Columbia Squad c1910 and c1915

History of the Rowing Machine

The history of the rowing machine goes back to the 13th century. It’s where the first recorded race boat was found. In its many forms, boat racing was what started the need to train on-shore as well. Different local rivalries around the world had a major influence on rowing machines. Some versions of on-shore rowing training were also localized in the 4th century BC Athens. But the real history of the rowing machine starts in the 1800s.

The first rowing machine patent

In 1872, a patent was issued for the first rowing machine in the US. W.B. Curtis was granted with the patent which included a flywheel and a ratcheting system. At that moment, it was believed to be the first mechanism of its kind. Although the machine was very different to what is used today, it was actually the base for the machines athletes and amateurs use today. The flywheel design is used even today. Although it has vastly improved, especially when it comes to the fluidity of the motions, it is often the first choice for multiple rowing machine manufacturers.

The first commercial rowing machines

It is from the 1900s that the story of rowing machines finally takes huge steps. With multiple boating competitions between colleges, students needed to perform better. This is why the first commercial rowing machines were sold on campuses. The provided the perfect alternative for off-season training.

Gjessing Rowing Ergometer
Gjessing Rowing Ergometer

But there was not much resistance with the first machines. Multiple designs tried to measure the friction or the intensity of the rowing movements to track performance. But the added weights by Gjessing Nilson in the 70s is what brought rowing machines closer that their modern purpose. Using different weights, students were now able to track their rowing performance and work on improving both their strength and their rowing technique. But the design of these rowing machines was not nearly as fine-tuned as today. The movements were not the most fluid and their design was often too complex to easily move the machines from location to location.

The 80s and the mass production

It was in the early 80s that rowing machines truly started to be seen as viable training options. With designs which were getting lighter and lighter, the rowing machines were now in the position in which they could be transported to their final users with ease. It is also the time when air resistance technology came to revolutionize rowing machines forever.

An Australian company launched the first indoor rowing machine which came with adjustable resistance. The combination of flywheel designs with the incorporation of air resistance allowed for the production of the first Concept 2. The rowing machine was thus first produced in the early 80s and went to the popular choice which it is today in most commercial gyms and even at home.

The 90s and the digitalization of rowing machine

The 90s were a revolutionary time for many types of fitness equipment. Rowing machines were part of the digital revolution which saw the early stages of digital performance tracking used on rowing machines. Some pneumatic solutions were also produced in this period but they did not manage to become fully popular, especially among home users as they were still not very affordable. Such pressurized systems were produced by companies in Rhode Island but they were still quite far from the actual rowing experience out on the water.

The current state of rowing machines

Rowing machines were never as reliable and as capable as they are today. Many of them come with foldable designs which recommend them for home use. With fully digitizes experiences, they can offer support for multiple users and they represent one of the most successful solutions for weight loss.

The low impact of rowing machines on the joints recommends this full-body workout for those who want to stay in shape, not only for actual rowers. This saw the machines quickly evolving into what they are now. This involves integration with modern technologies and smartphones. Today’s rowing machines come with different resistance levels and they are truly made for the ultimate connectivity. If you train with a modern rowing machine, you have the ability to transfer, archive and track your workout results. This proves useful from different perspectives, especially when you are training for an objective, such as better cardiovascular endurance.

Air resistance and magnetic resistance are popular systems used on modern rowing machines. But water rowing machines are also available. Even if they are more expensive, they are the types of machines which allow you the closest experience to water rowing. They are often paired with wooden frames to offer a premium training experience.

The future of rowing machines

Many people believe there is no more space for innovation when it comes to rowing machines. But this is hardly the case, as the history of the rowing machines already showed, changes are often fast. One of the areas which are expected to have an important impact on training comes with full body controllers or wearable technologies. These technologies were usually expensive for the casual user, but they are now getting more affordable. Solutions such as the HoloSuit can now be purchased by the home user as well. This means that you can track your rowing biomechanics and save it on your smartphone. You can also send it to a coach or personal trainer which can be useful for growers who need professional guidance. These types of body trackers can also be used to improve your positioning, pace or overall rowing technique.

The history of the rowing machine is deeply rooted in boats and competitions. But they are now a fully-matured solution for cardiovascular training, strength training, weight loss, circuit training, etc. They offer multiple resistance mechanisms such as the controllable magnetic resistance and they are also smoother for movements. Being closer to actual rowing and helping users with the help of integrated tracking technologies, rowing machines are now also widely used in commercial spaces such as gyms or even at home due to increased affordability.

Thanks to Danny Earle for this article – http://fitnessfighters.co.uk/

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