Why Row? Why Crew Class?
In the Why Row? blog series I have talked a lot about the benefits of rowing from all perspectives. In this next Why Row? blog post I want to explain my approach when planning Crew Class sessions and show some data that I hope will convince you that this approach has both physiological and time-efficient benefits. If you don’t want to read on, the take home message again here is maximum impact in less time (chart above).

Just to start, I want to point out that the largest part of my rowing experience is as an athlete who transitioned then to coaching. But despite significant experience training for rowing and coaching rowing it is still somewhat different to the average gym trainer or personal trainer pathway. This is partly why I was always interested in what other trainers and gyms were doing, as well as wanting to create something in Crew Class that was ultimately better than everything else. That drive for knowledge has brought me all over the world visiting other gyms including some that are indoor rowing focused.

If you’re a Crew Classer reading this you will know that we spend the full session on the RowErg. In other gyms, even those that are indoor rowing gyms, classes are often a mix of on and off the Erg. This is a question that I am also often asked – why focus completely on the Erg and why not mix? Well.. here’s my thoughts…

You have most definitely heard me say that rowing is the ultimate total body workout that builds strength and cardio! Other rowing gyms typically spend 60-70% of time on the Erg and the remainder doing floor based or weights exercises, while other gyms will often just use the Erg for short bouts in a mixed session. My unwavering belief is that the compound effect of using the rowing machine for the full duration of the session is much greater than the potential benefit of additional core or weights exercises. If you think about it, moving on and off the Erg obviously means stopping and starting. While breaks are a necessary part of most sessions, longer periods of time off the Erg will mean that your heart rate will drop, but also probably even more importantly, that time off the Erg is not the optimal amount of time to achieve benefits from the floor based or weight exercise itself. On the other hand, that additional time added to the other side of an Erg session is where you will see the real physical benefit. You’ll often hear me say in class.. “it’s on the fringes of the session where all the growth is”. Even on my fact-finding missions to other gyms, when I ask other instructors, they agree, the breaks from the Erg are mostly a distraction tool.

My conclusion is clear: if I keep sessions interesting and varied, constantly changing pace, intensity or resistance, targeting various cardio, strength, and technical objectives, all while tightly managing recovery, I could create the most time-efficient workout – achieving more impact in less time!

So here’s the science: I started a little experiment a while back with a female member to compare Crew Class metrics (using a Whoop) to a regular gym High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) session. Before I go on, I must say I am a little skeptical about fitness trackers and wrist based heart rate monitors for their accuracy, but that said they are at least a consistent measure to compare against. It also looks as though Whoop energy metrics are lower than other trackers, so the data here for energy (calories) is probably 25-30% less than what it should be in both cases. As you will see in the opening figure and the chart at the top of this article, Crew Class burned more calories (306 v 263 kcal) in less time (29 v 43 minutes) compared to the HIIT session. In a calorie per minute comparison, Crew Class burns a WHOOPER 70% more calories than the alternative (10.6 v 6.2 kcals per minute).

In saying all that, I also want to clarify that I don’t see calories as the only or even main metric to measure training, but for the purpose of this comparison it is clear and simple. I also want to note that if strength training is a specific goal then a well planned strength training programme is essential. However, from a time efficiency standpoint, you can achieve a lot in a relatively short period of time with indoor rowing!

Hope to see you guys in class!