I tried Hugh Jackman’s 7-minute workout which 'uses every single muscle' and it’s one of the hardest things I’ve ever done

 TechRadar fitness writer Harry Bullmore lying down next to a rowing machine after finishing a 2K row.
TechRadar fitness writer Harry Bullmore lying down next to a rowing machine after finishing a 2K row.

Perhaps it’s a case of nominal determination, but Hugh Jackman is a huge, jacked man. They’re not just mirror muscles either, as he proved in his training for Deadpool & Wolverine.

He completed a max-effort 2K row while preparing to reprise his role as the clawed crusader, posting a mightily impressive time of 6min 54.1sec. An Instagram video, below, shows his last few strokes and the aftermath of the brutal test.

Finishing a 2K row in less than seven minutes is seen by many as a gold standard for fitness, and it’s one that’s always eluded me. But, with the prospect of gunning down Jackman’s time adding an extra layer of motivation, I decided it was time to take another stab at it.

And, not unlike the disorganized state of Marvel Phase 5, things got messy.

How to do Hugh Jackman's seven-minute rowing machine workout

In layman's terms, all you need to do here is sit down and row 2,000 meters as quickly as you can. But if you're using a Concept2 RowErg, there is a way you can make it even easier to record your time.

Using the buttons on the side of the monitor, hit "select workout", "standard list" then "2,000m". This will take you to a screen with a countdown showing the number of meters you have remaining at the top of the monitor.

It will start recording automatically on your first stroke, and stop when you reach the end to give you your exact time. You'll even benefit from extra data like a predicted finish time and customizable metrics such as average 500m split pace.

My experience of Hugh Jackman’s seven-minute rowing machine workout

Jackman was actually the one who introduced me to this full-body sweat fest all the way back in 2014. He shared a snap of his Concept2 RowErg monitor after matching the seven-minute standard for the “first time in five years”.

The day after reading this, I headed down to my local gym, hopped on a rower and was promptly humbled. I finished with a time of about 7min 40sec, a sick feeling in my stomach and the need for a lengthy sit down.

Every couple of years I give the 2K row another go. And, though I’ve shaved my PB down to 7min 20sec, I still haven’t matched Jackman’s blistering pace.

But this time, with the Marvel star’s time fresh in my mind, I was convinced my ever-competitive spirit would carry me through. So I sat down and completed my first stroke.

I’d done my research, working out that a split pace of 1min 45sec/500m should take me to my goal. To do this, I focused on four main pillars: maintaining good form, generating plenty of power during the drive phase (where you’re extending your legs and bringing the handle toward you), holding a relatively low stroke rate and relaxing during the recovery phase of the stroke.

This composed approach worked perfectly for 1,000m. I was moving faster than expected, holding a 1min 39sec split pace, and the monitor reckoned I’d have things wrapped up before the 6min 40sec mark. Then the wheels started to fall off – I’d set out too fast.

My breathing became less regular, my quads felt like they were frying them in a vat of acid, and my ability to generate power abandoned me.

My form suffered as a result and, cruel mistress that the Concept2 RowErg is, this was immediately reflected in the numbers on the monitor. I felt like I was pushing harder than ever, yet my pace slowed to 1min 50sec/500m. Consequently, my expected finish time crept ever-closer to seven minutes as I watched my goal slip away like sand in a sieve.

With 500m to go, I was dangerously close to missing my target time. My body was completely spent, my thighs and glutes were on fire, and my lungs were desperately trying to get on top of the situation. It became a mental battle.

The monitor didn’t matter anymore. I shut my eyes and focused on optimizing each stroke, counting them as I went. “If you do 50 more strong ones, you’ll be home and dry,” I persuaded myself. And, against my body’s wishes, that’s what I did.

When I opened my eyes again I was within touching distance of the finish. Better yet, I’d made up a second or so.

I threw everything into my last few pulls then keeled over onto the floor, desperately trying to remember what oxygen felt like and find a comfortable resting position (clue: there wasn’t one).

When I finally had the energy to look at the monitor, I allowed myself a little fist pump: 6min 55.7sec. Then I checked Jackman’s latest Instagram post: 6min 54.1sec

Damn you, Jackman! But, while I’m forced to concede defeat to the Wolverine actor, I can’t be sad about finally hitting a seven-year goal.

Benefits of Hugh Jackman’s seven-minute rowing workout

“When you don't have time, throw this one in,” Jackman writes underneath his 2014 effort. “[It] strips fat [and] uses every single muscle.”

He’s not far wrong. My Concept2 Rower proudly proclaims it offers "the complete exercise” on the side of the rail, and an oft-cited English Institute of Sport study states that a correctly-executed session on a rowing machine recruits 86 percent of your body’s muscles, helping you build full-body strength.

There isn’t enough resistance to build muscle for most people, you’ll want to turn to strength training for that. But the sheer amount of muscles (including the body’s largest muscles in the thighs, glutes and back) working simultaneously means you’re going to boost your metabolism and crush calories.

Another benefit is that you can row at any intensity, developing all three of your body’s energy systems to support explosivity, shorter high-output efforts and longer steady-state activities. Whatever your fitness goal, chances are a rowing machine can help.

It’s low-impact and accessible too – while you can fine-tune your form for peak performance, most people can sit on a machine and start rowing. So, what are you waiting for? On your marks, get set, row (sorry).

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