1. Slow down to speed up
“In a public gym you rarely see people using the rowing machine correctly,” reveals Pete Reed, 33, who has a lung capacity of 11.68 litres – almost double the human norm. “Normally people tend to pull far too hard, their strokes are often too short, and they try to move up and down far too fast. It is better to try to make the stroke longer and slower so it is more precise and efficient.”
A longer stroke will unlock more power and sharpen up your technique. “Go on YouTube to watch some of the London 2012 rowing videos and slow down the technique to learn the right pattern of movement,” suggests Reed.
2. Focus on your legs, not your arms
“Although people think rowing is all about arm strength it is actually a very leg-dominant sport,” explains James Foad, 28. “You often see people really trying to pull with their arms but after you come forward on the slide the first movement should be with your legs to recruit all the power of your glutes. It is almost like a squat jump in the sense that the stroke is not being driven by your arms but from the movement of your hips and legs.”
Practise makes perfect. “If you get it completely right give me a call because even we get it wrong sometimes,” says Reed.
3. Put your back into it
“One of the most neglected elements of rowing is posture, and knowing how to sit during the stroke can make a big difference,” advises Foad. “Your posture should not be bolt upright because you need to use your back for strength too, and if you lean too far backwards or forwards you will lose some power. Aim to sit tall but slightly back so you maximise your power during the stroke.”
4. Improve your pulling technique
Contrary to some of the unusual techniques you might have spotted in your local gym, when you pull the handle towards your body it shouldn’t end up near your gut or your forehead.
“Aim to finish the stroke just underneath your pecs and near your sternum,” says Foad. “You often see a lot of people go quite high up because it gives them a better split on the screen, but it’s not a good technique and you risk injury. It is better to get your technique right and then the times will follow.”
5. A weak core will wreck your times
“To maintain an efficient rowing technique you need a really strong core,” says Reed, who does planks, side planks and barbell roll-outs to improve his abdominal strength. The key is to keep challenging your core with new exercises and routines.
“We do a whole range of core exercises,” explains Foad. “For example, sit-ups with our feet tucked underneath a box, swiss ball rotations, press-ups on a swiss ball, or slowly manoeuvring a dumbbell across your body under tension.”
6. Music is your legal high
Using your iPod will ramp up your motivation and maintain your rhythm while you train.
“We listen to group music on the ergos a lot,” says Reed. “We are focusing on the numbers but the music helps to pass the time. A good playlist can help you keep rhythm too, whether you are listening to fast, pounding tracks for a high-intensity workout or a relaxing playlist for longer sessions.”
7. Don’t ignore the rest of the gym
Supplementing your rowing sessions with strength workouts will help beef up your performances when you get back on the rower.
“Strength and power is important in rowing so we do a lot of squats, bench presses and Olympic lifts like power cleans because the movements are very similar to the rowing stroke, with a leg drive, hip movement, and a controlled speed of movement from your legs to your arms,” says Foad.
“We do bench-pulls – when you lie face-down on a bench and pull the bar up to your chest – and deadlifts too,” adds Reed.
8. Cycling can be good for rowing
Cycling, running, skiing and other endurance sports will help improve your fitness on the indoor rower and stop you getting bored.
“I really enjoy cross-training,” says Reed. “We do a bit of cycling and I have done cross-country skiing too. It keeps you fit by challenging you in new ways but above all it refreshes your mind. A change is a good as a rest, so you always feel better when you start rowing again.”
9. Mix up your targets
“A lot of people go for shorter times on the indoor rower because they just use it for a quick three-minute warm-up which means they want to go as fast as possible,” says Reed. “But if you do regular 20-minute sessions you will quickly notice the difference in your fitness and your technique will become nice and smooth.
“As well as training to time, try to mix up your targets, like aiming to maintain a certain speed or reach a certain distance. Any kind of variety keeps you interested and improving.”
10. Race your mates
Having a work colleague or a mate rowing next to you could be just the inspiration you need to push yourself harder and nail a new PB.
“We stay motivated by having a strong team of competitive guys around us all the time,” says Reed. “A bit of competition helps you stay focused and you can’t help but drive each other on.”