It is a common misconception that air and magnetic rowing machines work the same way – and produce similar results – but nothing could be farther from the truth.
Air and magnetic rowing machines rely on the same stroke technique – and produce similar levels of aerobic and anaerobic benefits – but they do it differently.
Air rowing machines rely on the force produced by moving arms and legs against the wind produced by the fan. The force produced by the legs is much greater than the force produced by the arms. An average 170-pound person will exert about 180 pounds of force on the straps with his or her legs and about 50 pounds with his or her arms. The greater force produced by the legs drives the rowing machine’s piston to move the handle, and the resistance is adjusted by increasing or decreasing the speed and/or fan setting. Because the handle always moves at the same speed as the piston and the resistance is independent of the stroke rate except for the increase from acceleration, the fluid-based piston-drive resistance mechanism provides a relatively uniform resistance to the pull from beginning to end of the stroke.
Air rowing machines produce a similar amount of resistance at the beginning of the stroke as they do at the end of the stroke. In comparison, magnetic rowing machines rely on the force of the steel – and the magnetic – rods to provide resistance. The handle moves at a slight angle – about 3 degrees – from the vertical track at the end of the stroke and a slight angle – about 4.5 degrees – from the vertical at the beginning of the stroke. The stroke rate does not have any impact on the amount of resistance felt by the user. At the completion of the stroke, the user’s hands are above the user’s knees, and as soon as he or she begins to move his or her hands, the magnetic resistance increases to match the force being applied by the arms and the rod that comprises the handle begins to turn. Therefore, as the user begins pushing the handle, the resistance goes from zero to about 100 pounds. As the handle continues through the stroke, the resistance remains about 100 pounds except for a slight drop near the completion of the stroke due to the rod’s slight angle from the vertical at that point in the stroke. Therefore, in comparison, magnetic rowing machines provide about the maximum resistance at the beginning of the pull and then gradually increase their resistance at a linear rate throughout the stroke.
Air and magnetic rowing machines both adapt to the user’s unique power characteristics. Neither machine is fluid-based, so they both use “set” magnet type. Fluid is moved through the resistive element of the piston in the air rowing machine and the magnets in the pulling element of the magnetic rowing machine. Both elements can vary in resistance, so they both adapt to the power characteristics of the user. For example, in the air rowing machine, the handle will begin to move at a slower rate when the user is pulling more than five pounds of resistance. The handle will also begin to move at a slower rate in the magnetic rowing machine when the magnets feel more than five pounds of resistance in their movement. Both machines monitor the user’s power when the user is pulling one to 10 pounds of resistance.
As with all resistance-training exercises, air and magnetic resistance is reduced in relation to the degree of muscular fatigue; however, the degree to which the resistance is reduced varies between air and magnetic rowing machines. With air rowing machines, the majority of the resistance change is due to the force produced by the body against the fan. At the beginning of the pull, the resistance is fairly small, but it quickly builds to a moderate amount, then gradually increases to a peak, then gradually decreases over the remainder of the resistance curve. The handheld fan is fairly heavy, so its speed of movement is relatively slow, so it takes more time to get through the resistance curve. The pull of the magnetic rowing machine is faster, so its speed of movement is faster, so it takes less time to get through the resistance curve. The resistance starts fairly slowly at about five pounds, then fairly quickly reaches between five and 20 pounds of resistance, then fairly slowly increases to approximately 35 pounds. At this point in the resistance curve, the amount of resistance increases more quickly, then more gradually increases to the end of the resistance curve at about 80 pounds.
This constant resistance provided by magnetic rowing machines compared to the variable resistance provided by air rowing machines provides magetic rowing machines with some significant advantages. For example, although both magnetic and air rowing machines are typically used at the level of one’s pulmonary threshold, improvement of muscular endurance is typically greater in magnetic rowing machines because of the constant resistance enjoyed by the user. Also, not only is muscular endurance greater in magnetic rowing machines, so is maximum strength and power, and so is aerobic and anaerobic conditioning. I attribute the greater strength and power and greater aerobic and anaerobic conditioning improvements to the higher force and power and resistance and resistance rate and power and force and power and resistance variability experienced by the user.
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As you might imagine, this constant tension place on your muscles and joints can lead to feelings of discomfort and/or soreness in your muscles and joints. Therefore, the proper rowing machine exercises and rowing technique need to be developed. The rowing technique can be developed in a rowing machine or in a boat; but a boat will give the person a great deal more feedback and self-control over the boat and provide a much better environment in which to develop and practice proper rowing technique. Modern rowing shells and sculls and kayaks and canoes and other boats that replicate them are great tools for developing and practicing proper rowing technique. They provide much better feedback to the person, and they provide the person much more control over them, and therefore much more control over his or her rowing technique.
The Rowing Exercises for Rowing Machines
Air rowing machines have a very real benefit in that they can be purchased for a very reasonable price and they can fit into a person’s home. The disadvantages of them include a fairly uncomfortable seat, a limited resistance curve, a fairly loud noise, and a fairly large footprint. Magnetic rowing machines have a fairly small footprint, but they can cost a bit more, and they have a fairly loud noise, and the resistance curve is limited. In addition, they require a bit more physical exertion from the user. Most people that have access to boats have access to a boat dock. So perhaps a compromise can be made. The person may want to purchase a boat and/or a magnetic rowing machine to help train for his or her rowing technique. The person can also use a stationary bike or a treadmill or a stepper or a stairclimber to do some of his or her aerobic training. He or she can also complete some of his or her rowing exercises in his or her gym.
In conclusion, air and magnetic rowing machines provide a fairly different resistance profile, and therefore a fairly different response from the user. The limitations of air rowing machines makes it a less-than-optimum contending factor for racing, but it does provide significant health-related benefits if the proper form is used during use. The constant tension across all muscle groups provided by magnetic rowing machines makes it an ideal contending factor for racing, but the limited lifespan of the user with magnetic rowing machines makes it a less-than-optimum contending factor for health-related benefits. Therefore, I recommend that people develop their training with both air and magnetic rowing machines with the goal of racing on air rowing machines and using magnetic rowing machines with the goal of producing the greatest amount of health-related benefits.
Seated at the erg, you are seated with your arms straight down at your sides with your hands are wrapped around the handle of the ergo. Your legs are perpendicular your torso, meaning your femurs are pointing straight forward. You are relaxed with your arms straight down at your sides with your hands are wrapped around the handle of the erg. The knees are bent with the feet flat on the floor. At this point, you can press down with your feet to move the flywheel backward, or you can move your arms back to move the flywheel backward. When you press down with your feet, they will move backward, and when you pull back on your arms, they will move backward. The range of motion of the legs is more limited than the range of motion of the arms. But, with this range of motion, you can row on the ergo. But, with this range of motion, you cannot use the entire stroke of the leg all at once. You pull on your arms first, then you pull on your legs first, then you pull on your arms first, then you pull on your legs first. The power of each swing of your legs is more powerful than the power of each swing of your arms, but your legs swing more slowly than your arms swing. So, there is a time of the stroke where the power produced by pulling on your arms is greater than the power produced by pulling on your legs, and there is another time of the stroke where the power produced by pulling on your legs is greater than the power produced by pulling on your arms.