Landlubbers, grab an oar and get a Viking workout
The Denver Post
Quick: What is the only Olympic sport that started out as state-sanctioned punishment for criminals and is the only sport, period, where you go as fast as you can but can’t see where you’re going?
When it comes to exercise, rowing is not the first thing that springs to mind for most Coloradans, who live in a state seemingly ruled by runners and bicyclists.
But if you’re looking for a fitness regimen that works, ask yourself this: Have you ever seen an out-of-shape Viking?
Professional trainers will tell you that rowing is one of the best exercises going. Elite rowers, the type of people you see on Olympic crews and college teams, have cardio conditioning rivaling world-class bicyclists. As a calorie burner, it’s terrific. A 155-pound person will burn about 600 calories an hour even with light effort, and 1,000 calories during a vigorous workout.
Unlike cycling and running, rowing provides a full-body workout, building and toning muscles in your back, arms, legs, shoulders and abdomen.
And thanks to a wave of improved rowing machines, many of them designed for home use, you can row year-round, although the Denver area has several outdoor rowing clubs for purists.
“People tend to think rowing is just for upper-body fitness,” says Heather Bahlmann, a trainer at Pura Vida Fitness and Spa in Cherry Creek. “It’s not. If you do it with proper technique, rowing involves about 60 percent legs, 20 percent arms and upper body, and 20 percent core muscles.”
Best of all, rowing is something that can be pursued at one level or another by healthy people at any age.
Pura Vida uses the Indo-Row machine, a recent advance in rowing technology that, on a small scale, actually involves water resistance. It’s not quite like rowing with the Harvard crew on the Charles River, but it’s still nifty.
“I’ve been rowing for 10 years, and this water rower is by far my favorite,” Bahlmann says. “There’s just so much more thought put into function and design.”The Indo-Row machines cost about $1,200 each and are marvels of sleek simplicity.
Made of wood, they are mounted with a monorail that a comfy, sliding seat sits on. Users anchor their feet in loops and grasp an ergonomic handle attached to a belt. The belt is attached to a take-up reel in a metal housing. A wheel directs the belt’s energy through a shaft that drives a paddle. The paddle whirls in a 5-gallon tank slung under the belt housing.
Fit your shoes into the footstraps, grab the handle, and off you go. Readouts from a spiffy touch-screen display track your progress, stroke rate and other functions.
Bahlmann aims for a workout rate of 25-28 strokes per minute. It’s not quite as arduous as those Roman galley scenes in “Ben-Hur,” and no one will pitch you into the sea if you break rhythm, but you’ll break a sweat, guaranteed.
In fact, the workout is set up so that people row in unison as a crew, just like scullers and the hands on those ancient triremes.
“We designed it as true group fitness,” Bahlmann said. “Everyone is rowing together as a crew. People root for each other. It’s a different dynamic altogether.”
Pamela Babjack knows all about that dynamic. She rows on real water as a member of the Rocky Mountain Rowing Club. She joined the club two years ago — it offers lessons and has a boathouse on Cherry Creek Reservoir — and now rows at the intermediate level.”The camaraderie is super,” said Babjack, 48. “I love to be active but need a team sport. There are no superstars on a boat. You’re all the same.
“You’re on the water in the fresh air, the fish are jumping, it’s just delightful.”
Good technique is crucial to successful rowing.
Rowers are encouraged to keep their backs straight, which allows their legs — quadriceps, hamstrings and gluteus — to come into direct play. Pulling the handle directly into the midsection enhances the workout to the back’s latissimi dorsi muscles, and the arms’ biceps and forearms.
“It’s been a terrific workout for me,” says Cathy Barnes, who was using one of the Cybex rowers at the downtown YMCA on a recent morning. “I rowed crew in college, gave it up for 20 years, then started back a few months ago.”
Barnes said she had lost 15 pounds through the regimen.
“I feel great after a rowing session, and am starting to feel like I’m toning up,” she said.
Rowers also talk about the hypnotic pull of the workout. The back-and-forth on the sliding seat has a lulling effect, even as you’re exerting yourself. It’s almost a Zen-like immersion into your own head, surpassed only by swimming long-distance laps.
Kelly Nothstein of Denver took up rowing in hopes of making a transatlantic crossing, although that dream fell through for financial reasons. But she became enamored of rowing as an exercise, training on an erg-model rowing machine.
“It’s just about setting goals for yourself, whether crossing an ocean or doing 5 miles on the machine, or whether it’s achievable or not,” Nothstein says.
“It was just a good workout, rowing away and listening to my music.”
William Porter: 303-954-1877 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Where to row — in water or out
Here are some area resources for people interested in rowing.Rocky Mountain Rowing Club operates a boathouse at Cherry Creek State Park. Rowing programs, including lessons, are available for all skill levels. rockymountainrowing.org for more information.
Mile High Rowing Club — slogan, “Rowing at a Higher Level” — also uses Cherry Creek Reservoir. The focus is on high-school students. They can be contacted at email@example.com. Website: milehighrowing.org
Pura Vida Fitness and Spa, at 2955 E. First Ave. in Cherry Creek, offers rowing classes on a battery of Indo-Row machines. More information: puravidaclub.com or 303-321-7872