Alberta Cancer Foundation

Rowing towards health


You may have noticed that old rowing machine in the corner of your gym. There are never many, and often they are covered in dust. But in recent years, new technology and a committed group of rowing evangelists have brought rowing workouts to the brink of comeback. Now, there are updated rowing machines hitting the market, and soon you may just have to fight other gym patrons for a turn.

Or you could sign-up to start rowing as part of a fitness class. When Jane Tallick opened her BodyRock Fitness gym in Calgary’s Bridgeland neighbourhood, she found herself in limbo, waiting for her coveted spin class equipment to arrive. But what she could get her hands on right away were rowing machines. “So I thought, ‘how about a full-on rowing class?’ ” she asks. “I looked into it, and found out there were studios that were doing that, and it was working well.”

Tallick’s gym is now home to the only certified rowing class instructors (there are six Indoor Rowing Concept 2 instructors at BodyRock) in the province. The classes that they teach at BodyRock are attended by dozens of people, all packed in for an hour’s worth of time on the rowing machine and floor exercises.

Just because rowing might turn your thoughts immediately to water doesn’t mean you can’t row from your home on the Prairies. There are slight differences though, between rowing in a class and rowing on a lake. For one, rowing on water is typically done over a much shorter time period – rowers on the water work very hard for less than two minutes. “There is some technique that’s different on the machine, like with the handles,” adds Tallick. “But those are little things.”

With rowing, your body gets both an aerobic and anaerobic workout. “The other great thing is you actually work every major muscle group in the body,” says Tallick. “Throw in some push-ups and it’s a whole-body workout.” It’s a highly-effective workout, and she says her clients have embraced the burn. “They were hesitant at first,” Tallick notes, “but I have some hardcore serious rowers now.” Rowers at the gym are given a journal to record their workouts and to keep track of the rowing machine’s performance monitor, so they can track and improve their stroke rate, distance and progress. When you are a rower, you are only competing against yourself. The computer on the machine will let you know how many calories you’re burning, as well.


Kat Storwick is one of the instructors at BodyRock. Storwick first began rowing when she went to university in Washington State. She rowed with a team for two years, on boats that could seat about eight rowers, and in 2009 she competed at the Canada Summer Games, in the Woman’s Eight Competition. But after an injury, she was forced to take a break. “I really wanted to get back into it in Calgary, and there wasn’t really anyone doing anything with it,” she says. She began teaching rowing classes on the water at the Glenbow Reservoir, and then a friend put her in touch with Tallick. She has been teaching at BodyRock since last September. “I love it,” she says. “The whole point is to get participants energized and excited about rowing.”

Storwick has been developing classes to music, to guide the rowing, like a spin class. “It’s harder to find music with appropriate beats, but we’re trying to get some good playlists in,” she says. Right now, Storwick’s classes include a rowing warm-up, some time off the machine doing other exercises (squats, lunges, kettle ball workouts and push-ups) and then hopping back on the rowing machine. When participants are back on the rowing machine, for 500- and 1,000-metre sprints, they work all-out. She has also led classes structured more intensely – 40 minutes straight spent on the rowing machine, then 15 focusing on core or strength workouts. Sometimes, BodyRock will combine its rowing classes with a TRX class. “There is some technique involved,” says Tallick. “It’s not as hard as people think, but also really hard at the same time.” Storwick’s classes usually include around eight participants, but everyone works at their own pace. At times they have arranged classes for 16 or more people and two instructors. “It keeps a good energy going,” she says.

Storwick thinks the public interest in rowing will increase throughout 2015 and 2016. “It’s fun, it’s not a treadmill,” she says. “Everyone gets on the rowing machine at the gym, but they often don’t know if they’re doing it correctly, and classes can help them learn how to do that.”

In fitness circles, some have said the rise of the rowing machine would be a death knell for the spinning class; that rowing is the newest fad exercise and that classes will be full. And while it doesn’t look that way yet, Tallick thinks that what draws participants is the desire to try something new. “Don’t be afraid of it,” she says. “Just about anybody can do it and get results quickly.”


Row your Boat


If you’re looking to give rowing a shot, there are a few gyms in Alberta offering classes and training regimens for you to try:

  • Tallick’s Calgary-based FitRepublic is located at 989 McPherson Road, NE. Contact them at 403-991-6468, and check out the schedule online.
  • MetaFitness, located at 46 Boulder Blvd. in Stony Plain, offers an indoor rowing class. Contact them at 780-915-6132.
  • Offering a variety of training programs, Edmonton’s FarmStrong Athletics has offered rowing fitness regimes.