Stationary Rowing Machine Exercise and Diet

 

Two Basic Rowing Machine Strokes

 

Stroke 1: Primarily benefiting the abdominal muscles, glutes, and thighs.

 

Grip: Narrow grip. Grasp handles of rower near tips. Resistance set at moderate level so that it is comfortable for you in a 30 minute session

 

Basic Stroke: At start if stroke, bend forward at waist, sucking your tummy muscles in. Slide seat forward while bending knees until you are in a full forward position, knees fully bent. Push backward using your feet. Ah you push backward, do most of the work with your feet and leg muscles, keeping your arms as straight as possible, without bending them at your elbows. As you pull back, your back will go to a vertical position. Make sure that your back does not go beyond vertical coming back. DO NOT USE YOUR LOWER BACK MUSCLES TO ASSIST YOU IN THE BACKSTROKE. If you do, you will quickly develop pain in your lower back and end up walking around for several days in a crouched over, hunchback position, if you are walking at all. A wide leather or composite weightlifting belt may be helpful in keeping your lower back from going beyond a vertical position, which is the dangerous part. If you are bent forward at the waist during part of the stroke there is no problem. Strokes here can be fairly fast, since you are not bending your arms and thus this stroke is quite aerobic.  Set the resistance so that you feel comfortable doing 18-20 strokes per minute. Keep your tummy muscles sucked in as much as possible throughout the stroke.

 

This stroke primarily attacks problems in the lower body and is quite aerobic.

 

Benefits: 

1.               This particular stroke peels excess weight from around the waist like no other. If you want your waist size to come down 2-4 inches in a hurry, this one will do it.

2.               This is an excellent exercise for flattening and building the abdominal muscles also known as your “six pack”. By bending forward with your tummy muscles sucked in at the forward portion of the stroke, you end up doing something equivalent to a stomach crunch, but with resistance. Part of the trick of building a slim abdominal physique is getting enough strength built up in your lower abdominal muscles such that you can normally assume a posture with your tummy muscles sucked in, and going through the exercise doing this constantly is helpful in this regard. The guys whose stomachs droop over their belt at the waistline in part have that problem because they are carrying too much weight, but the bigger problem is that the abdominal muscles have been underutilized, and have become flabby making it difficult to keep your tummy sucked in without constantly thinking about it. This particular stroke attacks both issues. You may not experience weight loss so much as a rearrangement of weight on your body, as fat is burned and muscle is built.

3.               For guys interested in having muscular glutes and thigh muscles, this stroke is very helpful in achieving that. It’s a known fact that women in studying the male physique are drawn to men’s butts, and this exercise will accomplish that for you, as well as build out the thigh areas, and develop your calf muscles and muscles along the sides of your lower legs.

 

Stroke 2: Primarily benefiting the upper body, delts, lats, pecs and the muscles that cap the shoulders.

 

Grip: Wide grip. Grasp handles of rower at outside edge of grips, perhaps wider if possible. Resistance still set at a moderate level so that it is comfortable for you in a 30 minute session

 

Basic Stroke: At start if stroke, suck your tummy muscles in, but keep your upper body and chest vertical to the rower and seat. Slide seat forward while bending knees until you are in a full forward position, knees fully bent. Push backward using your feet, pulling backwards with your arms. Ah you pull backward, do most of the work with your upper body, arms and shoulder muscles rather than with your legs. As you complete the backward stroke, start bending your elbows to bring the handlebar grips close to your chest and pec muscles. Let your upper shoulder muscles do most of the work in the backstroke bending your elbows your arms at the end of the stroke. Do not let your back go back beyond vertical. As you pull back, your back will go to a vertical position.  AGAIN, DO NOT USE YOUR LOWER BACK MUSCLES TO ASSIST YOU IN THE BACKSTROKE. This is a slower stroke, particularly at the end of the stroke as you use your deltoid muscles and biceps  to bend your elbows and complete the stroke. Keep your tummy muscles sucked in as much as possible throughout the stroke, as in stroke 1.

 

This stroke primarily attacks problems with the the upper body. It is less aerobic and less geared to removing waistline fat than stroke 1.

 

Benefits: 

  1. This particular stroke does wonders in building a triangular chest, and particularly strengthens and widens the upper shoulders.
  2. Expect to see rather dramatic improvements in the deltoid muscles, which tie the pectoral muscles into the shoulders. These deltoid muscles are critical to upper body appearance and strength. Lat muscles along the sides of the chest will be improved as well, and it is the combination of development in these two muscles that gives an overall fir appearance with a triangular chest development
  3. Biceps muscles in the upper arms benefit from this exercise as they are critical in the arm-bending portion of the exercise which require that the biceps contract under stress to pull the rower grips next to the chest.

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Rowing versus Other Exercises

 

Many men associate upper body and chest development with an increased size for the pectoral muscles. The rowing machine primarily develops upper body muscles using a pulling not pushing motion. Pectoral muscles grow rapidly in response to a pushing not pulling motion which is not something a rowing machine does. For example, a simple bench press using weights is an excellent way of building pectoral muscles. What oner really should do is supplement the rowing exercise with a little bench pressing on a daily basis. In fact the two motions are so different that the bench pressing gives the muscles used in rowing a chance to rest and recover, and you can move from rowing machine to bench press and back again without difficulty.

 

One problem with engaging mainly in bench pressing without rowing as a chest building activity is that you will quickly develop oversized pec muscles but these muscles, frankly, look silly because they do not end up being well tied into the sides of the chest and the rest of the physique. But the combination of rowing and bench pressing in rotation resolves the problem.

 

I used to think it was necessary to use weights close to your maximum bench pressing weight in order to grow the pecs, but this is not at all necessary. Overdoing bench pressing in terms of pressing near your maximum weight can lead to all sorts of injuries including hernias, lower back injuries etc (been there done that). A better strategy is to use much lighter weights—that is, 50-80 lbs total maximum with many more repetitions. The high repetitions will tend to tone muscles more, even if muscle growth is slightly less.

 

What Sport or Exercise Gives the Ideal Physique?

 

The body type that develops for each sport or exercise program can be dramatically different across sports and exercise programs.

 

Serious runners tend to lose weight and reduce body fat. Runners tend to develop strong leg and thigh muscles, and running is good aerobic exercise for strengthening heart and pulmonary function. But other than general weight loss and reduction of body fat, running does little to strengthen the upper body and abdominal muscles. Individuals carrying too much weight around the waistline tend to have to do a lot of running in order to burn off this fat. A down side of running is that it tends to be hard on both the feet and the knees

 

Treadmill users are only slightly different than runners, with lots of positive aerobic and overall weight loss benefits, but little to strengthen the upper body

 

Bicyclists also tend to lose weight and reduce body fat. They tend to develop large and strong calf and thigh muscles, which are the muscles heavily used in bicycle riding. Bicycle riders tend to develop lean physiques, but the entire upper body is little used, so the rider more likely looks thin than necessarily fit. Bicycle riders tend to be prone to groin area injuries.

 

Weight lifters tend to develop large and strong muscles in both the upper and lower body. But weight lifters face their own sets of problems. First the exercise is not very aerobic, and so if cardiovascular fitness is a goal, weight lifting must be supplemented with other, more aerobic forms of exercise. For most guys, weight lifting is not an entire fitness program but part of a program, and weight lifters are prone to all sorts of different injuries.

 

Swimming is sometimes seen as a near perfect exercise, involving both the upper and lower body, and the swimmers physique is sometimes viewed as nearly ideal. Most competitive swimmers also engage in some weight training. Swimming alone is often not strenuous enough to develop the upper body without the additional weight training.

 

Gymnastics is sometimes seen as the sport that produces the most nearly ideal physique. Men’s gymnastics exercises are strenuous and involve all muscle groups in both the upper and lower body, with a particular emphasis on strength across the shoulders, abdomen, thighs and lower legs. But gymnastics exercises are often too strenuous for the average male and require specialized and not readily available equipment. Gymnastics for the most part is a young man’s sport. Many of the exercises are dangerous. Gymnasts tend to be prone to all sorts of injuries all over the body, including breaking bones, ripping apart knees and shoulders. The list goes on and on. So this sport is impractical for most men, no matter how desirable the resulting physique.

 

Stationary Rowing is close to ideal in many different ways. For starters, like gymnastics it is a full body workout involving both the upper and lower body. But there is little if any danger or risk of serious injury The upper body workout is generally more strenuous than in swimming, resulting in stronger upper body development than swimming alone would produce. A rowing machine can be placed in a spare bedroom (no need to go looking for a swimming pool or gym every time you want to exercise). While the stationary rowing machine provides a total body workout, the greatest benefit is to the upper body and chest. Guys fearful of foot and knee injury or re-injury in running will generally have no problem with rowing. The only negative is the potential for injury of the lower back, but this potential can be all but eliminated if you use good form and there are great aerobic benefits.

 

Comparing Stationary Rowing With Other Forms of Exercise

 

The following table compares a number of different exercises relative to general fitness goals that a person might have. Many of the most popular exercises (walking, running, bicycling) do not come near to a total body workout as stationary rowing or swimming.

 

Fitness Goal:

Cardio-vascular

General Weight Loss

Trim Tummy

Upper Body Development

Lower Body Development

Exercise:

 

 

 

 

 

Walking

Yes

Some

Slight

None

Some

Running/Treadmill

Yes

Yes

Some

None

Yes

Dancing

Yes

Yes

Slight

Slight

Yes

Bicycling

Yes

Yes

Slight

None

Yes

Aerobics

Yes

Yes

Some

Some

Some

Calisthenics, Pushups

Slight

Slight

Slight

Yes

Some

Weightlifting: Bench Press

No

No

No

Yes

No

Weightlifting: Lat Pull Down

No

No

Slight

Yes

No

Swimming

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes

Gymnastics

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes

Stationary Rowing

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes

 

 

 

The following table compares stationary rowing with some other possible forms of exercise, based on the above discussion. The ideal answer for each exercise should be “yes” but by combining two or more kinds of exercise in a general program one can accomplish that (without becoming a gymnast!). Stationary rowing covers most but not all of the bases

 

Exercise:

General Upper Body

Pectoral Muscles

Deltoid Muscles

Latissimus Dorsi

Shoulder Caps

Biceps

Triceps

Abdominal Muscles

General Lower Body

Thigh Muscles

Calf Muscles

Side of Leg

General Weight Control

Cardio-Vascular Fitness

Walking

No

No

No

No

No

No

No

No

Some

Some

Slight

Slight

Yes

Yes

Running/Treadmill

No

No

No

No

No

No

No

Slight

Yes

Yes

Some

Yes

Yes

Yes

Dancing

Slight

Slight

No

No

No

No

No

Slight

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes

Bicycling

No

No

No

No

No

No

No

Some

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes

Aerobics

Some

Slight

Slight

No

No

Slight

Slight

Slight

Some

Slight

Slight

Slight

Yes

Yes

Calisthenics, Pushups

Some

Yes

Slight

Some

Slight

Some

Yes

Some

Some

Some

Slight

Slight

Yes

Yes

Weightlifting: Bench Press

Some

Yes

Slight

Slight

Slight

Slight

Yes

No

No

No

No

No

No

Slight

Weightlifting: Lat Pull Down

Some

No

Yes

Yes

Yes

Some

No

Slight

No

No

No

No

No

Slight

Swimming

Yes

Slight

Yes

Yes

Yes

Some

Slight

Yes

Yes

Yes

Some

Yes

Yes

Yes

Gymnastics

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes

Stationary Rowing

Yes

Slight

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes

No

Yes

Yes

Yes

Slight

Yes

Yes

Yes

 

 

The following table compares the same exercises with respect to the possibility of various kinds of injuries. Stationary rowing is one of the least prone to injury forms of exercise.

 

Injury:

Feet

Legs

Knees

Groin

Hernia

Back

Muscle Tears

Ligaments

Shoulder

Elbows

Exercise:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Walking

X

 

X

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Running/Treadmill

X

X

X

 

 

 

 

X

 

 

Dancing

X

X

X

 

 

 

 

X

 

 

Bicycling

X

X

X

X

 

 

 

 

 

 

Aerobics

X

X

X

 

 

 

 

X

X

X

Calisthenics, Pushups

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

X

X

Weightlifting: Bench Press

 

 

 

 

X

 

X

 

X

 

Weightlifting: Lat Pull Down

 

 

 

 

 

 

X

X

X

 

Swimming

 

X

 

 

 

 

 

X

X

 

Gymnastics

X

X

X

X

X

X

X

X

X

X

Stationary Rowing

 

 

 

 

 

X

 

 

 

 

 

 

Diet and Rowing

 

An interesting question is that if a person uses stationary rowing as a major form of exercise, what if any dieting should that person pursue. If a person is obviously seriously overweight, he will likely want to use dieting in conjunction with stationary rowing in combination. But if a person is only slightly overweight, say 25 pounds or less above what the person considers to be ideal, introducing the exercise alone may be sufficient to deal with the weight problem without drastic dietary changes. Keep in mind also that in exercising, you will be not only burning fat but also converting weight that once was fat into muscle. Do not be too surprised if the scale does not say you are losing weight even though these other changes in your body are occurring as you row.

 

Rowing is strenuous activity and you are going to need to take in some easily burned fuel to keep up a strenuous pace, especially if you are going to row 30 minutes or more a day practically every day. Simple sugars, that is sucrose or table sugar from candy and similar are burned off pretty quickly. However, a lot of carbonated beverages are sweetened with high fructose corn syrup, which does not burn off quite so easily and tends to be deposited around the waistline, at least in men. If a person consumes beverages sweetened with an artificial sweetener instead, there are zero energy calories to burn while rowing. In addition your body will try to compensate for this lack of energy by consuming more calories in other forms, often fat calories. The problem is that these fat calories are frequently worse for you and your physique than the sugar would have been. In short, if you drink a diet soda and then substitute the calories you didn’t consume there by eating an oversized serving of French fries fried in a trans fat laced oil you are still going to be in trouble, deep trouble. It’s far easier to burn off the calories consumed in the sugared beverage on the rowing machine than it is to burn off the calories from the French fries made with oils containing trans fats!

 

The nutritionists have taken all sorts of different positions relating to fat and its role in a diet or not. First of all, fats are essential elements of any diet and it would be unhealthy to eliminate them all. Second, many nutritionists have sometimes advocated a position that fats coming from any animal product are unhealthy, and in particular fats coming from meat and dairy products.

 

The current view is more enlightened, however. While it may still be unhealthy to consume too much fat coming from animals and animal products, used in moderation these foods do not result in health problems. Further, many animal fats including oils normally found in fish are very healthy and beneficial, and can be consumed in large amounts. This all has to do with the role that each type of fat has in raising good cholesterol and lowering bad cholesterol, and this is not a simple relationship.

 

Right now, the fats that are being indicted by nutritionists are mainly so called saturated vegetable fats, but with particular reference to the amount of trans fats in the diet. Trans fats have been heavily implicated in particular in depositing rolls of fat around the waistlines of men, particularly as they grow older. Worse, it is this type of weight gain that has been statistically strongly connected to increased incidence of heart disease, circulatory problems, blood clots and all the other things that can happen to a guy’s circulatory system as he grows older. (Women tend to deposit trans fats on their hips more so than their waistlines, which is another issue.) So the idea of keeping one’s waistline trim via rowing is more than just a cosmetic issue in which men without belly fat look better and fitter. Keeping this fat off the waistline is critical to reducing the incidence of heart disease as one grows older, and one way you can do this is to reduce consumption of saturated vegetable oil fats in general but particularly the trans fat component.  For guys at least a small waistline is associated with a much lower risk of serious heart disease as one grows older.

 

The problem of course, is that food manufacturers love shelf stable products—that is, products that can be placed on grocery shelves with expiration dates three or even six months from now, and trans fats, being solid at room temperature, tend to make products shelf stable with long expiration times. So in the 80s and even into the 90s food manufacturers increasingly used saturated and trans fat laced vegetable oils as a means of increasing the shelf life of products. Vegetable oils tend to get rancid as they age, and its not attractive to find liquid vegetable oil at the bottom of a snack box or package, even though these oils may be healthy for you.

 

 The whole issue of what foods can be made trans fat free and at what penalty in terms of flavor and shelf life is an interesting one. Frito Lay, a Pepsico unit that makes large numbers of snacks switched to trans fat free vegetable oils for all their snacks several years ago, with seemingly minimal negative impact on either taste or shelf life. But most microwave popcorn still has oils containing trans fats (solid fat inside the bag). It is nearly impossible to make a commercially available donut without using an oil containing trans fats, Some of the fast food places have eliminated trans fats from their French fries, but McDonalds still seems to be struggling to find a trans fat free oil that produces what they consider to be an acceptable taste. Wendy’s fries are advertised as trans fat free, but they may still contain less than a gram, as the law permits that. Only recently most of the Oreo cookies went trans fat free in their filling. Also, stay away from wedding cake and other commercially baked flat cakes that are ordinarily covered in frosting that is a mixture of powdered sugar and a Crisco-like vegetable oil that is a solid at room temperature. These latter items are about as heart unhealthy as you can get, and should not be consumed at all.

 

What does all of this have to do with rowing? Well, if you want to make dietary improvements that will also help to reduce your waistline while you are rowing, the first thing that needs to be cut out of your diet is any food containing transfats. In this regard, most potato chips are now ok, but most microwave popcorn is not. The fat in tree nuts, Cashews, Walnuts, Pecans, Brazil nuts while high in calories, is generally regarded as a good not bad fat. If you insist on eating popcorn, make it in a popper and use Canola or even olive oil. Woks make interesting corn poppers in this regard.

 

If you love French fries, make your own by slicing fresh potatoes and frying them in a heart-healthy oil such as canola oil in a small cast iron skillet. This works well with less than ¼ inch of oil.

 

The main problem with sweetened beverages is that most of the commercial ones are sweetened with high fructose corn syrup, not sucrose, or table sugar, which actually tastes better but is more expensive.  The combination of trans fats in commercial fries along with beverages sweetened with high fructose corn syrup have been implicated in weight gain around the tummy in men, something we are trying to reduce not increase with the rowing. If you want a flavored beverage, it is better for you to buy a dried powdered beverage and sweeten it with table sugar yourself.

 

No one has ever proven that anyone has ever lost a pound of weight drinking 0-calorie artificially sweetened beverages. You quickly replace the lost calories from the 0-calorie beverage with calories coming from other sources, and the bad part here is that for many people these are often calories from saturated and trans fat laden-vegetable fats. Think about it! Over the last forty years the weight of the average US resident has gone up by 25 pounds, and over the same time period the consumption of artificially sweetened beverages has soared. If consuming artificially sweetened beverages actually helped people lose weight as some people would dearly like to believe, should we not be seeing some impact on the average weight of US residents from the increasing use of artificial sweeteners?  In contrast, in the 1950s, when most soda was sweetened with sucrose, far fewer guys ran around with oversized bellies. The data show that. This might be just a correlation not a cause and effect relationship, but I think there is more going on than that. If the fast food joints sweetened beverages with sucrose, their appetites might be satisfied with smaller fry and burger portions, and that would not be good for business overall.

 

Remember what your mother told you. “Don’t eat candy before dinner or you will lose your appetite!” Table sugar is actually a pretty good appetite suppressant but less so for high fructose corn syrup. Drinking beverages containing sucrose could actually help you to lower food and calorie intake as part of a weight loss program. The reason you have an appetite is that your blood thinks it needs sugar. Once you blood gets the sugar it thinks it needs, your appetite is suppressed. From the rowing perspective the sucrose gives you the short term enery bump you need to complete your exercise

 

To be successful at removing belly fat while rowing, you do not need to go into some esoteric diet that avoids all of your favorite foods. But it is smart to use common sense. Eat as many fruits and vegetables as you can. You do not need to eliminate meat, eggs and dairy products from your diet, simply eat them in moderation. Try to increase your uptake of fish of all types. Dark chocolate is high in fat but the flavinoids in dark chocolate are hearty healthy. And enjoy the tree nuts.

 

Is Stationary Rowing a Fountain of Youth?

 

I am reaching sixty years of age, and I have been using a stationary rowing machine for approximately 20 years, perhaps longer. In recent months I have ramped up my exercise program, increasing the amount of rowing I do from 20 minutes a day, 7 days a week to 30, 60 and even 90 minutes a day. My upper body and chest have responded accordingly. I am 5’10” weigh 160 lbs, with a 31-32 inch waist. The aerobic and muscle building aspects of rowing in recent months have yielded interesting and unexpected benefits. Generally my heart and circulatory system appear to be in very good shape. I have noticed recent improvements in libido and sexual function (no Viagra needed here for certain). First, the improvement in circulation affects all organs that rely on a blood supply. Second the muscle building aspect tends to increase testosterone levels. I recently went in for what has been my semi-annual visit with my primary care physician, and she thought I was in such good overall health and condition that from now on I would not need to show up again for a whole year!

 

No, the rowing machine is not truly a fountain of youth. On the other hand, it is certainly most helpful in maintain an above average lever of physical conditioning as a guy grows older. This may all seem a little self-centered, but while the cosmetic benefits of having a slim waist and a strong muscular body as a person moves into his sixth decade of life, are fun and interesting to pursue, there is a lot more going on here than that. The medical profession has been only recently waking up to the linkages between weight carried at the waist line in men and the incidence of heart and circulatory diseases, and you can expect to see more research on that coming out in the future. Another area of research attempts to link trans fat consumption with weight gain around the waistline.  The combination of the rowing machine and a diet that limits the consumption of certain fats while eliminating trans fats can put you at the leading edge of all this new medical research linking food and exercise to overall health, resulting in a reduced probability of heart and circulatory problems, while overall increasing your fitness level as the decades pass. It’s just very difficult to pass up a deal that provides all those benefits.

 

Rower Photo

 

A Photo of my Stamina 1205 rower is at http://www.dldebertin.com/rower.jpg  These are available on line at a number of different vendors for under $200. The company Web site is at http://www.staminaproducts.com 

 

Photo of Me

 

Here is me, age 62, from a photo taken January 2, 2010.

 

 

Update: Here is me, age 67, from a recent photo taken December 27, 2014. You can see exactly what happens with the rowing exercise.

 

 

 

 

 dldebertin@aol.com