They both feature pretty highly on everyones list of favourite things they like to do at the gym but what are the pro’s, con’s and differences between two of the most conditioning tools getting around.
Anyone that has spent a decent amount of quality time on an Assault Bike/Air Dyne or a Rower know they can be unbelievably potent and nauseatingly hard, what do both have in common that makes them so glorious. The short version is essentially they are both ergometers - they simply measure the amount of work being performed, they both have a flywheel which generates wind resistance. What does this mean? The monitor that you spend so much time staring at is just showing how much power you are generating (or how much work you are doing), the wind resistance means that there is no max level the user can reach - the faster you go, the more resistance there is, ie you cannot beat the rower or the AD - as opposed to a treadmill or a crosstrainer where there is a maximum setting that the machine tops out at.
We know they are both tough, but which is tougher? what are the advantages of one over the other? In terms of technique - the rower definitely rewards good efficient technique more than the AD, there is also a distinct advantage being taller on the rower (longer stroke) - there is a little bit of technique to riding an AD but essentially as they it is just like riding a bike and even in the depths of the worst interval session known to man there is a good chance that your arms will be going back and forth and the pedals will be going around, a tough rowing workout is far more likely to result in form deteriorating to the point where it is incredibly inefficient and it is a far more common occurrence to see someone stop on the rower compared to stopping (not just slowing down) on the AD. So mentally I would argue that the rower is tougher in that it requires you to maintain form and focus under stress, the AD you can (to some extent) get away with just slapping yourself a couple of times, firing up and just monging your way thru on raw guts and determination.
In terms of functional movement patterns the rower probably wins here (when executed correctly..) there is definitely higher midline stability requirements (again as long as you're not being the Slunchback of Rowerdam) and there is obvious movement transference to exercises like cleans, snatches etc. The AD’s cyclic action - in that it is a constant work : work cycle with the push-pull motion of the arms with the legs as opposed to the work : rest cycle of the rower (pull / recover) means that there are less places to hide on the AD, an efficient rower can get some respite utilising the recovery portion of the stroke, the AD its just constant horrendous work.
So which is better? There is no definitive answer on this as they are both magnificent machines and you’ll be doing yourself an enormous favour by getting proficient and comfortable using both (tho comfortable is probably not the right work). Both can be utilised in a lot of different ways but Ive outline below my personal thoughts on what I like to use each for, this is definitely not definitive and they can easily be interchanged but this is how I generally like to use them :
Assualt Bike / Air Dyne - Short duration, power based work - 10-30sec super high output, generally people can reach a higher output over the shorter time frames consistently on the AD vs the rower.
Mixed mode work (more than 2 exercises) - ie 3+ exercises where the AD will be used at the end under fatigue, box jumps + thrusters + 10 cal AD, generally faster to get on and get going (lower transition time), also technique under fatigue is less of a factor.
Recovery work - lends itself well to easy 20-60min easy spinning recovery, its more comfortable to cruise on than the rower so people are more likely to do the longer easier sessions.
Rower - Distance/Pace based interval sessions, there is a lot more data around on row pace/times than there is for AD/AB, easy to follow progressive training schedule. Generally will do more distance based intervals on the rower (250m/500m/1000m/2000m) than AD
Couplets - two exercises combined together, ie 10 thrusters + 300m row, classic push - pull combinations always work well and technique is less likely to be compromised in a couplet.
Highly specific target workouts - I know the rower a lot better and am less forgiving on myself and others in terms of target time / pace. The AD the difference between 250 and 252 cals in 10mins is barely noticeable but on the rower a 1:20 and a 1:22 500m are very different animals, in that respect I prefer the rower for pushing people to that one final step above and beyond where close enough isnt quite good enough.
The irony with both rower and AD is that the stronger you are. the harder it is - the truth is some people simply aren't “fit” enough to generate enough power to dig themselves into a hole, aerobically they give out and they are sucking in wind and have to stop, but they are not rolling around on the ground unable to operate their legs or feel their fingertips. So as you get better (stronger/fitter) expect that you will probably get more afraid of going all out on either of them as you will be able to dig yourself a far deeper hole that Johnny Average walking in off the street giving it a nudge for the 1st time. Digging yourself into a horrendous lactic hole of death is not a place you want/need to go on regular basis - but in terms of your mental game (article coming on this shortly), taking yourself to a place you really don't want to go is a healthy thing indeed, by going over the edge, you’ll learn just how far you can go. If you're always staying within your boundaries, when the shit hits the fan in the back of your mind you don't know how much you’ve got to draw on and there is doubt on how much more you have to give, if you’ve taken yourself to that bad bad place and you can draw on that experience to know just how far you can go and your can use that experience to your advantage to know what you're 80% , 90% and 100% truly is.
The moral of the story is to get good on both - if you're not familiar with one of them, do a regular 10-20min cruise on there just to get comfortable with using it and then start incorporating some interval work. There are supplementary rowing and AD workouts posted on the website every week for people to follow. If you use them regularly it won't adversely affect your other training to do a 30min AD session every week, if you never use it and hop on it randomly once every 6 months it will punish you for it.