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How to Use a Rowing Machine for a Better Cardio Workout

The rower is my favorite cardio machine because you can crush calories on it and sculpt muscles in your back, arms, abs, and legs. But strapping in without a strategy won't do your body any favors. So I went to Annie Mulgrew, the program director at Cityrow, an indoor rowing and strength training interval studio in New York City, to decode its dashboard. Learn what the numbers mean, then pick a time or distance goal, hit the appropriate button to lock it in, and row. (Then try this total-body rowing workout straight from Cityrow trainers.)

Rower Dashboard

Strokes Per Minute (spm): Your speedometer (which reads 25 above), which shows the number of strokes (consider these your reps) you perform in one minute. Higher is not better. (Here: 7 Indoor Rowing Mistakes You're Probably Making.) Always aim to keep your spm below 30—pull hard and recover on the way in—and you'll log more meters (think distance covered on water) and work more muscles in less time.

Split Time: The amount of time it takes you to row 500 meters (which reads 5:31 above). It is affected by speed (spm) and power (the push of your legs out to extension). Try this: Row 500 meters at 26 to 28 spm, and aim to keep a consistent split time for two minutes. Then drop your rate to 22 to 24 spm, and see if you can push hard enough to maintain the same split time.

Timer Button: Press this (lower left-hand corner) and then the up or down arrow to set a timer by 30-second intervals. Press the center button and see how many meters you can row in that given amount of time. Try to complete more meters in each interval while keeping the same spm rate.

Distance Button: Press this (lower right-hand corner) and then the up or down arrow to set a distance goal by 50-meter increments. Then press the center button and see how long it takes you to cover that distance at 26 spm. Recover, then do the same distance in less time.

Time: This shows either how long you have been rowing or—if you selected the timer button—how long you have left to row. (Bottom left-hand corner of the display.)

Meters: Similarly, this is either how far you have been rowing or how much farther you have to row (if you selected the distance button). (Botton right-hand side of the display.)

Total Meters: Your distance sum over a given session (Top center of the display.)

Total Time: How long you've been on the rower. (Top left-hand corner of the display.)

Total Calories: Think of this as the force you are exerting on the machine (not the amount of calories you're burning). For example, try to row at a rate of 26 spm until you hit 10 calories. Rest, then row at 26 spm again, but lower your split time so you can get to 10 calories in less time. (Top right-hand corner of the display.)

Ready to row, but need some more guidance? Try this calorie-torching rowing workout video from CityRow.


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