Rowing Ergometers Build Full Body Strength

University Park, Pa. -- Studies show that, contrary to popular belief, rowing not only builds upper body strength, but also benefits the entire body, especially when coupled with an ergometer to measure results.

Rowing, whether on machines or ergometers, offers a tougher workout than most other physical activities, notes the September issue of the Penn State Sports Medicine Newsletter. While involving all of the large muscles, it actually emphasizes those of the lower extremities.

"Exercise on rowing ergometers places tremendous stress on the muscles and exceeds the power output of most other activities," says Fred C. Hagerman, Ph.D., chairperson of the Sports Medicine Commission for the International Society of Rowing and professor of physiology at Ohio University.

Hagerman recently conducted a study testing the power output and physiological responses of rowing as compared to treadmill walking and running, stationary cycling and other exercises performed in fitness clubs.

"My data indicated that, out of all these exercises, rowing rated highest in power output at a similar percentage of peak oxygen consumption. Cross-country skiing ranked second. Rowers are in general the best conditioned aerobic athletes," Hagerman says.

For maximum aerobic/anaerobic benefits, exercisers should understand the difference between rowing machines and rowing ergometers. The difference is not necessarily in appearance, since both machines and ergometers come in a variety of designs.

Traditionally manufactured rowing machines were engineered to furnish resistance (strength) training. The problem with rowing machines is that they are not equipped to record measurable goals and results. While simulating rowing conditions as well as machines, rowing ergometers, in addition, measure power output and other variables such as stroke rate and estimated distance rowed.

Rowing ergometers with sliding seats provide both aerobic and anaerobic challenges," says Hagerman. "Competitive rowing is 75-80 percent aerobic and 20-25 percent anaerobic. The Type I muscle fibers in rowers and marathoners are almost the same, but those fibers in rowers have tremendous diameter. Rowers need not only strength and power for short bursts of energy but also considerable aerobic capacity."

With all the potential advantages of rowing, Hagerman admits there are drawbacks.

"Persons starting a rowing ergometer exercise program should first seek good instruction and use common sense in planning their workouts. Most people don't pick up the proper technique immediately," says Hagerman. "As with any kind of exercise, injuries increase with more intensity, frequency and duration of exercise periods."


EDITORS: Penn State's Center for Sports Medicine can be reached at (814) 865-7107.

The Penn State Sports Medicine Newsletter is a monthly publication of Penn State's Center For Sports Medicine.

Also in this month's issue:

-- Strenuous exercise promotes gynecological health.

-- Recognizing and treating stress fractures.

-- Marathoners and (real) sudden death.

-- Maximizing peak performance times in tennis.

-- Exercising for the lower back.

For subscription information, write to Penn State Sports Medicine Newsletter, P.O. Box 3073, Langhorne, PA 19047-9377.

Paul Blaum 814-865-9481 (o)
Vicki Fong 814-865-9481 (o)