you enjoy a bit of discomfort in your muscles about a strength training session?



Vacation over? 5 reasons to celebrate coming home

Who doesn’t love vacations?

A week (or two, if you’re lucky) away from work. A trip to an exotic (or at least less mundane) locale. A break from the ordinary. A chance to re-group, re-charge and re-energize (and re-build when those waves wash away your castle-building progress…)

As much as I love  the adventure of going on holidays, I’m always happy to return home. Something about being away always enhances my appreciation of my own little corner of the world. You know? I rarely lament the end of vacation as it’s balanced by the joy of returning home!

My top 5 reasons to celebrate coming home?

My bed. Sleep is important to me (and my health). I’m happiest when I get 8 to 9 hours each night. Too many late evenings and early mornings tend to make me cranky (just ask my husband…). And rarely do I sleep as well on vacation as I do in my very own bed. Not too soft. Not too firm. Not too small or too large. And the pillows? Perfectly plumped and puffy every single time.

My kitchen. When it comes to food, I’m a bit of a control freak. I don’t like not knowing when my next meal might be and what it might consist of. I’m happiest when the fridge is full of veggies and there’s an over-flowing fruit bowl on the counter. Although I enjoy trying new restaurants and cuisines, even the healthiest options on the menu are typically larger and more calorie-laden than the meals I prepare at home. Throw in the social aspect of dining out and it’s easy to consume too much food (and drink!) without even realizing it. Nothing makes my tummy happier than coming home to my kitchen and my desert island foods 🙂

My gym. After a week of super short body weight workouts and leisurely strolls around the block, my body craves the gym. Squats, lunges, pushes and pulls. Heavy and intense enough to fatigue my muscles and facilitate a good night’s sleep (see #1). Nothing energizes me quite like a visit to my happy place.

My home WiFi. While I do cut back my computer time when I’m holidaying with family, checking email, responding to your blog comments and connecting with my online friends is sometimes a welcome break from too much “togetherness”. Know what I mean?

My cat. Look at that face. Need I say more?

Where did you go on your last vacation?

If you could take a holiday anywhere in the world, where would you go?