Concept2 Model D Review

If this isn’t your first time reading my site, you will be very much aware that I believe that the rowing machine is absolutely the best piece of gym equipment available either for use in a gym, or for home workouts – whatever your goals are! With this in mind, I thought I should put together a review of one of the most important machines on the market. Coming from the market leaders, the Concept2 Model D.

Concept2 Model D

Concept2 Model D (in black)

 

Concept2

First off, lets talk about about the manufacturer. Simply put, the Concept2 is the gold standard of rowing machine for rowing clubs and competitive rowers. All official scores at club and international level are done using a Concept2, and this is a fact that will keep the Concept2 rowing machine at the heart of the rowing world for decades to come. This is also why it is considered by the professionals as the best rowing machine available on the market, and by quite a margin!

Here is a video of the two fastest rowers in the World breaking big records on their Concept2 machines.

Concept2 is known for its sleek design, albeit somewhat industrial when put alongside its competitors such as the WaterRower. Its durability and reliability are unquestionable given it is built for rowing clubs who will be churning out the miles day after day, year after year. As a home user, you will not be able to wear this out for decades even with daily usage.

The Concept2 is a fan rower, and this will cause a bit of noise at home, so if you plan to use in a room around other people – they might not be too happy if they are watching tv! The good news is that both the newer models are significantly quieter than their predecessors.

One of the greatest things about Concept2 machines is the display and the level of information you can get from it – this is one of the key requirements when assessing the best rowing machine. You can track by speed, watts or calories. I personally only use speed, as my goals dictated so, but it is great at each. Using an approved heart rate strap also means you can get your HR up on the screen. I personally stick to a normal heart rate monitor (see Best Bluetooth Heart Rate Monitor). You can now even download your stats via USB if you are feeling extra keen.

Concept2 Model D Review

Now, with some general background of Concept2 completed, let’s get into the detail of the Model D which is the model that saw Concept2 really step their game up a notch.

First, lets just look at some straight up facts and stats about the Model D:

Height 14” seat height (from the floor)
Monitor Adjustable angle and height
Chain Open chain cage
Legs ‘T’ shape at the front
Footstraps Adjustable height and hold

To be honest, the points above don’t really interest me that much, and I am going to focus my review across 5 areas that I think are critical to really understand:

  • Mechanism
  • Drive Feel
  • Comfort
  • Flexibility
  • Aesthetics

Mechanism

As already stated, the Concept2 Model D is a fan based rowing machine. The fan case comes with an adjustable lever to change the drag factor (see image below for my quick tips on setting the drag factor).

Concept2 Model D Drag Factor

What I really like about fan rowers is the noise that they make. By this I mean you can really get feedback on the power of your pull. If you’re putting down big strokes, you’ll be able to get audio feedback of this from the machine which for me gives a bit of an adrenaline buzz and helps me continue to push on. It is almost addictive!

Fan rowers get dusty over time, so it is important to periodically either do a mini clean (e.g. hold a vacuum nozzle to the grate on the cage) or annually take the cover off and get rid of the dust that will have accumulated.

 

Drive Feel

Given its rich and illustrious history in the rowing world, it is no wonder that the various iterations of the Concept2 have continued to give a better and better experience to the user. The drive (this is the term for taking the stroke e.g. from the front with your legs compressed and arms straight out, to the finish where your legs are flat and handle is at your chest) is a fantastic feeling, and is so smooth that you can do your long sessions with every stroke feeling exactly the same.

When you want to change the pace and put some more power down, the Concept2 Model D is incredibly responsive. There isn’t anything I would want to change about the feel of using a Concept2.

 

Comfort

Whilst the Concept2 has been built for rowers first, and home/gym users second, I do think it proves a reasonable level of comfort. When you compare the seat on a Concept2 Model D to that of an actual rowing boat, it is almost luxury. However, those who are not frequent users of a rowing boat or a rowing machine would probably struggle to adjust. Luckily there is a good market for accessories and seat pads for Concept2 machines give a level of comfort without affecting your performance. Many professional rowers also use seat pads in their boats, so don’t feel like you are cheating by using one.

 

Flexibility

The Concept2 Model D really caters for all abilities, shapes and sizes. The footplate is adjustable in height meaning anyone from a junior (13 years old +) through to adult and back through to older adult can use this with ease. Not only this, but the screen is adjustable to your preference of height and angle – even allowing you to fold it away if you wish. Finally, as mentioned above – the ability to change the drag factor with ease makes this machine 100% versatile. I would challenge anyone to state they are not able to use it! See below for a bit more information on the screen – to help you navigate what the numbers really mean.

 Concept2 Model D Display

Aesthetics

As always, aesthetics are a matter of preference. However, in the context of this review I have to say great things for the Concept2 Model D. Coming from the past moilvdels of Concept2, there really was a step change. First of all – this was the first time an all black model became available. I personally absolutely love the new all black colouring. Overall, the machine carries a look of strength, and for me this is what you want. A lot of rowing machines look lightweight, or flimsy. Some are even largely plastic or wooden. Whilst that can look good on the eye, that is not what I consider to be the ‘look’ of a rowing machine.

The Model D is also available in silver, for the purists.

 

Summary

Firstly, I really hope that this review has been useful. I have used a Concept2 for all of my time as a rower and coach but have had experience trying out others including WaterRowers and the Stamina range. I may be biased being from the rowing community but I don’t think anything can match it for quality and reputation.

This machine is a beauty and once purchased, will last a lifetime if well maintained!

Buy on amazon

 

Powerade vs Gatorade

P.S. For those who want to cheat and don’t want to read the whole article. Click here to see who I believe is the winner in this.

Setting some context

Energy drinks is a huge and high growth market – but with so many options out there, we need to learn to cut through the marketing and understand the key differences between the biggest and most popular products on the market. For this comparison, we are going to look at the two biggest powerhouses – Powerade and Gatorade.

However, before we do this, I think it is important to understand why energy drinks are important, and what the main things we should be looking for are.

Ultimately, the reason we want to use energy drinks and utilise the advertised benefits is to increase sports performance. There are many facets to sports performance, but there are two that I want to highlight for the purpose of this post:

  • Endurance
  • Hydration

Endurance (carbohydrates)

Endurance is in its simplest form, your ability perform an exercise or activity before you can do no longer. In sports, this could be the length of time that you can run for, the duration that you can run at a sprint pace or number of sprints you can do over a set period of time. Improving your stamina and being able to control your heart rate and keep it at a manageable level during an activity allows greater focus and effort to go into the skill side of a sport (be it say rowing, cycling, running or soccer).

In longer activities, the body needs quickly digestible carbohydrates in order to have the energy to sustain performance, and taking this through a drink is the easiest way to do this and a lot more pleasant that trying to eat a rice cake mid exercise!

Hydration

It should almost go without saying that hydration is key, but it is something that is often overlooked and underestimated when looking into factors that can influence performance. The side effects of poor hydration can include cramping in muscles, decreased strength and a negative effect on endurance.

Energy Drink Forms

There are two main forms that energy drinks are sold in, with the main difference being the cost effectiveness and ability to dictate quantities.

  1. Powder – a lot of the major brands offer their energy drinks in the form of a powder. This has its own benefits – you can make the drink in a drinks bottle of your choice, you can make a drink as strong as you like, it is cost effective (cheaper per liter) and you can take more with you on-the-go without the weight of it being ready made up.
  2. Readymade – this is where the drinks for this comparison are most well known (even through they offer powder forms). These drinks come pre packaged – this makes it easy to know exactly what you are consuming from a calorie/ macronutrient point of view.

Now, on to the two products we are looking at – Powerade and Gatorade.

Powerade

Powerade is the sports drink product of The Coca-Cola Company. It was first introduced in 1988 when it was also announced as a sponsor of The Olympic Games in the same year, which in itself demonstrates the financial power and reputation that sits behind its parent company.

As an energy drink, Powerade is one of the first brands that will come into most people’s minds (and probably why you are reading this article). Lets look at a few of the key things we should highlight about Powerade:

  • The base ingredient of Powerade that gives it its carbohydrate content is high fructose corn syrup. Objectively, there are views of there being health risks coming with consuming this.
  • Electrolyte wise, powerade contains 160mg sodium and 45mg potassium. This mix is important to look at as the increased consumption of potassium when sodium is increased has been proven to be vital.

Powerade – readymade

This is the form that you will see on the shelves, and is incredibly more economic and cost effective when bought in mass. For those looking to keep calories low – Powerade also have a low sugar variety, Powerade Zero.

Buy on amazon

 

 

Powerade – powder

I am a huge fan of powdered energy drinks. This gives great flexibility in how strong you want a drink to be. When I cycle I take two bottles and usually make a very strong one and a weaker one, turning to the stronger one when I need my intermittent energy hits.

Buy on amazon

 

 

Gatorade

Gatorade was formed in a totally different way to Powerade. Rather than being the idea of the world’s largest soft drink brand, Gatorade was first created by a group of scientists at the University of Florida in 1965. Since this, Gatorade has gone from strength to strength and is now synonymous with both the Super Bowl & Motor Racing.

The different in approach of its creation is also evident in the key ingredients of Gatorade:

  • The base carbohydrate for Gatorade is a mix of sucrose and dextrose. These are much more easily and quickly converted into usable energy by the body than corn syrup.
  • Electrolytes wise, Gatorade typically consists of 150mg of sodium and 35mg of potassium.

Gatorade – readymade

Similar to powerade, you will have likely seen Gatorade and its 29 flavours filling the shelves and fridges of convenience stores across the country. They have also recently launched G2 which is a readymade forumula with greater quantities of sodium and potassium, aimed at those drinking for sports and not just for enjoyment!

Buy on amazon

 

 

Gatorade – powder

Those who have grown up playing team sports are probably most familiar with powdered Gatorade as this is what is used to create the big buckets of Gatorade at high school football and soccer games.

 

Buy on amazon

 

 

Conclusion

If you’ve made it this far – thanks for reading. To be honest, there hasn’t been a huge amount I could really say about either product but I do think there there is a clear winner in the choice between Powerade and Gatorade.

For me – I would pick Gatorade every single time. The core ingredients are much better known in the sports nutrition community, and its background is also exactly the same nature – grounded in sports science, whereas Powerade was purely created as a marketing decision from The Coca-Cola Company in advance of The Olympic Games.

 

Fitbit Charge 2 vs Garmin Vivosmart HR+

P.S. This is a long article, if you can’t wait to find out the result click here to find out!

In the new world of heart rate and activity trackers aimed at everyday use (rather than just for during the activities themselves), there are two products that are leading the market – the Fitbit Charge 2 and the Garmin Vivosmart HR+ – but how do you know which is the best one for you.

Why heart rate?

Before we step in to this, I should recap why I am such a proponent of training based on heart rate (especially in rowing and cycling). In short – I truly believe that heart rate is the most important metric that you can measure and pay attention to. Much more important than many others touted in the industry these days:

  • Calories burned
  • Weight
  • BMI
  • Steps

All of the above are often seen as features on gadgets, or in training plans and challenges. However, I believe that all of the above are either meaningless (steps, BMI), gross approximations (calories burned) or lead to odd behaviours (weight).

Here are three key areas that heart rate is the best measure for making progress in the most efficient way possible.

  • Health
  • Cardiovascular Fitness / Endurance
  • Weight Loss

Health

This is how I first saw the light with measuring heart rate, and it came from one of my first ever rowing club captains at University. He had a training spreadsheet and one metric we were all required to fill in was resting heart rate every morning. This was especially important during winter when cold, flu and other easily spreadable illnesses go around. If a spike in resting heart rate was noticed for 2 days or more, we would be put on a reduced training plan, and we were told that if we felt groggy or the onset of illness coming, to focus on getting better (increased intake of greens and water) and to stay away from the squad.

This was such a simple indicator to help you keep on top of general health and it is one that I still often track in the winter when training so that I know when I need to pay attention to myself. I would totally recommend giving this a go – it can be easy to do by throwing the heart strap on and logging the HR in a note on your phone or a spreadsheet that you update each day. For the sake of 60-90 seconds each morning – this is a simple and easy way to monitor health!

Resting heart rate is an incredible indicator of overall health, and being able to monitor it, and watch it improve over time can lead to a much better long term, healthy future.

“The best time to measure it is before you get out of bed in the morning.” Harvard Health

Cardiovascular Fitness / Endurance

I am a strong believer that you should do the majority of your cardio training based strictly on heart rate – keep this constance and measure fitness improvement through seeing how your power/ distance improves over time with your heart rate being fixed.

Low Intensity Steady State (LISS)

This is a form of cardio training designed to keep you in that ‘fat burn’ zone. My simple description of the science here is that it is low enough that you can repeat it very frequently as recovery is short, but it is high enough that you are getting a sweat on. This should be targeted to be completed at 60-65% of your maximum heart rate. As a rule of thumb, use 220 minus your age as max HR. Aim for a minimum of 30 minutes for LISS, and if you can, try getting up to 60-90 minutes (the odd 1 minute break for water/ stretch is fine!)

High Intensity Steady State (HIIT)

This is a popular word in the training world, and HIIT is getting a lot of attention as it can be such a good use of time if you don’t have that much to play with. The aim of the game here it so get your heart rate as high as possible for short stints of exercise, followed by a rest, and then another interval (and repeat).

As example HIIT workout on a rowing machine would be intervals of 20 seconds on, 40 seconds off. Try and do 12-15 minutes of HIIT – if you can do longer, you aren’t working hard enough!

The benefits of HIIT are that the ‘after burn’ is longer, as your metabolic rate increases for a substantial period. However, recovery takes longer and you should limit this to 2 or 3 sessions a week.

Weight Loss

As per my points above – I think that training needs to be done as efficiently as possible. If you use LISS correctly, you aren’t working too hard, which will impact your recovery and also the duration you’re able to train for. If you do HIIT correctly, you keep sessions efficient and maximize long term calorie burning.

If weight loss is the aim – being considerate about how you train and monitoring what you are doing is essential. Why pay a personal trainer to tell you to train harder if you have a watch letting you know exactly how much harder you need to go!

 

Fitbit Charge 2 vs Garmin Vivosmart

Right, I’ve given my thoughts on why tracking heart rate is so important for a multitude of reasons. Now lets get to the main focus of this article – how do the Fitbit Charge 2 and the Garmin Vivosmart HR+ compare to each other?

Fitbit Charge 2

First up, here is the Fitbit Charge 2. This is the latest release from the hugely popular and rapidly growing Fitbit organisation. They are a new entrant to the fitness technology market and are becoming hugely disruptive to the incumbents.

Fitbit has a range of products and the Charge 2 is probably around the middle, ranging from the Fitbit Flex to the Fitbit Surge

It is hard to go into too much detail about the Fitbit Charge 2, as it largely contains the features you would expect from such a device. Although it has a couple of major selling points including the breating session support and the high quality fitbit app.

  • PurePulse Heart Rate
  • GPS optimized for multi sports
  • Guided breathing session
  • Fitbit app
  • Sleep tracking
  • Long batter life

Here is a video giving a better summary than I could do with words.

 

To summarise the Fitbit Charge 2 – it is a high quality piece of equipment created by a disruptive fitness organisation. This is a great device for someone looking to stay away from the main players in this market, but with a level of quality assurance guaranteed.

Buy on amazon

 

 

Garmin Vivoactive HR+

The first thing I need to mention here is that you have two options with the Garmin Vivosmart HR – the HR and the HR+. The difference in price is pretty marginal so I am writing this review for the Vivosmart HR+, where the only different between the products is in built GPS. This means that we are making a more accurate comparison to the Fitbit Charge 2.

Something interesting to note in the comparisons of these two products is the history of the manufacturer. Garmin has a long and rich history in making GPS and exercise tracking devices – with some very well regarded.

Some key features:

  • GPS Enabled
  • Running Metrics (pace, cadence, PR)
  • 24/7 heartrate

 

To summarise – this is an impressive piece of technology for the price. For me it ticks all the boxes that you would be looking for from an exercise and activity tracker whilst coming in at a very good price given the prestige of the brand.

Buy on amazon

 

 

Final comparison

I could summarise this easily by saying this – both the Fitbit Charge 2 and the Garmin Vivosmart HR+ are incredible bits of kit and neither would do you wrong. Below is a quick summary table that might help you to make that choice:

Feature Fitbit Charge 2 Garmin Vivosmart HR+ Recommendation
Brand Fitbit are a new entrant and only operate within the exercise wearables market. Garmin is one of the biggest and most reputable names in GPS and heart rate tracking. If you want a trusted brand, Garmin are a titan in the industry
Heart Rate Fitbit PurePulse heart rate – optimized for 24/7 tracking Full 24/7 HR tracking Both products offer the same features here.
GPS In-built GPS tracking, able to be seen in the Fitbit app. In-built GPS tracking, able to be seen in the Garmin Connect app. Both products offer the same features here.
Native Apps Fitbit has developed an app to allow you to track, monitor and review sessions and overall activity and sleep. Garmin have had rich apps available since the inception of the smartphone, that this phone is able to connect to. I believe the Garmin app is much more mature but both products have access to their own manufacturer’s apps.

 

So there we have it – whilst being largely a close call, I believe that the Garmin edges out the Fitbit for this comparison. Whilst both offer similar features, I think you need to trust the HR and GPS ability of the Garmin Vivosmart HR+ given Garmin’s long and reputable history in products of this nature.

Let me know if you found this review helpful!

Simon

 

P.S. For a wider view of available bluetooth heart rate monitors, see my post Best Bluetooth Heart Rate Monitor

The Best Foam Roller Exercises and Stretches

Foam rollers have gone from being that unknown, random piece of equipment in the corner of the gym to being a highly sought after item that a lot of frequent gym goers, athletes or those in rehab also look to purchase for their own home. The reason why? Simple – they provide an incredible aid to recovery, soreness, tightness and mobility. For most people, knowing exactly what to do with one is a bit of a mystery so I wanted to share my tips on the best foam roller exercises to help you get started.

Additionally, if you are considering a purchase for home, there are many types of foam roller on the market – check out my thoughts here for the best foam roller.

For this guide to the best foam roller exercises I have enlisted the help of my other half to demonstrate the positions you should take to exercise some key body parts where I feel a foam roller can have the most impact.

1. Quads

I personally find that legs are the body part that gets DOMS (delayed onset muscle soreness) the most, and therefore benefit most from thorough foam rolling. Quads are a muscle that most only do half hearted stretches for at the best of times, so the impact of rolling these can be very noticeable – and painful at first!

For this exercise, you simply hold your body firm whilst lying face down and use your forearms to rock your body forwards and back.

Best foam roller exercises - quads

2. IT Band

The IT (Ilotibial) band is one of those body parts you hear about, but don’t really know much about. It is effectively a group of fibers that run own the side of your leg and are responsible for your need and hip mobility. Due to its mystery, the IT Band is generally completely untouched and therefore very tight and causes great sensations when first foam rolled – so take this as a warning!

For this exercise, you want to be on your side, using your lower forearm and upper leg to balance you. The leg of the IT Band you want to stretch should he held parallel to the floor. From here, start at the hip (as per the photo) and slowly move towards the knee. Be slow at first, as this can be a very painful move, however it is a great tension to relieve in your legs.

Best foam roller exercises - IT Band

3. Hip Flexor

The Hip Flexor is a very important area to focus on flexibility and mobility. A lot of hip and quad issues can be resolved by removing tension from the hip flexor, and as thus this is a fantastic foam roller exercise.

Looking rather similar to the quad exercise, this one requires much less movement and rather targeted at the Hip Flexor. You want to position the point of your roller right into your hip, and then roll forwards and backwards only an inch or two in each direction. Whilst doing this, you want to be pressing your hip into roller to ensure you are putting enough pressure down.

Best foam roller exercises - hip flexor

4. Hamstrings

Again, the hamstrings are an area a lot of people try to stretch, but do so half-heartedly meaning again this is one of the best foam roller exercises as it really hits a muscle you use a lot and likely don’t stretch enough.

For this one, it is rather self explanatory. You start by sitting on the floor with your legs straight, and then place the foam roller underneath the hamstrings either at the knee or at the crease of your glutes. From here, lift both feet off the ground and use your hands to shuffle yourself forwards and back until you feel the roller massaging the muscle in the right places.

For those wanting to go a bit more advanced, cross one leg over the other to add more weight into the leg on the roller which gives a deeper massage.

 

Best foam roller exercises - Hamstrings

Best foam roller exercises - hamstrings

5. Adductor (Inner Thigh)

Now this is one you may not have seen before, and probably one you might feel more comfortable doing in private or during a quieter time at the gym!

Here, you want to be rolling the foam roller on the inside of your thigh from your knee up to your hips. To get the stretch you want to move your body laterally whilst pressing down on the raised leg. This one will feel strange but is one of the best foam roller exercises given it is again a stretch that is often overlooked.

Best foam roller exercises - adductor

6. Glutes

Foam rolling your glutes is definitely one where you need to experiment until you hit the right spot. There are many parts of the glute where you won’t feel a good release of tension, but trust me you will know when you get the right part! To get the muscle stretched, you need to cross one leg onto the opposite thigh before you then sit on top of the roller. From here you then only need gentle movements on the foam roller, and you should use your arm to move your body. This really is one of the best foam roller exercises, but takes a fair bit of practice.

Best foam roller exercises - glutes

7. Calves

This is probably the best foam roller exercise for runners, and one that looks ineffective but with the right amount of pressure applied and done at the right frequency is one that can help prevent injury. There are a number of ways to roll your calves. You can target the main chunk on the back by simply rolling from a similar position to your hamstring stretches.

Best foam roller exercises - calves

To do the side of your calves, you will need to move yourself to a move intricate position as shown below. I have to say this particular one does feel strange, and doesn’t always feel like it is providing much relief, so only really one I would recommend doing if you have particularly tight calves.

Best foam roller exercises - calves

8. Upper Back

This is one I do during every foam rolling session – the relief you feel is always substantial and quite addictive! Simply sit back on the floor and use your feet to leverage your back across the foam roller. You can choose whether to have your bum on the floor or raise it in the air. Lifting your bum off the floor will allow more weight to go into the roller for the massage.

Moving your arms around will also help add variations to this foam roller exercise as they move the positions of your back muscles.

Best foam roller exercises - upper back

9. Thoratic Spine

This is more of a stretch, but definitely a good use of the foam roller. For this one, you want to roll your spine over the shape of the foam roller (placing it in the small of your back) and then hold your body tight whilst really focussing on your breathing. This is a great thing to spend time doing for long term back health.

Best foam roller exercises - thoratic spine

10. Rotator Cuff

This is the final foam roller exercise I want to show, and again it is an often overlooked muscle group when it comes to stretching. The rotator cuff is a key muscle for upper body strength and one that needs attention and tension release.

This is a very similar position to the upper back exercise, but you need to hold your core tight and put effort into getting the foam roller to focus on an area between your lat and your arm pit. Like others, this is one that might cause some sensations, but it is a very effective exercise.

Best foam roller exercises - rotator cuff

Thanks for reading this far in my attempt to compile the best foam roller exercises – I hope this guide proves useful. Thanks also to Emily for being such a willing volunteer!

Happy rolling!

Concept2 Model D vs Concept2 Model E

P.S. As usual, this is a long article – if you want a sneak peak at my preference of these two, see here.

By coming to this article, I will assume that you have carried out your research in many parts. First of all, on which type of mechanism of rowing machine you are most interested in – see Best Rowing Machine for more detail on the different options including fan, water and magnetic.

From here, you then likely had a look at the two biggest players in the market – Concept2 vs WaterRower which is usually settled based on whether you are looking to set competitive indoor rowing times (Concept2), or whether you want an aesthetically pleasing machine for your home (WaterRower).

Once you have narrowed down your selection to the Concept2, you are then left with new choices – do you want to get the Model D or the Model E. Both models are still made to date, however they differ from each other, whilst also carrying different price tags. Navigating these differences to help you make a choice is difficult, so I am here to provide some of my input.

 

Concept2

Simply put, the Concept2 is the gold standard of rowing machine for rowing clubs and competitive rowers. All official scores at club and international level are done on a Concept2, and this is a fact that will keep the Concept2 rowing machine at the heart of the rowing world for years to come. This is also why it is considered by the professionals as the best rowing machine available on the market, and by a margin!

Concept2 is known for its sleek design, albeit somewhat industrial when put alongside its competitors. Its durability and reliability are unquestionable given it is built for rowing clubs who will be churning out the miles day after day. As a home user, you will not be able to wear this out for decades!

The Concept2 is a fan rower, and this will cause a bit of noise at home, so if you plan to use in a room around other people – they might not be too happy if they are watching tv! The good news is that both the newer models are significantly quieter than their predecessors.

One of the greatest things about Concept2 machines is the display and the level of information you can get from it – this is one of the key requirements when assessing the best rowing machine. You can track by speed, watts or calories. I personally only use speed, as my goals dictated so, but it is great at each. Using an approved heart rate strap also means you can get your HR up on the screen. I personally stick to a normal heart rate monitor (see best Bluetooth heart rate monitor here). You can now even download your stats via USB if you are feeling extra keen.

 

Model D vs Model E

Now this is what you came to this article for! In recent years, Concept2 have adopted the approach of having two different models available, and each has subtle differences. Below is a summary comparison table covering the key differences which are:

  • Height
  • Monitor
  • Chain
  • Legs
Concept2 Model D Concept2 Model E
Height 14” seat height 20” seat height
Monitor Adjustable angle and height Fixed angle and height
Chain Open chain Enclosed chain
Legs ‘T’ shape at the front ‘V’ shape at the front

 

As you can see, there aren’t actually many differences between the two machine, however they can make quite a big difference based on how much experience you’ve had with previous models.

 

Height – The Model E is 6” higher, for a seasoned rower who has used the Model D for years, this is very noticeable! What this does mean is that getting on and off the Model E is easier on the joints, for those who need to think about this when making a purchase. Aside from this aspect, the height makes no difference to the rowing experience with the angles on the machine all remaining the same as the Model D.

 

Monitor – I found this a weird update to the Concept2 Model E – the screen is completely fixed in place meaning the height and angle can’t be changed. Whilst this doesn’t sound like a big deal, I personally found this frustrating as at 6ft 6, I used to have the screen at a height close to eye level, however the Model E’s screen is lower and I found this hard to get used to. In the grand scheme of things, this isn’t a big deal, but certainly something worth noting.

 

Chain – this is an update that I imagine has come from feedback from rowing clubs who get high usage of their machines. After a certain amount of miles, the chain can start to wear due to the dust and other particles that attach themselves to it. This is usually after millions of miles, and isn’t a concern to the home user. However, as updates go, it is a good one from Concept2 and one that will add to the longevity of the machine.

 

Legs – this is probably the most noticeable change, and I’ve seen mixed reviews on this. Some parties are saying the new legs are stronger and mean the machine is less likely to move when you’re putting down power, whilst some are saying that the legs are less sturdy than the Model D. Either way – I think unless you are part of a club and having a number of rowers on the machine each day, this won’t cause an issue.

 

Model D

Buy on amazon

 

 

Model E

Buy on amazon

 

 

Summary

So – hopefully my recap above is useful. My general thoughts are that the differences in the machine are only relevant at the top level, or if a machine is getting significant use (e.g. at a rowing club or in a public gym). If this is not the case, then my opinion is that the different in price (around 10% price difference) is not worth the investment, and that actually my preferences on screen and height also push me towards the Model D.

However – it is all preference, and both are top end models from the most prestigious brand of rowing machines on the market.

Once you have made this purchase, I would urge you to have a look at a couple of my other articles:

 

Simon

 

The Best Shoes for a Rowing Machine

P.S. As always, here is a sneaky peak of my top choice in case you are limited on time and don’t want to read my post!

This has been a topic of big debate in every rowing club/ squad that I have been a member of. Everyone will look for anything that they believe can give them an advantage on the rowing machine. I believe there are a couple of key things you need to look for in a shoe for using when indoor rowing, and will share a couple of examples of shoes that are most suited.

  1. Solid Sole
  2. Breathable
  3. Comfortable
  4. Versatile

Solid Sole

This is probably the feature that causes such debate in what makes for the best shoe for indoor rowing. However – watch any of the internationals and they are either barefoot (aka no sole!) or in their weight lifting shoes (completely solid sole). For us mortals, what this means is simple – avoid trainers/ running shoes that have massive air pockets in. If you imagine the first bit of pressure you put down in your stroke, this is being absorbed into the shoe’s sole and therefore not all being transferred into the rowing stroke. I also feel it risks placing uneven effort and pressure into each sole therefore potentially causing unbalance and even injury.

Breathable

If like me, you do a lot of long sessions on the rowing machine, you will get very warm and sweaty. As with running shoes, you want to have good airflow for all-round foot health. This is why I often suggest people don’t use a shoe like Converse or other plimsole type shoes. Even though they are good from the sole’s point of view, in long sessions your feet can get very stuffy which can cause some long term problems like the risk of athletes foot.

Comfortable

Almost as importantly as the previous two points, the shoes you get need to be comfortable. Feet come in all different sizes and widths. You should be sure that you are not going to cause yourself needless pain by buying a shoe that is not a good fit.

Versatile

I have a theory here, and that is this. Unless you are using a rowing machine 4-5 times a week, you most likely don’t need a specific shoe just for using it, but want one that you can also use for other gym workouts. Of course, there is nothing stopping you having a collection of shoes best suited for this machine, for which I am going to share some contenders!

The Best Shoes for Indoor Rowing

  1. Reebok Crossfit Nano
  2. Vibram Fivefingers
  3. Adidas Power
  4. Nike Free

Reebok Crossfit Nano

If I were looking specifically looking for a shoe to wear on the showing machine, this is without doubt the one I would buy. It ticks all of the boxes I have highlighted and has been designed, tested, iterated and updated continuously by Reebok in association with Crossfit who have rowing as a key element of a number of their workouts. The heel is rock solid, and it designed to be used in workouts that might include a mix of weight lifting and cardio. This is a rare shoe in existence that has a sock solid sole but the ability to be used in a number of different ways

 

Buy on amazon

Vibram Fivefingers

In the quest for finding a ‘free’ shoe, Vibram really changed the market. Whilst 100% guaranteed to make a statement, I have heard some great reviews for the comfort of these shoes. The lack of padding and air pockets means you are guaranteed to have maximum balance and stability, and in rowing machine terms you can be sure that all of your power is being transmitted into the footplate.

 

Buy on amazon

Adidas Power

Now these are really aimed at the elite, or those who want to have the best of the best when it comes to equipment. These weightlifting shoes by Adidas are used at the top end of the sport – at my club they were an essential purchase for those with Intenational aspirations who were doing such intense weights sessions and pushing the boundaries. At International level, you see a lot of rowers using these same shoes on the rowing machine (seen below), typically due to the rock solid heel and support/ comfort provided. As mentioned, these are a fantastic shoe – and can fulfil dual roles if you do a lot of lifting but do come in rather pricey.

I used to have these in my rowing boat and can vouch for the comfort!

Buy on amazon

Nike Free

Now these are a shoe you see a lot on runners and gym users. They have continued to grow in popularity since Nike got involved in the move towards gym shoes that don’t contain air pockets. The Nike Free range are also designed to have an easier level of flex in the sole.

Going by my criteria earlier, I think a shoe should be bought that is multi functional, but at least with the aim of bringing the right benefits to the rowing machine. For this reason, I think these are a great option. They avoid the dreaded air cushioning but are suitable for everything else in the gym, in addition to being quite popular and accepted from a casual fashion option too.

Buy on amazon

What muscles do a rowing machine work

 

This is a commonly asked question, and one which causes incorrect technique on a rowing machine through misconception so here is a quick article to let you know which muscles a rowing machine works.

In my post You’ve just bought a rowing machine… what next? I briefly mention this, however I wanted to go into greater detail as I think it is important to understand. This will not only help your technique, but will help you to target the correct muscle groups for weight training.

So – whilst I know this is not scientific, this is a rough split of effort an old (and very well respected international coach!) used to drill into my squad:

  • Legs – 65%
  • Lower back/ Hips – 20%
  • Upper back – 10%
  • Arms – 5%

Now you will notice that this actually follows the order of a stroke, from the front. This is because you need to generate the majority of the power at the start, and apply in a fashion that accelerates the handle all the way to the finish. 

Biggest Misconception

“You are a rower, why don’t you have huge arms”

This is something I have heard throughout my career, as the common gym user associates rowing with the type of rowing boat you would take around a pond in Central Park, not a 2km rowing lake in the Olympics!

Now – lets look at each of these muscle groups in more detail.

Legs

At the start of a stroke, your whole body should be braced and still, with only your legs applying any force. If you imagine an actual rowing boat that might weight over 1000kg (an 8 person boat with a cox plus weight of the boat), the level of strength needed to move this up to speed can only come from the legs. Think about how much weight you can squat/ leg press against the amount you can bicep curl!

The breakdown of leg strength comes from not only the quads, but the glutes which are required to link the leg strength to the lower back, and hamstrings that are needed to pull you smoothly back to the front.

Lower Back/ Hips

This is the really explosive part of a rowing stroke. The handle/ oar is already moving and you then need to take this from its slow start and really accelerate it through. Imagine a power clean where you slowly lift the bar off the ground and then explode to get the bar up to your chest. 

Upper Back

A strong upper back is needed to continue to add power once the back is open and to really add some flair at the end. You want to imagine that you are drawing your shoulder blades back together whilst you are sat up right.

Arms

There is really not much power wise that the arms can add to a rowing stroke aside from a very final contraction at the end of a stroke. You then need to be tidy around the body as you look to carry out the ‘recovery’ part of the stroke and move back to the start.

Here is a video that explains it well. Please don’t hesitate to get in touch with me if you want to discuss in more detail!

 

 

Concept2 Drag Factor

 

This is one of the first things I ever tell newbies to the rowing machine, and I feel it warrants a quick short post.

One of the most common mistakes I see happen on a rowing machine is somebody walking up to it, throwing the damper on the wheel cover to the top and then starting to push out some very hard strokes.

This is massively incorrect, and will result in injury!

Some insider info for you – every rowing test carried out for official scores e.g. by schools, universities, clubs and internationals are doing at 135 and 125 drag factor (for men and women respectively). This is the level of resistance that mimics a coxless men’s four (seen as the pinnacle of Olympic rowing).

Consistency

By using the same drag factor every time you use your rowing machine, you know that the scores you are looking at are ‘real’ and that you are limiting other factors that would affect your time. For home users, this is unlilely to be a huge issue. For gym users – this is big as so many people will fiddle with the settings.

 

Safety

Setting the resistance too high is quite simply stupid. The resitance is far too much, and you are putting too much stress on your lower back. If you want to generate more power – just push harder when at the correct resistance. This isn’t holding you back.

 

Other Machines

Whilst this post is aimed at the Concept2 – which is pretty much standard for commercial gyms. You should note the same guidance about not going too high other machines such as the WaterRower. See my comparison of the two machines here – Concept2 vs WaterRower

 

Like I say – just a short post, but an important one!

Top 5 Rowing Machine Accessories

Using a rowing machine at home is a big step – you are committing yourself to using a particular piece of equipment for a prolonged period of time and need to get a minimum amount of usage to justify the investment.

In order to make the experience both as comfortable, and as beneficial as possible, I believe there are a couple of key accessories you should have available to you. This isn’t looking at things like heart rate monitors or clothing/ shoes, all of which I cover on my site. These are items a bit more commonly overlooked but worthy options for purchasing.

 

  1. Seat Pad

My first item here is something that I think will probably the make the biggest difference to comfort for all home rowing machine users – a seat pad. It is quite common in the world of crew rowers to use a seat pad, sometimes for adding height in the boat, but quite often for grip and comfort. Given the relative cost compared to the rowing machine, these are a must purchase if you want to get through months and years of long sessions on the rowing machine.

 

Buy on amazon

 

 

  1. Rowing Machine Mat

This really serves two key uses:

  1. Prevent slipping of the machine
  2. Protect the floor from marks/ sweat

The need for a mat is really dependent on the environment that you have set it up in, but if you feel there is a chance of the machine moving whilst you row or you want to avoid sweat or rowing machine marks on the floor then a purpose made mat is an ideal purchase. This company makes floor mats for all sorts of equipment and comes highly reviewed.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Buy on amazon

 

 

  1. Mirror

This is a purchase for either the more advanced user, or somebody who is very driven to perfect their rowing technique. In my time as a rower, I probably did about 50-60% of all sessions in front of a mirror. They are absolutely great for being able to see your stroke and certain key points e.g. when you draw the handle to on your chest or whether your head is wobbling from side to side. The benefits of a free standing mirror are that you can also move towards the side and look at the angle of your back and analyse many more parts of your strokes.

As I say – this is really only worth the investment if you want to work on your technique. If you are – then training with a mirror is a great way to change things up.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Buy on amazon

 

 

  1. Gloves

Now I have to caveat this suggestion by pointing out that no one in any rowing club wears gloves to use a rowing machine, or indeed in a boat. It is important when you need to have control of an oar to have the best possible grip in all weather, and that simply can’t come from a glove. Given the amount of training done at club or higher levels, calluses are built up quickly and the pain of rowing on the hands just becomes accepted (and we become very good at applying creams and plasters!).

 

 

 

 

 

I think the situation for a home user is completely different, and quite often you be someone who wants to avoid having blisters which might both look bad and feel bad during your day job. In this situation, I think using a lightweight glove, or something similar designed for gym users is a worthy investment. I think these palm pads look great – and they will avoid the sweatiness you might get from a full glove.

Buy on amazon

 

 

  1. Sweat Bands

Finally – something I actually rarely see, but something I think can make such a huge different to your grip and enjoyment is such a simple purchase. I always used sweat bands on my wrists, I found I would get sweaty arms, that would then drip to my hands and end up affecting my grip on the hand.

In addition to this – I also found I needed to get unobtrusive ways to mob my forehead when on a rowing machine. Again, do so with bare hands then transfers the sweat to the handle. Using a sweat band by wiping your forehead with your wrist is a great solution. For the very small price, these can make a huge different to your rowing experience!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Buy on amazon

 

 

Summary

So there we have it – a wide range of items here, but I really think each one can make a huge difference based on the reasons you row and the environment you use your rowing machine in. To recap, my top 5 accessories are:

  1. Seat Pad
  2. Rowing Machine Mat
  3. Free Standing Mirror
  4. Gloves
  5. Sweat Bands

 

Enjoy!

Explaining the Concept2 Display

When first using a rowing machine (and specifically the Concept2), there is a lot of data that is shown and making sense of it is key.

Above is a quick summary of the key facets, however in reality there are only two items on this you need to understand.

Strokes per minute

This is the measure for you cadence on the rowing machine, the frequency at which you are moving the seat from the front to the back position. This number is calculated frequently, and will estimate your strokes per minute based on the time between your previous two strokes. This means when you are changing rate, you can see that you are moving speeds effectively.

My personal opinion is that the usual gym user of a rowing machine spends the majority of their time at too high of a stroke rate. As per my rowing machine workout post – I am a huge proponent of spending a lot of time around 18-20spm to build a long and powerful stroke.

Split

This is the larger part of the screen where it says “/500m” – and this is telling you how long it would theoretically take you to row 500 metres were you in an olympic class rowing boat. As you get more experienced on a machine, this point is critical to your performance. You should get in a habit of noting the averages for all sessions you do, taking the average spm, split and total time.

Rowing at low rate (approximately 18-20 spm) is a great way to get a good indicator of your ‘steady pace’ and use this to monitor how both power and fitness grow over time.

Once you are tracking and documenting your splits – you should get to a point where you know which split you can hold at each spm. A simple rule to follow is that for every stroke rate you go up by, your split should come down. This is a sign of true efficiency.

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