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An old exercise is making a comeback at the gym

Rowing machines are a great whole-body exercise, experts say. (Photo by Hagen Hopkins/Getty Images)

WASHINGTON – It’s long been the least popular cardio machine in the gym — passed up for the treadmill, stationary bike and elliptical trainer. The ergometer, or rowing machine, is gaining new fans.

“It’s the most indispensable piece of cardio equipment in the gym,” personal trainer Fairfax Hackley says.

He insists each of his clients spend some time on the rowing machine.

“It targets your core muscles,” Hackley says.

“It’s a total body workout. It hits your shoulders. It hits your chest. It hits your arms. It hits your back, your lower back, your glutes, [gluteal muscles], your quads [and] even your calf muscles.”

Indoor rowing machines were once confined mainly to high school and college rowing crews. Now rowing machines are everywhere says Xeno Muller, a California-based online rowing coach who won the gold medal in the men’s single scull at the 1996 Summer Olympics in Atlanta and the silver medal in Sydney four years later.

“All the crazy fitness people, they love that machine because they can go at it as wildly as possible and the machine doesn’t break,” he says.

Ergometers are non-weight bearing machines and are easy on the ankles and knees, Mueller says, but using them requires a bit of technique.

“Rowing is great because you get to sit down, and most of your weight is on your seat,” he says.

Hackley cautions the rowing machine provides a “very intense” workout, and Muller jokingly calls it a “torture device.”

“It is now segued into boxing and mixed martial arts as the go-to piece of cardio equipment,” Hackley says.

Both experts agree the rowing machine offers superior calorie burning compared to the treadmill and other cardio machines.

“Because you’re using your whole body, the calorie count is generally over 500 calories per hour,” Hackley says.

The rowing machine is gaining popularity among all age groups, but the New York Times reports women ages 45 and up have especially embraced indoor rowing for physical fitness.

Muller, who led Brown University to an undefeated 1993 rowing season, said he is not surprised.

“I always thought that the non-rowers who are obsessed with fitness would finally discover the rowing machine,” he says.

Watch one of Muller’s rowing training videos below:

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