Emily Bench Lahrssen – Pma Certified Pilates Teacher

Emily Bench Lahrssen – Pma Certified Pilates Teacher

living in miami, Emily Bench-lahrssen spends much of her free time on the water. “But when I see other people rowing, I want to paddle up to them and correct their posture,” says the Pilates instructor.

So when Bench-lahrssen opened her studio, Pilathon, in 2014, she decided to add an indoor rowing class to the schedule. “my goal was to teach people how to do their outdoor activities using the right form and correct muscle groups, so they didn’t injure themselves.” In the class, called Pilarow, she leads students through 40 minutes of alignment work on the reformer, followed by 25 minutes on an indoor rower.

Emily Bench Lahrssen – Pma Certified Pilates Teacher Photo Gallery

While a handful of experienced rowers began taking the class, Bench-lahrssen found that the majority of her clients turned out to be Pilates practitioners looking for a fun cardio challenge. “not only does rowing get your heart pumping and burn calories, but it also strengthens your entire body,” says Bench- lahrssen, who now offers the class at least once a day. “It’s a natural complement to Pilates.”

Bench-lahrssen photos by pedro gomez, courtesy of pilathon, pilates & athletic center


Rowing’s history can be traced back for millennia. It’s believed that ancient greeks used on-land rowing machines to train their military. since then, indoor rowers have received a number of technological upgrades. In the 1950s, olympic athletes used pulley-system rowers to train for their races, and today’s versions use air and water friction to mimic the feeling of stroking through the water.

Called ergometers, or “ergs,” these modern-day rowers usually come equipped with displays that measure your effort and performance, says Johan Quie, co-founder and lead instructor of rowclub in san Francisco. Ergs calculate your workout statistics, including how far you’ve rowed and how quickly you’re moving, letting you keep track of your progress or race against your fellow rowers.

Emily Bench Lahrssen   Pma Certified Pilates Teacher

Although rowing and Pilates seem like opposite practices, they share a common ground. “Both emphasize alignment,” says Bench-Lahrssen.

Over the past decade, indoor rowing has gone from a way for elite rowers to train (or alternately, the loneliest cardio machine in most gyms) to a mainstream form of exercise with a growing fan base. Exercise studios, such as crossFit gyms, use ergometers, and rowing- focused classes are popping up across the nation. “It’s the ultimate full-body workout,” explains Quie. “It’s convenient and efficient, because you’re working multiple muscle groups at once.” that’s appealing to time-crunched exercisers who want to maximize their workouts, he says.


One main reason Pilates practitioners are drawn to indoor rowing, or erging, is because of its cardio element. “It gets the heart pumping,” says nadya lutz, owner and instructor of Pilates Body home in arlington, va. “at the end of my rowing class, my students are drenched in sweat.” It also ramps up the calorie burn: a 155-pound person can torch roughly 612 calories during one hour of indoor rowing. In fact, a study from ohio state university found that rowing burns up to 15 percent more calories than cycling for the same amount of time and intensity.

Emily Bench Lahrssen   Pma Certified Pilates Teacher

Erging also challenges the entire body. “It engages 84 percent of your muscle mass,” says Jacquelyn reiff, a Pilates instructor and co-owner of the studio sJI in san Juan Island, wa. “rowing is a functional exercise that engages all nine of the major muscle groups, so that they’re all working together.” many people assume that rowing is mostly an upper-body sport, but it actually emphasizes the legs. “It’s 60 percent legs, 20 percent core and 20 percent upper body,” says Bench-lahrssen. that’s because each stroke is broken down into different parts that you piece together in a progression: you start by pushing your legs back, moving the seat toward the back of the rower. then you engage your core to hinge backward slightly, and finish by pulling the handle to your chest.

Along with strengthening your muscles, indoor rowing can also shore up your bones. A study revealed that rowing increases bone density in the spine by 6 percent—a benefit similar to that of weight training.

ABOVE: a team atmosphere adds a fun competItIve element to rowIng at the studlo sjI.

To return back to start, you reverse the order, moving your arms, core and then legs. once you master this sequence, you can move with more power and flow.

with continuous practice, rowing can also build your endurance. “some of my students say that they have more stamina in their Pilates sessions since they’ve started rowing,” says Bench-lahrssen.


along with strengthening your muscles, indoor rowing can also shore up your bones. A study published in Osteoporosis International revealed that rowing increases bone density in the spine by 6 percent—a benefit similar to that of weight training.

“Rowing is also wonderful because it’s a low-impact activity, so it’s gentle on the joints,” says Bench-lahrssen. that’s advantageous for people with injuries, such as a runner rehabbing a hurt knee. “It’s a non-weight-bearing exercise that everyone can do,” says Jennifer horn, a Pilates instructor and co-owner with reiff of the studio sJI.

Rowing also adds balance to a Pilates practice by fostering competition and team spirit. “to keep our classes creative and exciting, we often finish with a team race,” says reiff. “we’ll split the classes in two teams and then have each person give it all they’ve got for 150 meters. we’ll cycle through three times, and the team who finishes fastest wins.” other competitions include racing to see which team rows the farthest. “In my class, the students are always encouraging each other, which creates a great dynamic,” says lutz.


Because rowing is a natural complement to the method, a growing number of Pilates studios are offering rowing-and-Pilates classes. some instructors split the workout between the two: In Bench-lahrssen’s Pilarow, she starts with Pilates exercises that emphasize the alignment needed on a rower. “In rowing, you need stabilization of the shoulder girdle and spine, the studio sJi photo by sara parsons photography; pilates body home photo by nadya lutz photography so we’ll do moves like the rowing series and criss-cross on the reformer,” she says. “the short Box series can also teach how to hinge from the hips instead of the lower back.” after moving the class to the rowers, Bench-lahrssen continues the cueing. “I remind them to keep that sensation of lengthening the spine and sitting tall, so they translate what they did on the reformer onto the rower,” she says.

at the studio sJI, reiss and horn teach a rowing class that’s 30 minutes of erging followed by 30 minutes of matwork. “we might lead the class through some abdominal work on the rower, like modified roll-downs or chest lifts,” says reiff, who says that these classes have become so popular that they now have wait-lists.

Other instructors, such as lutz, alternate between intervals on the ergometer and Pilates exercises. “the class is divided up into pairs, with one person going all-out on the rower and the other on the reformer,” she says. “I’ll have them do exercises like the hundred, lunges and coordination on the long Box.” the two groups switch every two minutes during the 55-minute class. “It really gets the heart rate going,” says lutz. “By the end of the class, my students’ tongues are hanging out!”


Although rowing and Pilates seem like opposite practices, they share a common ground. “Both emphasize alignment,” says Bench-lahrssen. In rowing, maintaining the right form—with a flat back—prevents injury. a common mistake is hunching over the handle and rounding the lower back, which can strain muscles. that’s why Pilates practitioners have a leg up. “If you have a Pilates background, you understand alignment,” says Bench-lahrssen. “For instance, you know to keep your shoulders away from the ears so that your muscles can work correctly.”

Having the right posture also increases your range of motion on the rower, which equals more power for each stroke, adds lutz.

A strong core is also essential for rowing. you have to engage that powerhouse throughout the stroke, particularly while reaching forward and then hinging backward. “when I’m rowing, I feel my abdominals engaging,” says Bench-lahrssen.

along with the physical advantage of Pilates, there’s also a mental benefit. “the two practices have similar principles,” says lutz. rowing has similar principles as the method. “like Pilates, you’re breathing and concentrating throughout the session,” she says.


Want to give rowing a try? search for indoor rowing classes at gyms as well as fitness and crossFit studios. “many gyms have an ergometer anyone can use, but you’ll want to learn the proper form from an instructor first,” says Quie. ask about the teacher’s training. although there’s no national rowing board, manufacturers and rowing organizations, such as Indo-row and ucanrow2, offer instructor certifications.

you don’t need any special gear to start indoor rowing. most instructors require that you wear shoes on the ergometer to protect your feet. “the beauty of rowing is that everyone can do it,” says Quie. “at the start of every class, we spend about five minutes going over the basic fundamentals of the technique.” although there’s a bit of a learning curve, the majority of people master the stroke by the end of the first class.

For the ideal progression, commit to at least 10 classes, suggests reiff. “you can learn how to row in about 10 minutes,” she says. But stick with it, and you’ll soon experience the full body¬sculpting benefits of indoor rowing.

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