Week 31: RowingWOD at Gymbox

If you haven’t heard already, indoor rowing is the hottest new thing and rowing workout classes have hit the big time, recently being incorporated in major chain Gymbox across its London studios.

RowingWOD has been operating as an online programme for a while now. All you need is access to a Concept 2 rower and the programme does the rest. Your phone will seamlessly link with the monitor and set up all your splits for you. Literally all you have to do is show up and row. Your screen will even show a picture of you rowing against friends or a pacing boat if you want it to!

Now being offered in a class format are two major benefits: 1) coaching and feedback on your technique 2) sharing endorphins, elation (and sometimes pain!) with other people. Win-win.

I’ve been really looking forward to trying this out, and off I headed to Westfield London to give it a go.

What They Say:
Learn the skill of pacing, how to build your engine and unlock speed using your body’s natural biomechanics. Backed by sports science and supported by creative technology, our programmes are for everyone, from athletes wanting to improve their fitness, to competitors aiming for the top of their sport. Rowing uses virtually every muscle in the body, increases aerobic capacity, develops power and builds strength – mentally as well as physically.

My Experience:
Normally on my jaunts to fitness hotspots, I revel in how wonderful London is and take in the local vibes… not so much the case when you’re heading to one of the country’s biggest shopping centres in rush hour. I was in no hurry, so happily sat in traffic with the windows down listening to an audiobook (Homo Deus – mind blowing!), while around me was a sea of stress… horns honking, fists shaking and cyclists swearing at lorry drivers. Eventually I pulled into the cool and calm parking lot, helpfully signposted for your favourite stores… including a big section stating “best parking for Gymbox”. I love this. You’re going to the gym – to workout – but better make sure you park as close as possible to save any unnecessary energy expenditure en route!

Gymbox is right at the top of the mall and I headed straight up there. I haven’t been to Westfield for donkeys, and it felt like being in Dubai – so sleek and shiny and air conditioned. I checked in and was told to meet the class by the rowers in the middle of the gym floor a few minutes before it was due to start. I was a bit early, so had some time to look around the rest of the facility.

Wow, they’ve packed a lot into this gym! It was wall to wall with machines and people. On one side was a long row of treadmills and step machines facing an enormous window overlooking town. Most of the machines were in use by people walking with their headphones on. None of them looked particularly happy to be there, and I couldn’t help but think they’d have a better time if they went walking around one of the many nearby parks instead. Next was the weights area, where there were a gazillion resistance machines and a couple of squat racks. Smack bang in the middle was a pull-up rig and a line of Concept 2 rowers and ski ergs, beside which was a big raised boxing ring – brimming with people doing a fun-looking boxing class.

A HIIT class was finishing up by the rowers, and then we got called in to the whiteboard by our coach Danny, who explained we’d be doing a 2k test today. Aghhhhhh! I was not mentally prepared for this! The 2k test is one of the hardest workouts going. It doesn’t matter how fit you are… in fact, it’s probably harder the fitter you are. I’ve done a few 2k tests before and know how much they hurt. The rest of the class (seven girls) hadn’t done one before… they don’t know what they were in for, I thought!

We paired up and went through a series of warm ups and mobilisation, with our coach showing us how to set the drag factor and demoing the mechanics of an efficient rowing stroke. If you haven’t ever been shown how to row, you are probably doing it wrong and it makes SUCH a difference!! I’m fortunate enough to have been on a couple of seminars with RowingWOD founder and ex-GB rower Cam Nicol, and just a few small pointers made an enormous difference to how I row. I can’t recommend having some coaching enough – you don’t need to have ambitions to be a great rower to benefit from this (I, for one, will never be good at rowing – my levers are too short for a start). Next we went through sprint starts (every little helps!) and then set off in two waves. My partner went first, and I spent the next 9 minutes looking on, encouraging her, and feeling a little bit sick about what was to come.

The last time I did a 2k time trial was just over a year ago, and I’d actually been following the RowingWOD online programme twice a week for a few months before that; my time was 7:56. I was pretty sure from how I felt in the warm up that I wasn’t going to hit that today, but I gave it what I had. It started ok, but I knew within the first 500m it wasn’t going to happen. It sucked for a long 8 minutes and 10 seconds… 14 seconds slower is a lot slower over 2k!! I was happy though. I sprinted a little early at the end, and my legs were jelly by the time I finished. Not getting a PB didn’t surprise me, and actually really pleased me in a weird way… it clearly demonstrated that you get better at things when you practise them, and you don’t when you don’t! I’ve hardly done any rowing over the past few months and now I’m damn well going to do more!!

There was a great sense of camaraderie and all of the girls in the class finished sweaty and happy. A couple of them are regular RowingWOD participants and said they’d seen massive changes in their performance, understanding and enjoyment of rowing. Most classes are interval sessions where you’ll pair up with someone else, and it seems like a friendly and challenging way to learn a new skill.

If you want to give a 2k time trial a go, give this brilliant video a watch first: Cam Nicol talks about how to approach and break up the race and then puts it into practice, talking through his strategy as he completes a 2k in under 6:30!

In Summary:
Rowing is a brilliant exercise that can benefit everyone. Most gyms have rowing machines and it provides a great whole body, low impact workout. There is a hell of a lot more to rowing than just sitting on a machine and pulling – by learning technique and thinking about splits, power and rate, you work your brain as well as your body and, if you like stats, you will love it even more!

If I was a gymbox member I would 100% be a regular in this class … 8 minutes hard work on a rower beats an hour of strolling on a treadmill any day!

Where: Gymbox Westfield London – also available at other gymbox studios across London. Online RowingWOD programme at http://www.rowingwod.co

Cost: £20 per class, or classes available with monthly memberships

How to book: http://www.gymbox.com

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