I bought myself a Concept2 rower to use for cross-training.
The nice thing about rowing is that it mostly uses different muscles than running or biking, yet it's a full body workout that gets the heart rate up!
It also fits in nicely with some of the adventure racing I have been doing in recent years. Paddling and rowing are different, but there is enough overlap in the muscles you use that I should get a head start this year.
Things I Learned
- Use a Low Stroke Rate - I started out with the running/biking mindset that high cadence is good. In rowing it's not so - you lose your form if you try to row too quickly. The ideal stroke rate seems to be around 20-24 strokes per minute. I started out in the high 30's by instinct - but my speed went up a lot when I slow it down. Which brings me to my next point...
- Pull harder, go faster - this is a bit different from biking, where if you can increase your cadence without changing gears you go faster. Instead with rowing you can pull harder with the same cadence and go faster! So two guys with the same resistance and same cadence can go entirely different speeds if one is pulling harder.
- Resistance is Futile - the instinct is to try to pull the highest resistance possible, but in fact most professional rowers prefer to set it in the 3-5 out of 10 range to mimic the resistance of real water. No matter what the resistance is set to, you can pull lightly or hard. The computer is smart enough to base your speed on how much you're actually pulling.
Is It Boring?
Like any indoor workout, it can be... I crank the music and watch the rowing computer for my current pace, which seems to pass the time OK. You could probably watch TV, although you'd be getting further from it, then closer, then further, the closer 20+ times per minute...
Does It Make a Difference?
I haven't been using it that long, but already I feel like my core is more solid, and my triceps certainly feel the burn! Hopefully that all translates into a better paddling season when we get onto the water.