Adventure Sport of the Month: Rowing

rowers 2I’ve decided to try something new and come up with an outdoor, adventure sport to highlight each month. There are so many out there, and a bunch that I already know quite a bit about from experimenting with them. I’d like to also try out some new ones too, and bring a fresh perspective. This month is one that I was more recently exposed to. I’ve been out on row boats before and have done some kayaking, but nothing serious. I was asked last month to meet with the Executive Director of the Pioneer Valley Riverfront Club, Ben Quick, to write a story on their organization for Go Local Magazine. That story can be viewed online here: Assuming someone might read this when it is no longer May, you can still find it under older issues, but make sure to look for May 2016.

Learning about the organization was really inspiring to me. The way they talk about rowing reminded me a lot of how people talk about climbing. It was something that they couldn’t get enough of, something that motivated them to try harder, something that connected them in a special bond, and something that was indescribably addicting. Both climbing and rowing are sports with a potential competitive edge, but both are also ones that can bring about a much needed sense of inner peace. The big difference were the types of people commonly associated with it, and the perception the public had of it. Climbing is often known for the “dirtbag” lifestyle. The ideal climber we aspire to is most often one living out of a van, traveling the world, and needing little more than climbing gear and good conditions. It is a dream I often find myself drawn to, though maybe not to the full extent. Rowing on the other hand is a highly praised collegiate sport, and often associated with a much wealthier community. Of course, either side of this is stereotyping. The climbing population is filled with weekend warriors, and rowing is a sport that thrives with inner city populations. Stereotypes have the, sometimes unfortunate, power to leave lasting perceptions though. Ultimately these sports are incomparably different from one another, but hearing that the feeling they cause is so similar had me interested.

Rowing is one of the oldest and most challenging sports. It uses every muscle in your body, or so they say. Although it can quickly feel exhausting because of all the strength and intensity required, serious injuries are not something commonly associated with this sport. It is more known for being therapeutic to certain ailments. For instance, it is a recommended sport for those with arthritis or osteoporosis, because it increases joint mobility by using a wide range of joint motion in a way that doesn’t strain them. The easier benefit to see is that it enhances cardio-respiratory system health by enhancing the lung’s ability to get oxygen to the heart and rest of the body.


One way that rowers train and learn technique is through ergo-meter machines. These machines simulate rowing and can even be programmed for indoor races. The basic technique is to first push back as far as you can with your legs, then lean back, and then pull with your arms to your chest. Then let your arms slide forward first, then lean back in and then scrunch your legs. You are unfolding and folding in the same way, and using more leg work than arm work. This makes sense because our legs have more power and don’t get “pumped” as fast. It is similar in climbing. The more you use your legs/feet, the better.

ergometer machine

The above picture is borrowed from It is a concept 2 model.

These machines can be found at my local climbing gym, and perhaps yours too. Therefore, it was easy to give it a try. A quick scan on google suggests this to be a pricey investment for your own home, so having one at your gym is a plus. I, like I’ve heard from other rowers, have developed a love/hate relationship with this machine. In my rowing, there are moments of pure tranquility where I hit my stride, my heart is pumping fast yet steady, and I can visualize myself on the water. This is met with moments where the machine really works you hard and you can feel it everywhere. When that fan starts blowing, you know you’re working hard, and it is both exhilarating and a struggle. Using this machine creeps up on you. You feel like it’s not that hard and not that bad, and then all the sudden you’re covered in sweat and really working for it. It feels good though, because you know you got a great workout.

Since this machine is at my climbing gym, I’ve tested it as a warm up strategy. In some ways it works well. It gets everything moving and working, and it is more low intensity so it’s not straining. Of course, being on it too long can start to tire out some of the muscles you want most for climbing such as legs and shoulders. It can be successful, but you need to be careful with time management and effort exerted. You want to get your heart pumping and your muscles engaged, but stop before they get close to fatigue. For me, personally, about 3-5 minutes works as a nice warm up. Anything past ten, and my climbing starts to suffer a tad. Everyone is different though. I tried rowing about 3-5 minutes, doing a light jog for 3 minutes on the treadmill, then doing dynamic stretches, and that seemed good. It’s certainly not tested enough to solidify results. I will keep it up and see what happens.

Actual rowing on the water is something I do not have much experience with. A row boat seems very different from the crew boats, which are more commonly seen with the sport of rowing. I’d certainly like to give it a try, especially with the weather warming up. Kayaking, however, has always been something I enjoy and would like to do more of. Kayaking is certainly work, but it is also peaceful just gliding down a calm, soothing river. It can be a lot of fun! It seems like it might be the better fit for a single person, though there are rowing boats designed for 1 or 2 people. These boats come at a high price, so finding an organization like the Pioneer Valley Riverfront Club, can be very beneficial. They supply all the equipment and are very welcoming to new members. They have boats for teams of 4, 8 or dragon boats which fit up to 25.

dragon boat

Rowing is a great outdoor activity to get involved in, especially if you become a part of a community that embraces it. The harmonious connection it provides teams can be empowering and life changing. It is a great overall body work out, and rewarding way to challenge yourself.

I’m told the ideal rowing time is early morning. Due to how little of the boat raises above the water, windy conditions that make for larger waves, can be more difficult to deal with than fun. Still conditions are the best. Everyone likes sunny weather, but poor weather isn’t necessarily a deal breaker for this sport. Rain and cloudy weather can be okay. Lightning, on the other hand, means get out of the water fast. Like many surfers may be aware, respect for the water is crucial. Water is powerful, strong, and very capable of becoming dangerous. With respect and awareness, this sport is relatively safe, but those two attributes must be there. Know the current of the water you want to row on and know the weather conditions.

Are any of you readers also rowers? Please, leave some comments on what the sport means to you.


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