Should I buy a rowing machine?
November 29, 2010 6:35 PM   Subscribe

Should I buy a rowing machine?

I've realized I need to get my ass in shape. I've never been one for a workout regimen, so I'm trying to decide the method that I'll be least likely to give up on. I'd greatly prefer to have something I can do at home, regardless of weather, time of day, etc. It's easier to drag my ass downstairs than it is out into the snowy weather or into the car to get to the gym. I don't really have any desire to take up jogging.

I've been doing some research and initially narrowed my search down to getting an exercise bike, elliptical, or rowing machine. Rowing machines seem to get lots of love here.

However, I'm hesitant for a few reasons:

- I've never really used a rowing machine before. I've checked with a few gyms around here and I don't think any of them have rowing machines to try out (I'll keep hunting).

- They're expensive. I'd likely get a Concept 2 or WaterRower, but even a used one of those will cost me upwards of $500, if not much more. I realize the quality rowers hold their value, which is a little reassuring.

- They seem to be a helluva workout. Would it be too overwhelming for a noob?

Would I be better off with something like an elliptical? Has anyone here purchased a decent rowing machine and regretted it?

posted by Tu13es to Health & Fitness (15 answers total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
I would never spend $500 on anything I wasn't sure I would use. Find some way to try one out and make sure you really like it before you commit. I had a rowing machine (that I got for free) for a little while and hated it. Never used it. Ended up giving it to Goodwill.

The best thing for me has been instructional DVDs for largely bodyweight exercise routines. I get them from Netflix, so my only investment has been in a yoga mat and a couple of hand weights. But you need to figure out what the best thing for you is and invest your money in that. And the only way to know is to really try stuff out. Don't invest hundreds of dollars in one thing unless you're sure it's the thing for you.
posted by decathecting at 6:42 PM on November 29, 2010

I have an elliptical. I like it.
posted by delmoi at 6:53 PM on November 29, 2010

I love concept2 ergometers. They are the only piece of stationary exercise equipment I can stand, actually. You really can use them at any fitness level- just pull more or less quickly! If you do get one, be sure to go through the concept2 website and learn how to use it properly, or it will hurt you.

All that being said, I know plenty of folks who only use the erg because their coach is forcing them to do so. Ergs may inspire love-hate relationships. It is really worth it to try it out somewhere before you lay out money.

The concept2 indoor rower finder may be useful to you.
posted by rockindata at 7:11 PM on November 29, 2010

If you want to make progress - that is, see positive physical adaptations like more muscle, insulin sensitivity, etc - then I'd recommend a Power Cage.

With it, you could do a program like Starting Strength Practical Programming or Stronglifts (with the pushups, pullups etc is best). This is probably the best way to improve your overall fitness.
posted by Earl the Polliwog at 7:18 PM on November 29, 2010

Ellipticals and rowing machines are both good machines for general fitness workouts. But I would not spend $500 without trying one -- keep looking, this is fairly common gym equipment and someone is going to have one.
posted by J. Wilson at 7:19 PM on November 29, 2010

Best answer: I owned a Concept 2 rowing machine (I think it was a "C" model?) up until a few months ago, and the only reason I sold it is because I'm trying to seriously pare down my possessions towards the goal of future long-term travel. I was lucky and got a great deal on the thing originally (it was a "factory reject," but I never knew exactly what was wrong with it) for around $400. When I sold it—about eight years later, I believe, I sold it for $300. Not bad.

I used the thing all the time. I loved it. It was fantastic. But, when I first got it, after a few years I injured myself using it through doing the wrong thing repeatedly, and had to go to the hospital—not for anything serious it turned out, but I pulled a muscle in my abdomen so...acutely I guess, over months of using it incorrectly (see those guys in the gym leaning waaay back when they row? Yeah, that's bad), that I was woken up in the middle of the night by pains that were too close to possible appendicitis for me to ignore.

After that I got a lesson from someone who trained as a rower in college, and she taught me the proper way to row. It was just one lesson that I think I traded for computer help and it has been invaluable. Now, I realize that almost everyone I see in the gym is doing it wrong. Guys especially use way too much arm strength, and everyone seems to want to put all their energy in the end of the pull, not the beginning, where you are most explosive and can utilize your legs better...

The thing I love about rowing is that you can change it up all the time—I alternate often between long duration or distance rows at slower speeds, and high-intensity interval training. They are also used in a lot of Crossfit workouts, something I got into a few years ago. The harder you push, the harder they push back, and it's fun to check your stats if you're into that sort of thing. I think the newer ones have all sorts of computer apps that you can connect them to. And they are low-impact; I can't run on a treadmill, but other than because of my own stupidity described above, I've never been hurt by using a rowing machine.

Anyway, the takeaway of all of this for you:
  1. Concept 2 ergometers, at least, don't depreciate so much in value; they are a good investment.
  2. Corollary of point #1 is: buy one used.
  3. Get some training BEFORE you start rowing seriously, or you can hurt yourself at the worst, or just not be doing it right at the least.
  4. When done properly, it's damn good, safe exercise that is good for all levels of intensity, and provides a lot of variety for one relatively simple machine.
My suggestion to you: first, get trained by someone who REALLY knows how to row, look for someone who has been on a rowing team (I've seen so many trainers at my gym teaching people the wrong way to use a rower—it's incredible!), and try using one in a gym if possible for a month or so. Otherwise you are going to be laying down a big chunk of change for something you're not sure you'll use, as decathecting said. Secondly, if you do buy one, scout around for one on Craigslist. Go to check it out, ideally with someone (maybe the aforementioned current or former rower...) who knows how a well-maintained rowing machine should function.

Good luck! Rowing is awesome.
posted by dubitable at 7:21 PM on November 29, 2010 [6 favorites]

I have had the same Concept II for about 10 years and love it, but no way would I have bought it without prior experience...

It looks like you're from around Boston...have you looked at the various local boathouses? Looks like the Harry Parker Boathouse offers beginner's courses on ergs (rowing machines), for example.
posted by Esteemed Offendi at 7:38 PM on November 29, 2010

i love my concept2. yields a terrific whole body workout every time.
posted by paradroid at 8:24 PM on November 29, 2010

The concept2 erg is a great workout, but nothing that should scare a "noob" - all workouts are scale-able to an individual's ability level. There is a strong online community supporting erging as an exercise routine, see RowPro for online tracking and working out with/racing others around the world (there is a picture of on the water rowing on the home page, don't let that deter you)!

It is a great full body workout, as others have mentioned. Arms, shoulders, back, core, and legs are all engaged. As well, you can do interval work, longer cardio work, etc on it. That being said, it can be the single most painful workout you do, as well. All depends what you are looking for. I highly recommend it as a piece of home equipment.

However, as mentioned above, the rowing stroke is not intuitive so it would be in your best interest to find one near you and try it out at first. Try to get some feedback and get a technically correct stroke before purchasing one. You can post videos to youtube of your technique and hand them over to these people to critique and they can usually help.
posted by hepta at 9:39 PM on November 29, 2010

I bought a rowing machine many years ago. I really liked it and used it for a lot of years. I felt it gave me a good all round body workout. Shoulders, legs, stomach and back. It even worked my neck and helped with my overall flexibility. The machine I used is probably an old fashioned looking one, but simulates a real competition rowing boat if you know what I mean. The machine has a rectangular base with two v-shaped supports ( angled slightly upwards) coming out from the sides towards one end which supported the "oars". The seat slides back and forth ( or not if you choose) on rollers with each stroke. Each oar, which works independently of each other, can be made to have more or less friction ( on the back stroke only). The oars have a joint that made it possible to move up and down, back and forth much like the way Olympic shells work. I found it very easy to use and the time went by pretty quickly while using it. It also had a counter on it for the number of strokes. There were three different variations of rowing I could do with it. I used to get on a stationary bike too ( before or after) which added a good cardiovascular workout to my routine.
I definitely would recommend a rowing machine, but if you can find one that gives you a few options as to different workouts, even slightly different, the more likely you'll not get bored with it.
posted by Taurid at 9:48 PM on November 29, 2010

Rowing machine every day at ever increasing (in slow increments) pace and duration = workout heaven

Rowing machine too much too fast = barf on the rowing machine

Rowing machine without knowledge of fundamental rowing technique = you can no longer put on lace up shoes (cause you can't reach them), the upper cabinets are out of reach and it's hard to wash the hair on the top of your head.

that said - with care rowing is one of the best aerobic and strength conditioning "all around" exercises. Good rowers however have very high pain thresholds and are a bit masochistic in their outlook on life.

$500 is median for a good machine and very high for a maybe-I'll-like-it impulse purchase
posted by BrooksCooper at 10:58 PM on November 29, 2010 [1 favorite]

Why not buy a used one first, just to check the motion doesn't make you feel ill and the noise doesn't bother you too much? We got ours from Gumtree and there was pretty much one every week for under £20. For that price, you can easily give it a trial run for a week or two, and then upgrade to something nicer.
posted by brambory at 12:22 AM on November 30, 2010

I quickly dropped the rowing machine from my workout when I joined a gym (30's female, gym noob). Felt like a good workout but it didnt take long before I figured out that I really didnt enjoy it, plus the handle hurt to grip and gave me callouses.

Definitely have a few sessions on one before comitting to buying one.
posted by Ness at 1:16 AM on November 30, 2010

Concept in Australia have a deal where you can rent an erg then subtract the cost of the rental if you decide to buy. They may offer something similar locally to you? Yes, they are expensive but the build quality is unbelievable - mine looks like new after nearly three years of solid use.

RowPro - particularly rowing online with others - has been a great motivator for me. I sign up for online sessions in advance and I am far more likely to get on the machine than I otherwise would have been. Once into a session, it keeps me going when I might have given up or slowed down. There are a wide range of people and paces on there, its very friendly.

Starting to sound like an advert here but the C2 comes with a couple of DVDs that take you through getting started and the basics of good form. I did not find it too difficult to begin with, just take it slowly and let the pace build up when you are ready.

fwiw, I had an elliptical (couldnt coordinate, hated it) and a Tunturi exercise bike (OK, but boring). The C2 + Rowpro is a combo that works for me, no buyers remorse here.
posted by paulash at 2:54 AM on November 30, 2010

i wanted to throw in my two cents with respect to my personal experience with rowing. it sounds like you're not a regular exerciser and it's fantastic that you want to get into shape, but be gentle with your body when you start! when i first started using an indoor rowing machine (i.e. an erg) in the gym i could job at a reasonable pace but i could only last around ten minutes on the erg and it gave me horrifying muscle aches the next day. with time and an appropriate regime you will get better.

if you do decide to purchase an erg, concept2 have a nifty website that will generate a workout regime that will train you towards a 2km race, which is considered a standard benchmark amongst rowers. (the other standard you'll hear rowers talk about is your "split", which is your average time to complete 500m in a given total distance).

finally, one thing that many beginners to rowing on ergs are never told is that the "drag factor" you set on the machine is crucial, but not complicated to set. i see a lot of people with set the resistance level to 10, throw their limbs everywhere, have a abysmal split at an extraordinarily high stroke rate, and probably injure themselves in the near future. this is not rowing. basically you want to set the "drag factor" to 130-140, which simulates the resistance of water, but what level you have to set a particular erg at to achieve this drag factor is variable, so concept2 rowers offer a way of doing this (tl;dr just read this).

good luck!
posted by asymptotic at 4:34 AM on November 30, 2010 [2 favorites]

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