Q: How do I get started rowing? 

A: If you have an issue with getting wet, try the rowing machine in the gym. It’s the same timing and sequence as you need rowing a shell (that’s what they call the boats) on the water.

But then you’re missing out on a great experience with nature. Lorna Perry, co-owner of Echo Rowing in Eliot, says it’s a great chance to experience a workout and nature. At age 65, she still loves the activity she’s been doing since her 20s. Weather permitting, she says she rows a few times a week.

As a beginner, you’re going to want a stable boat that’s a bit fast. That would be an open-water shell. It’s good for getting used to the water and developing a rowing technique. The part about being fast means it needs less effort to move it through the water. Those waters could be the calm waters of rivers and lakes, or the more active waters of the ocean. And active means waves that you break through or surf.

A longer, more narrow shell will be faster in the water but feel less stable. That would be a racing shell. “An open-water shell is more like a mountain bike compared to a road bike for racing,” Lorna says.

Those racing shells also are pretty tippy. You would need to use the oars as outriggers to stabilize the shell. But once you start paddling the shell, stability increases.

Then it’s just you, the boat and the water. Lorna says it’s easy to get a workout with rowing because “my mind isn’t on the workout I’m getting.” She calls it “meditation in motion.” The body gets in a rhythm and the experience gets meditative.

But what about the body? What does it get?

It gets in shape because “sculling uses all the major muscles in the body.” It’s not just moving water with your arms. Lorna says, “80 percent of the power of a stroke comes from the legs.”

the way, sculling is when a rower uses oars on both sides of the shell. In long shells with multiple rowers, each has one oar on one side of the shell. That’s called a sweep.

The stroke leaves you in a leaning-back position. To start the stroke over, you almost do a sit-up. And there’s your core workout. Plus Lorna says it’s one of the top five exercises for your cardiovascular system.

Then when you’re in the boat, you get a glide. And that gives you an opportunity to rest a touch while moving through the water. You’re not going to get that in the gym.

Also, Lorna says a lot of runners with bad knees take up rowing. It’s very much like cycling because it’s “good flex for the knee but no weight on the joints.” Plus there’s no pounding.

There is a learning curve on getting the stroke right. “It can be frustrating because there’s a lot going on,” says Lorna. For example, your hands cross over each other in the middle on each stroke. It’s not rocket science but Lorna recommends getting some help in a class or coaching session “so no bad habits are picked up.”

But this isn’t just for exercise nuts. The shells are built to move through the water easily. So you can relax and row casually. Enjoy the scenery. But if you’re so motivated, “you can get a fantastic workout in half an hour.”

“It’s a sport that’s very nice to do alone because you’re taking in nature,” says Lorna. “People also have a lot of fun together.” 

Carl Natale is a Registered Maine Sea Kayak Guide, hiker and content producer for MaineOutdoorJournal.com. Send questions to:

[email protected]


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