Pros: Gives you a full body workout, low impact, lots of options, well designed durable unit...
Cons: ... the foot straps should be better...
The Concept 2 Rower is the only rower I have ever seen in a gym - which I have always taken to mean that it's a very popular / industry standard model. Anyway, for months I didn't really go near It - due to my asthma I struggled with it quite a lot. Largely because of that, I felt that I couldn't use it for long enough to actually make it worth using. However over time, with getting into a routine of exercise, improving my diet and losing a bit of weight, I've managed to reduce my asthma symptoms significantly, and thus thought I'd give it another go. It's now pretty much my favourite bit of kit at my gym.
One of the reasons I like it so much is that while most exercise machines give part or parts of your body a workout, the Concept 2 Rower is probably the nearest thing to a complete body workout you can get. While obviously you don't use every single muscle in your body (apparently there are about 650-850 different muscles in the human body, depending on exactly how you classify individual muscles), but the Concept 2 target muscles in all of the major muscle groups - at different stages of the rowing action you're using your quadriceps, deltoids and biceps, with other arm and leg muscles tensing and un-tensing with the actions, and also your abs and back muscles keeping your position stable. At first it feels really intense, but after a while it feels more comfortable, partly because you've trained your muscles a bit, and partly because you develop a smoother rowing action with practice. I like the rower particularly because it's low impact, so much less harsh on your joints than, for instance, running on a treadmill.
The Concept 2 Rower has various programmes you can set up, both standard (i.e. 2Km, 5mK, 10Km), you can set up manual programmes, aim for a time rather than distance, set up a pace boat to match your stroke against, and many other options. I tend to just do either a 2Km or 5Km row personally, which takes me roughly 9-10 minutes and 25-28 minutes respectively.
You can also access online competitions with this machine, though I've never actually done it personally (and I don't really think the machines at my gym are set up to allow it anyway). The indoor rower is used for regional and national competitions at times, look on the web to see if you can find any near your location (obviously most are in the US but I have seen a couple of competitions advertised in the UK, not that I'm even close to being fast enough to think about entering). There are even official world records for using this rower. On a more basic level. most gyms have charts where you can compare your times to other people's (I'm glad to say that I'm not the slowest in my gym!!).
The machine has 10 resistance levels; I tend to find 5 gives a good balance, obviously the higher values will work your muscles harder, while 3 or 4 is supposed to be equivalent to real water rowing. It's an ergonomic rower, which means that in addition to the set resistance level, the resistance on each pull matches the power you put into it - so if you put more power into the pull you feel more resistance, and of course travel further, as you would in real life rowing. I found the grip to be comfortable and even when rowing really hard, I never felt that I was in danger of is slipping out of my hands.
Despite using several different muscle groups, the rower is not the greatest calorie burner in the world - you'll probably find that you can burn calories a lot faster using a cross trainer or walking fast up a steep slope on a treadmill, for instance. However I feel that for body conditioning it's actually one of the best machines, especially if like me you could do with having your stomach muscles being tighter, it helps to achieve this (naturally it's preferable that this is in addition to, rather than instead of, specific abs exercises). Since I started using the rower I've noticed an overall improvement in my general wellbeing and body shape, though admittedly this is only partially down to the rower, and largely down to other exercises and diet / lifestyle changes. Still, the addition of indoor rowing would be a good thing for anyone's general health and muscle strength, so I thoroughly recommend giving it a go if, like me, you haven't been very inclined to before.
If you're thinking of buying a Concept 2 Rower for indoor use at home, it's not cheap and the machine is fairly large, but overall you wouldn't need to shift too much furniture to be able to find a logical space for it. If you want to use only one piece of exercise equipment, the indoor rower is probably the best option you have; as it's low impact you reduce the risk of injury, and it gives your whole body a workout. It's also versatile enough to adapt to different training needs, and the addition of competitions you can enter from the comfort of your own living room helps with keeping motivated.
Whilst the Concept 2 Rower is a superb bit of kit, I'm holding back from giving it a 5 star rating. The reason for this is the foot straps - it seems to be impossible to get the tight enough to stay on for a whole workout, during a 5Km or even 2Km row is pretty much impossible. Now I know the rowers in our gym have seen a lot of use, so it's probably not a problem when you first get the machine; however it's annoying enough to just take the gloss off an otherwise excellent product. (If anyone knows of a good solution to this please leave a comment! - I've asked the guys who work at the gym, and they think it's just something that has to be put up with. I have no idea if it's possible to get new foot straps for this machine or if they are any good if it is.) One other slight quibble is that it never asks your weight, so the calories burned figure for your row is not very accurate.
Please note - there is no heart rate monitor with this Concept 2 Rower model, though there are models that do have a monitor built in.
One slight caution - most sources recommend NOT using a rowing machine on your rest days from weight training, as obviously you'd be using your arm and upper body muscles with the rower.
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