In today’s fast-paced, frenetic world, one of the most common excuses you’ll hear from people who don’t exercise regularly is “I don’t have time to work out.” Now, there’s no doubt that many people are busy, but in the 24 hours we all have at our disposal each day, is carving out 30 minutes from the 1,440 available really, truthfully impossible? For most of us, the answer is “no.”
If we can first commit to at least 30 minutes of exercise four or five times a week (of course this is assuming you’re too busy to go surf, snowboard, ski hike or otherwise, get outside), the next question is how to spend this time. Health magazines and websites are chock full of get-fit-quick articles, but many feature gimmicky exercises that are at best a waste of your precious time, and at worst might even prove harmful.
So where to turn? For most people, it’s advisable to play your sport/s of choice and to supplement these by exercising at different intensities in ways that incorporate the major movement archetypes (e.g. squat, lunge, overhead, hang, press and front rack). There are no “do everything” workouts, but there is one go-to exercise that’s a favorite of elite athletes and coaches alike: rowing.
Studies have shown that rowing recruits 86 percent of the muscles in your body, including those in all major muscle groups. As Stella Lucia Volpe, an exercise physiologist and professor of nutrition sciences at Drexel University puts it, “With each stroke, pretty much every part of the body is used.” Getting out on the water introduces other helpful elements, including balance and the added stimulation of being in nature, but even the good ol’ rowing machine (aka the erg) provides a highly efficient workout in minutes. You can also tailor rowing to work different energy systems by varying the duration/volume, intensity and density of each rowing workout.
Want to improve power and explosiveness in your riding, regardless of outdoor endeavor? Then look no further than short, fast intervals varying from one to three minutes. Fried from shredding pow the day before? Then go for a low stroke rate, slower 5K. Can’t face that run in the frigid cold? Opt for several mid-paced 1,000 to 3,000 meter pieces on the erg, instead. And if you’re looking to lose weight, the rowing machine can help you vaporize 500 calories per hour (depending on your bodyweight and the nature of the rowing session). Then there’s the longest lasting caloric burn that comes from developing more muscle.
Here are a few sample rowing workouts that can help you get started. Be sure to watch some videos that demonstrate correct form and do your best to get an experienced rower to check your positioning until you’ve got the basics down. Before sessions, row slowly for five to 10 minutes and then perform some dynamic mobility exercises that open up your hips and shoulders. Cool down with another five to 10 minutes of slowing and mobility exercises that target the quads, hamstrings, hips and shoulders.
500 Meter Repeats
Row 500 meters (check the computer on the erg at the gym) at a pace that makes it hard to talk (e.g. 8 or 9 out of 10 in perceived effort, with 1 being walking-level exertion and 10 being an all-out, cough-inducing sprint). Rest for the same amount of time as it took you to get to 500 meters, then repeat until form or speed deteriorates. If that’s not enough recovery time, then row 500 meters slowly between each interval. You can vary the workout by trying the Little Method of doing 8 to 12 60 second sprints with 75 seconds rest, or the lung-busting Tabata method, which requires 8 rounds of 20 seconds of all-out effort with 10 seconds slow rowing.
5 Minute Intervals
After your warmup, row at a medium pace for five minutes. This should be a 6 or 7 out of 10 in terms of effort. Then row slowly for 3 to 4 minutes and repeat. Do as many intervals as you can while maintaining effort and form.
Okay, there’s nothing new with this one, but it’s still worthwhile. Row 5,000 meters at a pace that allows you to complete the distance goal but leaves you feeling like you’ve put in some work. To mix things up, you can up the distance to 6K (another common training piece for competitive rowers) or try to beat your previous best time.