Olympic Athlete Peter Donohoe Shares His Final Information To Rowing

As an Olympic bobsleigh competitor, Peter Donohoe became a master of movement, and is now the “Strength and Movement Specialist” at leading row machine brand, Hydrow. While the rower is all too often a neglected aspect of our workouts due to the myriad of choices that we face in modern gyms, many of us are missing out on a training tool that could be twice as effective as cycling or running, he says. Donohoe’s love of the rowing machine is also backed by science.

Studies show that rowing can lead to significant reductions in total body fat, meaning that it is good for the heart and beneficial for other ailment’s such as obesity. Rowing has also been shown to increase strength. Here, M&F puts the pertinent questions to the pro in order to rejuvenate our admiration for rowing.

Does Rowing Provide a Full-Body Workout?

“Rowing involves your entire body, making it an incredibly efficient workout, and that’s the reason why you need to give it a try,” says Peter Donohoe. “It’s the only exercise that engages over 86% of the body’s musculature, twice that of cycling or running. Using the rowing machine effectively does take practice but the level of intensity is up to the user. You don’t have to start out performing 20-30 mins of rowing like what we might do on a bike or treadmill. In fact, 5-10 mins is a great way to start, maintaining a steady rhythm so you can reinforce good movement technique.

“If you’re looking to take your workout routine to the next level with new fitness equipment, a rowing machine can be a great way to work on any fitness goal, including improving cardiovascular health, boosting your metabolism or building strength. Rowing is low-impact and safer on joints, yet delivers an effective and high-energy workout in a short span of time.”

Does Rowing Help With Weight Loss?

“The more of my body that I use in order to perform an exercise with, and in this case; rowing, the greater the calories burned,” says Donohoe. “Calories are simply a measure of energy.  If I’m performing a rowing workout where I’m engaging 86% of my body’s musculature, I’m absolutely using more energy than a lesser movement. The result is a greater and more efficient way to burn calories.

“Longer exercise durations also lead to more calories burned and also; the greater the workout intensity the more calories you burn. You may find that 10 mins of rowing at a strong intensity will not only burn more calories, but you’ll continue to burn calories for 1-2 hours after the workout too. You no longer have to spend over an hour of your time on traditional cardio machines to burn a sufficient number of calories, since just 20-30 minutes on an indoor rower can help you burn up to a whopping 300 calories.”

Courtesy of Hydrorow

Peter Donohoe Lists These Rowing Mistakes To Avoid

“They try to do too much, too soon!,” says Peter Donohoe. “Rowing requires a coordinated skill, and it takes time to perfect the rowing technique. Start with 2-5 minutes of easy rowing to work on your technique, and gradually add 3, 4, or 5 minutes when you feel you’ve connected with the right movement.”ol

Here are a few common movement mistakes that Donohoe says to avoid when starting out for the first time:

  • Rowing only with your arms: In rowing, approximately 20% of the power in a stroke comes from your back and arms, while your legs contribute a significant 60%. Core engagement accounts for the remaining 20%.
  • Pulling with your arms too early: Good rowing requires precise timing. Newer athletes often make the mistake of trying to straighten their legs and pull with their arms simultaneously to maximize power during the drive.
  • Bending your knees too early on the recovery: During the recovery phase of the stroke, your legs receive a much-needed break. If you bend your knees prematurely, you’re missing out on this essential rest period, leading to quicker fatigue.
  • Collapsing your chest forward: Maintaining ample length and a prolonged spine throughout all four phases of the rowing stroke is crucial. The most frequent cause of slouched shoulders is allowing your arms to extend too far forward during the catch phase, where you’re closest to the screen.
  • Rushing the drive: While speed in the drive is important, focus on connecting with the handle’s resistance and pressing through your heels to propel yourself backward effectively.
  • Leaning too far back in the finish: Although maintaining length is beneficial during the rowing stroke, contorting into a position resembling a scene from “The Matrix” at the back of your rowing machine won’t significantly enhance your power output. While core engagement is important for stability, it doesn’t directly translate into increased speed, power, or efficiency.
  • Leading with your butt on the drive: Doing so places unnecessary strain on your lower back as it compensates for misaligned form. Instead, maintain proximity between your torso and thighs during the catch, with your core engaged at 11 o’clock. Drive from your heels initially to generate movement and momentum effectively.

Conversely, Donohoe also provided these tips to adopt, in order to improve your row:

  • Keep your core engaged throughout the entire movement:If your core taps out, it becomes harder for your body to hold on to good technique.
  • Use the power in your legs: The push or “drive” comes from your legs and glutes. It’s a bit like performing a deadlift, where you engage your core, stabilize your posture and drive through the legs to execute the movement.
  • Foot-strap placement matters:Your foot strap should go over the widest part of your shoe and tightened. Proper foot placement helps with accessing power from your legs and hips.
  • Keep your knees soft:If you’re locking out your legs at the end/ finish, you’re overdoing it and putting unnecessary strain on your knee joints especially if you’re prone to hyper-extension. Keep your movement both fluid and strong.


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