I’m by no means a professional rower. In fact, before 2013 I had no experience with rowing at all. I’ve been in an actual boat once before and found it too difficult. And yet, here I am. I’ve sat on the seat of this torture machine (and stayed on it) due to a minor wrist injury just to keep moving since 2013.

Not too long after my injury, I decided to row 2 million meters in 2014. During that year I developed a love-hate relationship with the machine. And now 3 years later I’ve accumulated a little more than 3.5 million meters on a Concept2 rowing machine.

I learned a lot about myself during that time. I got stronger and leaner rowing about 30 minutes a day on average. I also attended the CrossFit Rowing Seminar in August of 2014 with Shane Farmer and it started to shift my focus from being an athlete to becoming something more…a rowing coach.

Before and after doing the 2013 CrossFit Games workouts Row 1 & Row 2

In 2015 I decided to organize my workouts so I turned to the Concept2 daily programming and did a short, medium, and long workout each week. After 6 months, I needed more structure. I was looking for a program that had a beginning and an end that clearly highlighted my improvements. That’s when I found Dark Horse Rowing (DHR).

Dark Horse had just started when I subscribed. I was among the first few completing the first 5 cycles (at the time of this article I’m on the 6th). I know what it’s like to look for a new program and how daunting it can be so if you want to know what to expect let me help.

These are 8 ways my life has changed since I started rowing:

 #1 Push don’t pull

This is the motto of Dark Horse. It explains that rowing is a pushing, NOT a pulling movement. Pushing on the stable footrest vs. pulling on an unstable handle changed my view of rowing. 85% of the power in rowing comes from the legs and torso and 15% comes from the arms. The arms should only follow the work of the legs and hip muscles.

For me, it represents moving forward with a goal in sight. DHR has kept its initial promise to keep me excited about rowing and with renewed programming it kept me on track to become my best self.

#2 Rowing is a skill

It’s a skill just as weightlifting, gymnastics, or running are skills. Everyone can do it but to be more efficient you need to spend time on the basics. Before every workout, we practice a part of the rowing movement and work on perfecting it. When it’s specified for every workout in your program, you do it. Whereas you are likely to not do the little things if you don’t have to. It’s that simple. With DHR, your warm-ups and skill are programmed with detailed points of performance, objectives, and video instructions.

 #3 Know thy numbers

The only way to improve is to have something to improve upon. It’s really hard to know how much better you’re getting without a test and retest. I hate testing since I love the process more than the results, but it’s really satisfying to hit a PR after only 8 weeks of training for anything. A PR during each of the 5 cycles, 5 for 5, speaks for itself.

DHR made it easy to log my results. The platform helps with checking previous numbers and using them for future workouts. They also explain how to program the monitor. This is a huge help since tracking is so important. I personally like to take pictures of my monitor and save them for future use (and Instagram posts).

Test and Retest of my 8-week program focusing on the 500m distance

#4 Rowing is a great supplement to any program

I love rowing but I still wanted to do something for improving my GPP (General Physical Preparedness). I still use CrossFit, swimming, airdyne workouts, and follow a strength program along with my two DHR sessions/week. But when it comes to rowing I’m mentally fresh and ready to perform. As a low impact workout it’s easy on my joints so afterward I recover better for my other sessions.

With rowing being a power endurance sport, it has been shown that at least 80% of the energy requirement comes from aerobic metabolism.* In other words, your cardiorespiratory system (heart and lungs). The remaining 20% of the work comes from using anaerobic sources that require a lot of muscle strength and endurance. Trust me, both will be tested during Dark Horse workouts. The program is designed to increase both aerobic and anaerobic capacity.

#5 You burn a lot of calories rowing

With the right program, rowing can be considered the perfect exercise. It works all the main muscles of the body. 87% of the body’s musculature is in use during rowing and being performed at a higher intensity than walking and lower impact than running, it burns more calories per hour than other commonly used aerobic workouts.**

The DHR program is the right combination of intensity and power output, optimizing your workout to burn the most calories possible while improving your strength and burning fat. In 69 workouts I burned an average of 412 calories and in total, 28,440 calories.

Rowing will get you toned

 #6 Rowing workouts don’t take long

With the help of the Dark Horse Rowing program, I know exactly how long the workouts are going to take. On average it took me a little over 43 minutes with rest programmed in the workouts, not bad for burning 412 calories. Since the program tells you the length, you can plan when you do them. Also during the past 69 workouts (6 months) I rowed 524,426 meters which is like rowing from San Francisco to Santa Barbara.

 #7 You’ll find your sweet spot

Without practicing different damper settings and drag factors you’ll never know your go-to parameters. One of the five programs I completed made me row on basically all damper settings with different stroke rates to help me figure out my ideal setting. I changed from a drag factor of 100 to 115 (damper setting 3 to 4) and found some extra strength in my legs during the process.

Sometimes you need to be creative when it comes to a Damper Setting/Drag Factor workout 

#8 Mental gains

The Erg is perceived as this evil machine that ruins everyone’s life. I’m not sure I agree.

First, the erg is just a tool. It won’t make you faster or burn more calories for you. You get as much out of it as you put into it. You also can’t cheat on the erg. It will reveal your faults in technique, engine, working through fatigue and so on every time.

On a targeted program, besides the physical part, you’ll get better at focusing on what is important to improve in the given test. You’ll get comfortable being uncomfortable. You’ll learn how to control your mind under fatigue and how to neutralize negative thinking and self-doubt. You’ll practice how to concentrate on the task and perform better under pressure. And as not every day is perfect, you will learn to deal with adversity, setbacks, and failure.

Also, after just a few workouts, you’ll learn how to better visualize your training. It’s a great training program for me but it has had effects on other parts of my life too. In the grand scheme of things, I have become a better person.

At least twice a week I sit on the erg in the morning before going to work. Rested with low stress and focused. Few things are more satisfying than completing a task assigned to you. It takes time to get close because as you get better the goals get bigger. But as a result,yYou get healthier, stronger, and your attitude improves…not just toward rowing but in general. The far and unreachable goal is perfection, but in the process you achieve excellence. 

See you at the DHR Crew. 

* Volker Nolte – Rowing Faster

** http://breakingmuscle.com/rowing/respect-the-rower-an-argument-for-the-ergometer


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