A Guide to Properly Using a Rowing Machine

Rohan Mathew

Rowing machine workouts are a great way to get an effective full-body workout in a relatively short amount of time, while still keeping it pretty low impact. However, as with any other exercise, the improper form makes you more likely to get injured. That’s why today we’re going to talk about how to use rowing machine workouts to your advantage and get great exercise while not hurting yourself.

The Parts of a Row

When doing a rowing machine workout, there are four basic parts of each complete stroke that you need to keep in mind, and it’s important to have proper form throughout them. They are the catch, the drive, the finish, and the recovery.

Let’s start with the catch.

The Catch

This is the starting position of a row. You should be seated in front of the machine with your shins vertical (or as close to vertical as you can get them—don’t let them go too far forward), your back straight, and your arms straight in front of you, holding onto the oar. Pull your shoulders back and lean slightly forward, without slouching your back.

Your feet should be strapped into the footpads on the machine, locked rightly around your big toe.

The Drive

This is when you push back. Keep your arms extended, lightly gripping the oar, and propel yourself backward using your legs and core muscles. As you push backward with your legs, lean back by tilting at the hips, making sure that your back stays straight.

The Finish

With your legs fully extended, bring your arms in, pulling the oar to hit just under your chest. Don’t let your elbows fly out wide. Keep them tucked into your torso. You don’t stay in this position very long, but move immediately to the next step.

The Recovery

This is the movement that brings you back to the catch position. You start by extending your arms out straight again and then bend your knees to bring yourself back to the start. This motion should be slower than the drive motion since it’s designed to give your muscles a little bit of a break before going into the next stroke.

Tips to Maintain Proper Form While Rowing

The main thing you need to keep in mind is posture. You should never be straining forward or slouching. Instead, keep your back straight throughout the entire stroke. 

Here are some of the most common problems people encounter while rowing and how to fix them:

  • Slouching. This means that your shoulders are doing most of the work, and will only lead to sore shoulders. Keep your back straight and your head neutral, letting your core and upper back do the work, not your shoulders.
  • Scooping motion during the recovery. Make sure that your arms are fully extended before you bend your knees to bring yourself back into the catch position. Otherwise, you’ll need to move your hands up and over your knees, when you should just be extending them straight forward.
  • Holding onto the oar too tightly. You just need a light grip. Try holding the oar on the outside edges with only three fingers, your thumb resting lightly on top.
  • Trying to go too fast. Rowing isn’t about speed. It’s about power and control. Especially when you’re first starting, focus on getting the motions right before you start trying to go fast. 
  • Bringing the oar too high. When pulling your arms in during the recovery motion, you should bring the oar to just under your chest, not all the way up to your neck. 

These tips will help you become a rowing pro in no time!