Row for your health

Forget running and cycling — rowing offers a full body workout as well as scenery, craic, and friends. It’s time to get out on the water, writes Joe O’Shea.

Row for your health

Forget running and cycling — rowing offers a full body workout as well as scenery, craic, and friends. It’s time to get out on the water, writes Joe O’Shea.

IT’S a low-stress, high-reward, and really social way to get fit in the great outdoors. It’s also relatively inexpensive to take up and fitness experts say you’ll struggle to find a better full-body workout.

So it’s surprising just how many people look past rowing when it comes to choosing a sport to get them off the couch and back into good health and fitness.

It may be that we tend to associate rowing with Olympic athletes in sleek, carbon-fibre racing machines. Or that the only non-gym options we see are the two old reliables — running and cycling.

But attitudes are changing and rowing, in all its many forms, is fast becoming one of the most popular leisure and fitness sports in the country.

There are now almost 100 rowing clubs around the country with thousands of members. And there are many more local groups getting afloat in everything from traditional currachs and naomhógs to whale-boats, skiffs, canoes, and even Chinese Dragon Boats.

Right through the year (but especially in summer) regattas, race-meets, and festivals take place pretty much wherever you find water in Ireland. And for the growing numbers taking up rowing, one of the great attractions is the social side, taking part in a true team sport that forges strong bonds between crews and competitors.

Martin O’Donoghue, a marketing executive from Cork, has just captained his team — two guys, two-girls — to the novice title in this year’s Ocean To City — An Rás Mór in Cork Harbour. Their boat was one of over a hundred taking part in this 23km race up the harbour to the city.

Two of Martin’s crew were novices, with less than a year’s experience in any kind of boat before they came together as a team for the Naomhóga Chorcaí club.

The crew — Martin, Shane Murphy, Ruth Hargrove, and Rebecca Daly — put in a mighty pull of over three hours to take the novice title.

“We row in traditional naomhógs and they are working boats, not exactly built for speed, so it takes a fair bit of effort to make them go fast,” says Martin.

“But the basic skills you need are not that hard to master. We get people who come along to try it out every Saturday morning, they get a bit of basic training, they jump in the boat, and most love it. We stop for coffee halfway through the row and that gives people a chance to have a chat and think about what they are doing. By the time they get back in the boat after a coffee, they’ve usually got it.”

Martin says the club and the sport, in general, is made for people who want to get fit, have a bit of craic, and enjoy being out on the water in a very social setting. “It’s really social because you are rowing as a crew, you need to work together. We get people of all ages, from all walks of life, one of the crews we were up against in the Rás Mór had a guy of 71 and they were flying.

“We travel to a lot of events now, it’s very busy over the summer, you’ll see some beautiful parts of the country and there’s a great social scene that goes with the rowing”.

The scenery and the social factor may be a big part of the appeal of rowing. But fitness experts say the sport itself offers a lot of benefits.

“Rowing is a super workout, a whole-body strength and endurance sport,” says John Corr of Fitnessworx Gym in Cork.

“It reduces hypertension, improves your cardiovascular and muscle function and increases bone mass. You’re working all the major muscle groups, upper and lower body, your core, in an aerobic and anaerobic way.

“So it’s a high-impact exercise. But the difference with running, which is not a whole-body workout like rowing, is that there is less impact and stress on the joints.”

John points out that rowing is also a great sport for people with mobility or disability issues.

“If you have a disability, there are still options where boats or equipment can be modified,” he says.

John does have some words of caution for people looking to get into rowing.

“If you are new to this sport, or really any sport, you need to start off on a gradual curve, get the basics under supervision, and row with people at your own level,” he says.

“Get the fundamentals in place. Allow your body to adapt to what will be new stresses and strains. So a club, where you will have people with experience, is a good place to start.”

Many of Ireland’s rowing clubs are happy to talk to people who want to get into the spot, quite a few offer free “taster” sessions for those who want to dip their toe in the water.

There are as many different styles and categories in rowing as there are in ball games. And you can choose from purely leisure rowing to getting involved in the competition, which can get pretty serious even in the novice categories.

A good place to start is the Rowing Ireland website ( which has a lot of information on the types of rowing you can do, how to get started, and the clubs in your region.

You may not reach the level of Ireland’s celebrated Olympians the O’Donovan brothers. But you could find a new leisure and

fitness activity that can be enjoyed with new friends in often stunning surroundings.

In Cork, the Naomhóga Chorcaí club offers Saturday morning sessions on the Lee from just €10 per adult. For more information, go to

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