The new RowingWOD class will hone your skill, strength and fitness doing “the most physiologically demanding movements on earth” – Gymbox member Genevieve Teevan tries it and reports back.
“Every human is an athlete. Every athlete should row,” is the RowingWOD tagline. Okay, but why?
“Rowing uses more muscles and burns more calories than almost anything.”
Now they’re selling it to me –
“Want to dominate the competition and be the best version of yourself?”
Whoa. I’d kinda planned to potter through life as I am, thanks, but I’ll come along for the workout.
Naively, I felt confident going in to RowingWOD because I’ve always viewed rowing as an efficient, straightforward exercise to tack on to the beginning or end of a workout when I felt particularly energetic. Like running, it was available to me as a fitness tool but I gave little thought to how I did it or to the metrics. Having spent five years at a Canadian boarding school where rowing was considered vital, I’d picked up the basic technique in spite of a determined lack of interest in the actual sport.
Gymbox master trainer Firas Iskandarani upended my complacency in the first minutes of class with at least three fundamental corrections to the movements I’d been doing for years. He, along with Gymbox’s other certified RowingWOD instructors, have been training with former Team GB Olympian Dr. Cameron Nichol and it shows in every aspect of their delivery of the sessions. The format offers a near-perfect balance of intense exercise and constant technical advancement.
We start in pairs with one person rowing comfortably while the other adjusts the damper lever on the flywheel to tune the drag factor to 130. Pro tip: cranking up the resistance won’t give you the best results – it just slows you down and prevents you getting an optimal cardio workout. You want a smooth stroke with enough, but not too much, recovery time on the return.
While one person rows, their partner does squats and lunges in front of the machine. Firas makes sure we’ve got the basics down: push out with your legs, then your back and, lastly, your arms. Recover on the return journey letting your arms slide back with the momentum of the wheel, bending at the hips, and reversing your legs to the starting position without braking. Firas is quick to pounce on areas for improvement: sharpening our posture and adjusting our rhythm for better power and speed. We’re told to “Sit tall,” “Stay connected to your rower,” “Drive with your feet,” and “Don’t fold up on the way back.”
Each class will include different technical lessons and the first was race starts. Getting the timing right is a bit tricky, but it will make a significant difference to your results in competitive indoor rowing or CrossFit events. It’s also quite satisfying to see the numbers on your monitor speed up as you sprint.
We put our race start technique into practice doing timed drills of one minute each followed by team races in which you and your partner take turns for set chunks of time: two minutes, then three minutes, then another two and finally a one-minute sprint each. That sounds wussy, like less time than it takes to change tube lines or buy a coffee, but it feels tough.
First, we rehearse the technique for swapping in and out of the foot rests quickly – like passing a baton in a relay. You have to think strategically about whether to do a higher multiple of shorter sprints or to reduce the number of seat changes by taking longer turns. My partner, James, and I manage 753m in three minutes. I confess: our respective shares of the metres rowed may not have been precisely equal – what with him being bigger, stronger, barely out of his teens, and pushing himself to a near-vomiting state and me being, err, less all that.
How close you get to cardiac arrest is down to you. I’d expected a blunt beasting, like Flatline, so found RowingWod surprisingly thoughtful and engaging, but I also recommend it for the pure fitness element. It has the progressive, measurable appeal of CrossFit if you commit to regular sessions and it’s sufficiently accessible to be used for an occasional challenge within a varied (read: haphazard) fitness regime.