Using a Rowing Machine is Both Easier & Harder Than I Thought it Would Be

Yeah, being on a lake like that is something I’d love to do in the summer some day.

I wanted to wait after a few days of using my machine before writing about it, because it took some time to get re-started on exercise and make it a habit (and adjust my schedule accordingly… exercise-wise, that is. Everything else needs more time to figure out). I also wanted to make sure I’d adjusted the flywheel properly after having initial issues with it a couple months ago (sensor switch was too close to another part and starting to scrape at certain resistance levels, so I found out how to move it. Was just very time consuming to get to).

So, after a week of scheduling exercises, re-adjusting exercises, and figuring out if the machine was working right (no problems whatsoever), I had time to get used to the rower.

Other than a handful of days the past few months, I really hadn’t been on the rower much (namely because of that switch issue, and the watery mess created by the A/C a few weeks ago). But I finally started from scratch with exercises and got on the rower and the introductory lessons over iFit. Three lessons down with this first instructor and I’m getting a feel for the machine and the exercise. I was surprised at how easy and tough it is all at the same time.

First, the “hard” part.

The intro lessons with Alex Gregory seem to be pretty good (gold-medalist in rowing and all), though I admit I haven’t tried another instructor yet. But as far as being able to teach the basics and get you into it, I think he does a good job. At least, it looks right. I’d never really tried rowing before this year, even though I’d always wanted to. And I don’t know anyone else personally who has, so I’ve got no pointers or experienced folks that can evaluate with me. But I like how he demonstrates and explains the movements. It seems right, anyway, just happens to be about the rhythm. And sadly, me and rhythm have been at cross-purposes.

Probably why I never really was much of a dancer. It’s gonna take some more training for me to get that down and keep my head in the game.

The catch-22 there is when I start getting the rhythm, at least the past few days, my mind starts to wander and then I’m out of rhythm and it takes time for me to refocus. You’d think I was bored or something, but I think it’s largely the oddity of exercising while seated (just not used to it, I guess) makes me get distracted when I really shouldn’t be. When we get to simulated courses with changes in resistance and speed, I could hurt my knees or something if I’m not careful.

The other hard part was recognizing how out of shape I was in my upper body. My arms and back frankly suck and I couldn’t do a full session this morning (I partially blame the violent storm that rolled in and being concerned for my fraidy-dogs at the 2/3 mark, so I cut it short, but I had to push myself to continue a couple of times). I figured it was the grab bar I was using that just made me feel worse. It’s plush, but a bit large for my hands and not comfortable to grip for more than a few minutes at a time, at least, not for me. I tense up too much trying to maintain the grip, so my hands start to hurt. And that tension radiates outward to my shoulders and back. Cue vicious cycle and giving up if I don’t get this worked out.

I remembered at some point that I had bought some exercise gloves so I could use the weight bench and bars (got buried behind other stuff when I had to clean up the A/C leak). So I put those on and gave them a shot a few minutes ago. Definitely felt better on my hands, and the grip felt more secure so I could relax. Can’t wait til Friday to try again, this time with gloves on the whole session. I bet I’ll make it through to the end with minimal breaks.

But these are just things to work on, things that thanks to the way this slow intro is playing out, I can probably get resolved in a few weeks of practice. And honestly, today’s lesson helped me figure out a few things I have to keep in mind for that time to make it even better.

And now for the “easier” stuff:

It turns out I was approaching the rower all wrong at the start, and it’s no wonder I switched my exercise routine all around. When I get the rest of the “storage mess” out of my workout space, I’ll be implementing strength training again, with kickboxing & yoga/pilates on days I’m not doing the rower. Elliptical is a daily thing I start with now and I love the wakeup it provides.

I figured the rower would benefit my back and upper body strength, which it seems it will, but also thought that’s mostly what would be doing the work. Nope, I had some relief this morning when I realized that the legs were going to be doing most of the heavy work in rowing. I mean, it doesn’t seem like it, but other than that last portion of the “catch” is where the upper body takes over. Your initial contact with the machine and the motion is all in the feet and legs. You push with the legs to pull the bar back, then your upper body takes over the rest of the way, and then on the return, the body evens out and the legs take it back to the start.

🥇 Elliptical Trainer VS Rowing machine | Best One To Get ...

image from naxusfitness.com

That was damned good for me because my legs are FAR stronger than my arms. Though it was a bit tricky to get used to the idea (especially with my short legs), once I focused on pushing with my legs, I was able to hold out in the exercises a LOT longer without breaks. I still have to stop partway through and take a twinge-in-the-shoulders break with some water, but now that I’m not trying to overcompensate with my upper body and really focus on the movement of my legs, it’s gotten a bit easier.

I was so afraid that I’d hurt my back or my shoulders badly because I have terrible posture (and all the back fat doesn’t make it easy for me to see if I’m doing things wrong or right). But knowing now that the rower needs my legs for probably 70% of the major movement has made me feel a lot better about going for the rower. As the programs become more intense, I’m sure there’ll be more strain in my shoulders and back to get through the workouts, but for now I’m good with continuing on. Hopefully by this time next week my resistance training schedule will be workable and I’ll be able to work on the upper body in more depth (like the day before a rowing day, so my arms aren’t spaghetti noodles by the end of the workout). I used to alternate between upper, core, and lower 2x a week, and will do so again because it kept me accountable.

Having music in the background (very lightly) while listening to the trainer’s been helpful. If my mind starts to drift, I can focus my attention on the music and watch the screen to verify what I should be doing right then by watching the instructor. It’s like a wake-up call that pulls me back in. Watching him row and following along helped cement the idea of the legs and the rhythm of the strokes. I have a feeling it’ll get easier as I pay more attention (and keep it that way).

Even better, now that I’m getting more of a grasp of the movements an the rhythm, I’m actually anticipating learning more. It’s not as boring as I initially feared it would be, because I’m trying to concentrate more fully on the movements. Time goes faster when I’m not letting my mind wander, and focusing on the rhythm is a bit like meditating. I’m trying to keep that mindset going so I don’t end up hurting myself. I can be lost in the moment on the elliptical and not falter, but that’s probably because I’m standing and the incline and resistance change so often (and I don’t want to slip off and bash my face).

I just have to breathe and think: legs, body, arms… arms, body legs. And keep that going strong so I build that rhythm and it becomes muscle memory.

Using the rower twice a week sounds like a good idea for now, and I’m glad I didn’t make it 3 days a week anymore. The initial unfamiliarity of the movements and the rhythm would’ve made my shoulders and hands hurt like hell if I do it that often (shoulders were hurting pretty good come Sunday after 3 of the previous 5 days of using the rower).

If there’s anything this week has taught me, it’s getting my head into the moment and doing better keeping it there. My brain wants to wander all over the place. Maybe my morning exercise sessions will help fix that, and help me build that rhythm I need for more than just making sure I don’t hurt myself.

A lot to learn with the rower, and for quite some time to come… and I think it’ll be interesting.

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