So I Got a Rowing Machine…
Back in February, my exercise bike, a cheap(ish) one decided that the bearings were going to fail. It had served me pretty well, but I was on a fitness trip and doing a lot of miles and time on it. The clicking which started off as occasional and feeling like a bit of dust in the belt mechanism deteriorated rapidly. Thinking it could have been a tension issue, I made some recommended adjustments – all to no avail.
It had to go. I succeeded in getting a refund as the manufacturer didn’t provide spares. Like none at all. I started looking at alternatives to the bike, having my eye on the Schwinn IC4 and other similar ones around the £700-800 mark. Something that had support, brand recognition, a reputation amongst users. And most importantly, spares.
DISCOVERING ROWING AS A WORKOUT
Somewhere along the journey of ADHD-hyperfocus research I was mildly distracted and found myself looking at what the most effective form of cardio was that worked the whole body. You see, on the bike, it was really only the lower body. I would have to supplement the routines on the bike with an upper body workout to create a balance. It was here I discovered rowing machines.
Of course, it wouldn’t be the first time I’ve used a rowing machine. I’d owned one years ago in my 20’s when I bought my retail stores ex-demo machine with its nice staff discount. Sure, it wasn’t anything special, but I really liked the action. I could work up quite the sweat with a simple workout. It got sold or given away owing to space issues, and I never really thought about it until recently.
So I researched rowing. I watched all the YouTube on it. Subreddits were subscribed to. I wanted something quiet, that would be able to be used when my wife was in bed in the next room. To me, magnetic resistance was the way.
My first and long-standing choice was the Proform 750r. It was in the same budget as the exercise bike, magnetic flywheel and reviewed pretty well. In hindsight, it was kind of weird that one of the most often mentioned key selling points was it was “easy to store”. I don’t care about easy to store. My key areas are how well it performs, maintenance, and what my options are when it goes tits up. I want to be using it, and having it out and ready to jump on is more a feature that how easy it was to fold away and put somewhere.
Not only that, nearly everyone on the rowing subreddit kept banging on about this Concept2 machine. I’d seen one years ago, it certainly looked the business. People would rave about their usage on them, how great they were – even using older models that were 20+ years old and still going strong. These were machines that people used for decades, not years.
Of course, it was air resistance and I had my own ‘resistance’ to the idea of using one. What if the noise was too much? I would be in a relatively narrow long room, and noise could easily be a factor. Plus, it would be on the wall right next to said wife’s sleeping. Again, I went to the YouTube and sought out recordings and opinions on the noise. Plenty of people wrote about how quiet they actually were, even in flats, thin walled rooms, etc. The videos did little to quash my fears. The one thing I realised quite a way into this little rabbit hole was that people are pretty shit at sound recording, especially when things like measurable noise and comparison is needed.
The machine looked more likely to be “the one” for me. It was just this noise issue. It was conflicting information – people saying it’s quiet, others not, videos showing how quiet it was, others not. Argh!
Factors in the RowERG’s favour was the lack of annual subscription for the ErgData app and the online logbook provided by Concept2. The Proform used iFit which would be an additional cost of £180 per year at the minimum. Sure, Concept2 don’t have video style workouts, but then they don’t need to. App connectivity is more open and means you can either use their ErgData app or a third party one. The choice is a great factor.
At the end of the day I would have to take the risk. Fortunately, buying direct from Concept2 meant I could be eligible to return it if it wasn’t suitable. Great. I placed my order, including an additional seat pad and a Garmin chest strap heart rate monitor. Apparently Apple Watch doesn’t transmit heart rate data and I wanted to get good readings for the machine. “Only the best”.
A few days later, it turned up.
The assembly was super easy, and set up wasn’t too hard – getting the footplates at the right level took around 5-10 minutes of adjusting, testing, tweaking. There’s not really much to set up. Even the standard damper setting of around 4 was the sweet spot for my drag factor given my weight, etc.
Dark Horse rowing provided some excellent introductory workouts, especially the beginner ones with ‘pick drills’ which really helped cement a lot of the technique by being able to focus on each part of the stroke. This gave me an excellent foundation. Of course, I have to make small adjustments to my technique as my beeg belly won’t let me do the ‘catch’ part as well as I would like. But that’s also a goal – one of the reasons I’ve got this machine is to work on my overall fitness, help reduce body fat and do some flexibility work off the machine to increase my mobility.
The machine itself? Was way quieter than I expected, even when doing sprints/intervals. In fact the fan I have to help cool myself can be louder than the machine. It performs really well. In fact my wife reports that when she does hear the machine it’s a noise undulating whooshing that she seems to like, and has even reported that she didn’t hear my rowing when doing it late at night when she’s gone to bead early.
The seat was hard at the start, and I did use the seat pad for quite some time. I’m now in the process of using the pad less as I’ve gotten leaner on my legs, and sitting on the actual seat is easier especially for longer rows. There’s less shuffling around.
The display is great, hooking up the heart rate monitor is dead easy although I wish I could ‘save’ the device to the performance monitor. ErgData is a super easy way to set up workouts, do their ‘Workout of the Day’, or join the realtime loop (which I love) – although it’s not as ‘busy’ as I thought it would be. Maybe it’s a connection limitation, or there’s some way it just randomly assigns people to ‘sessions’, I don’t know. I do wish they would show a lap counter for your own workouts. For some reason it only shows other peoples.
Overall, a bloody good machine. That the company offers great support, tons of documentation on maintenance, repair, parts (even for much older machines), and even upgrade paths (the performance monitor can be upgraded on older machines to the latest spec) all points to a machine that will truly stand the test of time. I’m super pleased with mine – even if I never go ‘on the water’ (I can’t swim), I really enjoy the rowing action and sometimes, just sometimes close my eyes an my imagination takes me out to fictional lakes and rivers where I’m propelling myself along in the warm summer evenings… sorry, went off track a little there!
WORKOUT PROGRESSION AND GOALS
I plan to post semi-regular updates on progress here, along with my notes on pace, etc. I’m not doing this to be competitive, but moreso just to be a record of progress. For giggles, here’s my first ever serious rowing workout back in February 2023:
As you can see, I only managed 5 minutes, and an average pace (per 500m) of 2’55″… My heart rate was in the high 150’s too. The last ranked 5k row in mid-May took me 23’44”, average pace of 2’22” and my heart rate was in the high 160’s, almost at my threshold.
My goals at the moment are varied.
Shorter term goals are to complete some ranked fixed-distance workouts, namely the 1k, 2k, 5k and 10k. I want to increase my endurance and work towards a half-marathon of 21,097 metre) and then progress towards a full marathon at 42,195 metres.
Longer term goals are to achieve a million metres by the end of the season (which runs from May 1st through to April 30th), and to complete some of the challenges that Concept2 run throughout the year. Hope to be fit enough to do the April Fools next year (which is 15 days continuous effort, starting at 1,000m and increasing by 1,000m per day), and the Mud Season Madness challenge, which is at least 5,000m per day from March 1st–31st.
After that, there’s the century (100,000m in a single row) which would be astronomically hard. A very long term goal methinks.