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.
“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.
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.
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.
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!
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).
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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:
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.
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.
In the new world of Bluetooth heart rate straps, there are two clear leaders that have both carved their route to the top through having quite different key characteristics.
The Polar H7 and the Wahoo Tickr
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:
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.
Cardiovascular Fitness / Endurance
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.
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!
Polar H7 vs Wahoo Tickr
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 Polar H7 strap and the Wahoo Tickr compare to each other?
First up – it is the Polar H7. This is one of the newest developments by Polar who really are one of the giants (if not THE giant) in the heart rate industry. Having seen that the proliferation of devices was disrupting the industry, and new players coming in (like Wahoo, who we will get to shortly) – they knew they needed an answer for those who want a heart rate strap but don’t necessarily want to be tied in to needing a watch to go with it.
It is hard to say too much about a heart rate strap – but here are some of its main features:
Long battery life, ideal for those who might be doing long sessions over multiple days
Available in multiple colours
Here is a video giving a better summary than I could do with words.
To summarise the Polar H7 – it is a high quality piece of equipment created by one of the most established brands in heart rate electronics. You really can’t go wrong with this.
The first thing I need to mention here is that you have two options with the Wahoo Tickr – one with memory and one without. The difference in price is pretty marginal so I am writing this review for the Wahoo Tickr X with Memory. This also makes is a different product to the Polar H7 and more worthy of being reviewed and compared as the Polar H7 does not have memory. What this means is that you can use the Wahoo Tickr without being connected to any device and it will store what you’ve done and sync to your preferred device later on. Ideal!
Before we get too into the review. Lets take a step back. Wahoo is a relatively new company to this industry, however they have made an instant impact by bringing out a range of products aimed straight at serious athletes that meet requirements no other company had yet approached. Think motion analysis, in-memory heart rate and much more. There is a reason the Team Sky Cycling Team (Current Tour De France champions) swear by Wahoo – it is phenomenal.
Some key features:
Built in memory
Connect to an array of watches including Garmin and Polar (and Concept 2 PM5 screens)
To summarise – this is a seriously impressive piece of technology. For me it ticks all the boxes and is a nice change from the usual suspects for tracking heart rate. Wahoo also have a huge range of apps, one of which allows you to use the Wahoo Device to count your reps!
I could summarise easily by saying this – both the Polar H7 and the Wahoo Tickr 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
Polar have been around for as long as athletes have been using electronics for tracking heart rate
Wahoo is new to the game, they are the disruptor causing brands like Polar to innovate
If you want a trusted brand, Polar are a titan in the industry
Comes in various colours including pink, blue and black
Only currently available with a single colour strap
If you care about the look of the strap, then Polar have done well to bring out a number of eye catching colours
The H7 does not come with any in built memory
This is the biggest advantage of the Wahoo Tickr X (with memory)
Wahoo’s product innovation here gives it a special USP
Polar Beat is a great little app that helps you track and manager your sessions and heart rate throughout.
Wahoo have done a great job on creating a range of apps for different activities. They really know their audience.
For innovation in their apps, which will drive usage of the strap from users it has to be Wahoo here for me.
So there we have it – overall it’s a tie, but it really depends what you are looking for in a heart rate strap, and what your ambitions are. I think Wahoo is aimed more at serious athletes who want to do more analysis, whilst the Polar H7 is a reliable heart rate strap for anyone.
You will have come to notice from my previous posts that I believe that the rowing machine is the ultimate piece of equipment for home workouts. If you could only have one piece of equipment, for me it has to be the rowing machine! With this in mind, I wanted to share my thoughts on the two main models of rowing machine, and given their completely different mechanisms we need to put them up against each other – its time to do Concept2 vs WaterRower!
P.S. If this post is too long for you, or you just can’t wait to see which one I vote the winner – click here for a sneak preview or watch the video below for a summary of this article that I have created:
Simply put, the Concept2 is the gold standard of rowing machine for rowing clubs and competitive rowers. All official scores are done on a Concept2, and this will keep the machine as the heart of the rowing world for years to come, and for that reason is considered by the professionals as simply the best rowing machine available. The Concept2 has a sleek design and given it is built for rowing clubs who will be churning out the miles day after day, it is highly durable and reliable. As a home user, you will not be able to wear this out for decades!
Measuring 54” by 24”, it can be easily incorporated into any living area and if space is a major concern, it features a quick-release frame lock mechanism that makes it easy to disassemble and store out of the way, best done so upright in a cupboard or in the corner. Available in light grey or black, the aesthetics of this machine make it very stylish and for those with an at-home gym, it is a wonderful addition.
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 newer models significantly cut down the noise.
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 my post about HR Monitors here). You can now even download your stats via USB if you are feeling extra keen.
Comfort-wise, this indoor rowing machine takes mobility considerations very seriously. The footrests are adjustable, the handle is very ergonomic and the caster wheels means it can be easily repositioned. With a seat height of 20”, little effort is needed to get on and off, which is ideal for those who suffer with knee complaints. Also, the seat is slightly tilted forwards which makes it a better option for those with lower back issues. There are now also two options that exist when you are decided on a Concept2 – the Model D or the Model E, which I have also reviewed in more detail.
All in all – for me, there is a reason that the Concept2 has been the best rowing machine for competitive rowers – it has everything you need and is genuinely suitable for all standards up to Olympic rowers!
See below for a pretty epic video of the World’s quickest pair (New Zealand) on their Concept2’s setting HUGE scores.
The WaterRower is relatively new to the market, and is causing a storm. It uses a very different method of power, but it is a great piece of equipment for those who have no intentions of moving to the river with their rowing! Aesthetically, it’s one of the best looking indoor rowing machines you can buy as it is made of solid ash wood and finished with a honey-oak stain. This is great for those who need to keep it in their living room as it is unobtrusive and is more likely to match your interior décor. An added bonus here is that if it is incorporated into a living area, you’re much more likely to use it. Even if it isn’t out on display, it easily folds up without the need to disassemble it and it has been designed to be sorted upright – perfect for saving space.
As the name suggests, this is water powered, and with the added fact that this machine is handcrafted from wood, it absorbs noise and vibrations. In fact, the only noise it produces is the gentle sloshing of the water in the tank. Much quieter than the Concept2 and could be a better option for a home gym in close proximity of others in the house.
On the subject of the tank, this wonderfully smooth rowing machine features a patented water flywheel. Enclosed in a tank of water, the flywheel is not only very quiet, but is designed to simulate the feel of being in an actual rowing boat. In a way it does, as you can’t just hammer your strokes out, you need to build the pace and be a bit more considered. However to those used to the Concept2, it is a very big change! The self-regulated resistance provided by this water flywheel means that the faster you row, the more resistance you feel.
The computer on the machine – whilst not as advanced as that on a Concept2 which is aimed at competitive rowers – is very user-friendly. The monitor tracks intensity, stroke rate, heart rate, duration, distance and other statistics. For a home user wanting just to be able to track their progress over time, it has all that you need.
Comfort-wise, the WaterRower doesn’t quite match the luxury of the Concept2. The seat is tilted backwards which puts more pressure on the lower back and the footrests are made of moulded plastic that have sharp edges – not great for those who like to row barefoot or in socks. On the plus side, the flat rail gives less knee compression and so is a bit gentler on the knees.
Below is a great video of the WaterRower in action.
Concept2 vs WaterRower – Head to Head
Fan – I have grown up using a fan based rowing machine so this is just what I am used to. I love it, and it offers scope to throw big powerful strokes in when required.
Water – this makes a much more theraputic sound, at a significantly reduced volume. For home use, I think this makes the WaterRower a more pleasant option than the Concept2.
Concept2 – for me as a lifelong rower – I could just never stray from a fan based rowing machine.
Smooth – the fan and drive mechanism has been perfected over decades to make a machine that is responsive to any change in power of the drive.
Requires more feel – you need to be gentle and purposeful with the water. What I don’t like about the feel of a WaterRower is the lack of height for the handle – it just doesn’t feel as it should do for my liking.
Concept2 – I still struggle to find the feel of a WaterRower to be what I want. The Concept2 is just so much smoother than the WaterRower.
The Concept2 is not really built for comfort, it has to be said. A lot of people I know purchase seat cushions, although I have yet to do so myself. I love the change of handle they made, which is much more ergonomic than older models.
The WaterRower has been primarily designed for the home user, and for this reason is much more tailored for casual use. As with the Concept2, seat cushions are a great supplemental purchase.
WaterRower – this machine has been designed with the home user in mind and for this reason beats the Concept2 for comfort.
Drag and Foot Height – the ability to make this machine well suited for different heights and different abilities so easily is a major plus.
Adjusting the resistance in the water tank is arduous and the foot straps are a lot less moveable than the Concept2
Concept2 – over the years, developments to this machine have made is customisable to all abilities of user.
For me, the Concept2 is what a rowing machine should look like – mechanical and strong – ready for you to get on and do your best to break it as you aim for a new Personal Best.
For a nice house location, rather than out in a garage, I could see the WaterRower being a much better looking machine to have hanging around. Plus it stores upright a lot better.
WaterRower – for pure aesthetics, the WaterRower is much sleeker and eye catching than the Concept2
All in all, the decision for which is the best rowing machine really comes down to the individual. Both of these indoor rowing machines are fantastic pieces of equipment and offer many benefits that make them ideal additions to any fitness-conscious home. If it’s aesthetics that concern you, the WaterRower is definitely the best choice as the oak frame is very pleasing to the eye and it is far less mechanical than the Concept2 – plus it is available in two shades of wood. On the other hand, for those who are more serious about fitness, the Concept2 is definitely the way to go as the monitor provides more detail, and the Concept2 is the benchmark for comparing your times over various distances to others.
For me, as an ex rower, I would never stray from a Concept2, especially as they now do a black version!
See below for a summary of the other head to head posts that I have done:
There comes a time in every rower’s life when he/she spends an entire afternoon or evening watching hundreds of rowing videos on YouTube. There is a lot out there, and if anything it is not getting much much better due to the popularity of GoPros and Drones.
Anyway, I wanted to do a quick post to share my favourite videos – these are ones that I watch over and over and find incredibly motivating.
5. James Cracknell vs Matthew Pinsent
Head to head in the GB Squad televised and public 2km trial, this was the shoot out between its two biggest guns. Their ergs connected via cables to show relative position to each other. I love this video to see just how the best of the best use a rowing machine and the herculean level of power, endurance, resilience and competitiveness between the two.
4. Drew Ginn – Will It Make The Boat Go Faster
This one takes a bit of concentration, but it is an incredible speech and philosophy from Drew Ginn, an absolute legend of International Rowing from Australia. In true Aussie style, his approach is calm and laid back – at a complete anthesis to Team GB!
3. Husky Power
If you ever in a slump about long ergs, winter miles and general lack of training motivation – this will get you straight back on it. Imagine training in a room of so many teammates with one common goal and purpose. I could imagine breaking all PBs in such an environment. It is no wonder Washington Huskies are such a dominating force in College Rowing.
2. South Africa Lightweight 4 Training
This video is just brilliant. For those that remember the 2012 LM4- final, the South Africa crew (in this video) came from nowhere to absolutely burn through the pack in the final 200m and claim gold. Incredible scenes. In this training video you can see their training philosophies which show just the intensity that they trained to. Also – that lake they train on. Stunning!
1. Abingdon vs Belmont Hill Cox Video – Henley Royal Regatta
For anyone who has ever raced in a crew, this video needs watching. The coxing in this race from Rory Copus is just insane. The way he owns his crew is brilliant. I don’t want to say too much – please just watch this.
One of the most popular trends in the market for fitness accessories at the moment is activity trackers. Whilst these are great for encouraging an active lifestyle, what is absolutely music to my ears is the growth in the market for heart rate monitors. The advent of new technologies means there are now ways other than just having a strap and a watch (although this is still my method of choice).
What this means, is you have a much more convenient way of storing and comparing your heart rate, whilst also adding more insightful data to this e.g. distance run/ cycled etc. What I want to do is give some thoughts on what I think are the clear market leaders and best bluetooth heart rate monitors.
Best Bluetooth Heart Rate Strap
1. Polar H7
For me, Polar are one of the absolute giants in heart rate technology and they continue to lead the way and embrace new technologies and methods of training. With the Polar H7 strap, they have made what I believe is the best Bluetooth heart rate strap. What I like about this, is its ability to connect to a multitude of different devices including Polar’s own watches, Concept2 PM5 monitors and the iPhone and Android App – Polar Beat.
Provides live and accurate heart rate to all Bluetooth enabled devices
Compatible with iOS (iPhone, iPad, Apple Watch) and Android devices
Strong battery life – ideal for endurance athletes and those who do long active holidays with lots of running/ cycling/ swimming.
Connects to majority of gym machines you might use e.g. stationary bike, treadmill, elliptical, stepper
Incredibly comfortable, adjustable and durable strap
Available in multiple colours – black, blue and pink.
Below is a great video giving an introduction and summary, better than I ever could!
2. Wahoo TICKR
The Wahoo is very much the new kid on the block, but it is making huge waves and disrupting the old guard including Suunto, Garmin et al making them a real contender for the best Bluetooth heart rate strap.
The Wahoo TICKR is now the official heart rate monitor for Team Sky – current Tour de France champions, and an event where live tracking of heart rate is more important than any other.
For the tech savvy and ‘early adopters’ of new technology, I would recommend the Wahoo TICKR!
Live and real time heart rate data
Bluetooth and ANT+ compatible
Built in memory meaning you can use without having your device with you (and sync later)
Ability to connect also to GPS watches including Garmin and Polar.
Rep counting for interval training when used with the Wahoo App
As with the Polar, here is a great video for the Wahoo TICKR.
Best Strapless Heart Rate Monitor
Staying on the theme of new technology – wrist based heart rate monitors are becoming big news as they get more and more accurate. As with above – I believe that there are two clear leaders here (excluding highly priced GPS watches geared more towards runners & cyclists), and both are on their second release, where they have built on the feedback from their initial entries into this market.
1. Mio Alpha 2
This is a chunky watch that tracks your heart rate and is geared towards serious athletes. The company is pretty new, but they are gaining credibility quickly for the quality of their technology. I absolutely love the look of this watch, and it comes packed with features.
Wrist based heart rate, even when sweating through exercise
Track activity including steps, distance and calories
If you are in the market for a strapless heart rate monitor, then there is no way that you have escaped hearing about the Fitbit. It has been a bit of a game changer, and is very much the most popular out there.
Fitbit do a number of models, but the Fitbit Charge 2 is the latest and best rated so far (plus I think looks much better than the original). For even more info on the Fitbit Charge 2, see my review Fitbit Charge 2 vs Garmin Vivosmart HR+
Wrist based heart rate tracking, carried out continuously throughout the day
Ability to give heart rate zones including Fat Burn, Cardio and Peak
Smart functionality to link to your mobile device (connected via Bluetooth)
If you have made it this far, then you’ve been introduced to a number of market leading products that exist. If you are looking to track and monitor your heart rate on your iPhone then you need to make one big decision that we have covered – do you want to use a strap or do you want to use wrist based heart rate monitor.
The devices mentioned above all come with their own native apps for both iPhone and Android and this also feeds into the decision. However, I believe that by far the best heart rate monitor for iPhone is the Wahoo TICKR. As you can imagine, you need the strap, but you should connect it to the Wahoo Fitness App, and the suite of other apps available from Wahoo.
Key App Features
7 Minute Workout – workouts loaded into the app, with logic to count your reps based on movement in the strap
Utility – ability to test and check up on your Bluetooth heart rate strap
Wellness – track your weight and BMI over time
Runfit – GPS fitness tracking for cardio, running and walking etc.
So it is that time of year again, and there are thousands of articles, guides and companies wanting your money on the promise of helping you shift some of that gut. But what really is the best equipment for weight loss at home?
Well, this is a position I too have been in before. Believe it or not, the biggest problem with being an ex-rower at times is eating like a rower, but not doing the 2+ hours of training a day that used to go with it!
Anyway, I am going to summarise key pieces of equipment that are in my opinion essential for long term health and fitness, which should be considered along with any weight loss plan. I am dividing them into four categories:
Best Equipment for Weight Loss – Cardio
So this really depends on what your situation is. If you have access to a gym, or to the outdoors then you really need to mix it up. Running, Cycling etc. However, if you are looking to get a single piece of equipment for your home then there is only one choice that works all major muscle groups whilst being low impact on the joints. The rowing machine.
As seen in this article I have previously written, there are many types of rowing machines. I would personally always choose a Concept2 over any competitor, but there are other options that might fit a tighter budget. Rowers are quite simply the fittest athletes on the plant, and typically have low bloody pressure
Rowing machines can be used for both HIIT (High Intensity Interval Training) and LISS (Low Intensity Steady State) which need to be combined for the most effective results.
If you are doing any form of training with a goal in mind, I think it is crazy to be doing so without knowing what your heart is doing. Training can be made much more efficient and effective if you train in certain heart rate zones. For this reason, a heart rate monitor is one of the best pieces of equipment for weight loss.
Again, I have done a bit of a run down on models available here – my personal favourite comes in quite low cost in the masses of HR watches available. The Polar FT80. It does exactly what you need it to do and is a very well trusted brand. You can always upgrade to a fancier one once you have shifted some of that gut!
Different approaches work for different people, and completely depends on your starting point and ability. Building lean muscle is a great long term approach for weight loss as in short, when you build more muscle your body burns more calories at rest. Doing this at home is tricky as there are so many specific exercises for different muscle groups. If this is your plan, you either need a very big space for multiple pieces of equipment or a very specific routine to uses just a couple of pieces.
However, for the newcomer to weight loss, just working the right muscles in an easy manner to build a routine is most important. For this, I think the humble kettlebell can be utilized to work almost any muscle group. You can buy them in varying sizes, or just get one and work out your sets & reps ranges around that. This range of cast iron kettlebells from CAP are the ones I would personally go for.
Even with a gym membership, I have a kettlebell at home to be used for the odd morning or evening when I don’t have time to gym but can fit in a quick 10-15 minute workout.
As mentioned in a prior article, there are a number of new sets of resistance bands being released into the market, all with different focuses. I love the look of this set as the resistance is enough that you can get a good strength workout in using just this single piece of equipment that costs the price of one meal!
This set from Black Mountain looks great, but there are others on amazon that meet the same criteria. With this all you need is to scour youtube for people filming 10-15 minute workouts using these bands. Perfect to fit into any schedule or into a suitcase if you travel with work.
On a similar theme to above, resistance bands are becoming huge now – and for good reason. In my opinion, if you are trying to get into a new regime of health and fitness, mobility is essential to work on as like most of us who are desk bound day in day out, there are massive gains to be made.
For the purpose of mobility, I don’t think you need to go to extravagant on bands to use for this. I personally use the set from Limm here. See my article previously published on the subject for some more ideas about this.
Improving mobility can be addictive, and for me I look at it like this – every joint effects those north of it on the body. So if you have had hips, your ankles are probably impacting them. If you have a bad lower back, your hips and ankles are contributing. Etc.
This is my final recommendation, and again I think this is a key item for any portfolio of home equipment. If you are moving into a new workout routine, recovery is key. In the past, simply stretching was the only option available however advances in technology mean you can now get equipment that is much better at this.
I take my foam roller on any trip abroad I do either with my rowing team or with my bike. It is great for releasing tension and massaging muscles. There are a number of different types. I personally use this model by Trigger Point, but as a newbie there are entry level versions which are still effective.
In the world of home workouts, there is are a few new toys that are simply a must and one of these that is gaining great infamy is the humble resistance band.
Now, this might not be an item that can have a direct input into muscle growth or cardio fitness, however I feel it it needs to be used in a short and frequently carried out set of routines to help with mobility and flexibility.
If you’ve ever felt niggles in your back, hips, ankles, shoulders – I guarantee these would be improved and even removed through being more mobile.
There are floods of companies offering different types and models of resistance bands, and my aim here is to give a quick summary of the different types so that you can understand what is the best resistance band for your needs. I have identified three key areas that resistance bands have been aimed at targeting:
Mobility & Flexibility
Full Body Workouts
At a later date I plan to dig much deeper into this subject but in short:
Mobility – the freedom at which a joint can move through its range of motion. Typically combatted through a range of exercises that require good posture and work on improving this range of motion.
Flexibility – the length of a muscle. Typically combatted through stretching.
If this is an area that interests you, I can recommend this site Mobility WOD as the best source of information out there on the subject.
So, back to this post – in order to improve mobility you need to have a routine that helps you work on expanding your range of motion in key places. I personally like to work my way up as I believe the mobility of a joint affects everything above that joint. So for me I would do ankles > hips > lower back > shoulders > wrists. As a rower, mobility is paramount and means you can get much better hip power and rock over to engage more muscle groups.
Resistance bands for mobility don’t need to be over engineered, and are generally there to
provide some tension that can be adjusted easily. There are a number of sets out there, and I think that this set by Limm gives exactly what you need. There are 5 bands offering different levels of resistance that can be inter changed by body part or as strength improves.
Buy on amazon
I will start suggesting my favourite and most effective routines for improving mobility. Watch this space.
Full Body Workouts
Now this isn’t totally new – people have been using some type of resistance bands for getting in a home workout for decades, however the equipment available for this is always improving.
These days you can get sets that come with handles and grips that attach to a host of different bands of different resistances. This means the number of exercises you can do effectively is much greater. If workout out at home is something you do a lot, I think this can be a very good investment.
There are a number of sets on the market, and I think that this set by Black Mountain is both high quality and great value – what more can you want!
See below for a great 10 minute session you can do with just one resistance band set at home.
10 minute resistance band workout
This is for the serious lifter, and one that will typically already have a strength & conditioning coach. One way to add extra resistance to a lift that escalates through the movement is using a real heavy duty band. This is commonly done for Deadlifts or Bench Press – I wouldn’t recommend this to anyone without an experienced spotter or coach. However – these are the final set of resistance bands I said I would share information on.
These bands from WOD Fitters are ones I have seen used in my gym.
I can’t say I have been brave enough to use them but they are incredibly heavy duty – and they need to be if you are lifting weights that require the use of bands to help you through plateaus and pace of lifts. They are expensive, and the price is PER BAND, but if this is something you are looking to invest in then look no further.
To summarise – there are a number of key types of resistance band, however from my perspective they should be used primarily for mobility as there are much better pieces of equipment you can buy to support full body workouts. So for me, the best resistance band set is the Limm and I think you’ll be surprised at how much improved mobility affects not only exercising, but all over posture.