How To Use the Rowing Machine

How to use the rowing machine
How to use the rowing machine. Jupiterimages/Stockbyte/Getty Images

Rowing is a great cardiovascular as well as strength-building exercise. The smooth, low-impact rowing motion works the whole body, is easy to learn and can challenge any fitness level. With the proper technique, rowing will work all the major muscle groups of the core, arms and legs in a balanced manner. To avoid injuries, make sure to warm up before your workout.

Difficulty: Average to Moderate

Time Required: 10 to 15 minutes, plus several practice sessions in the coming weeks.

Here's How:

  1. Selecting a Rowing Machine
    My personal favorite rowing machine is the Concept 2 rowing machine. This machine is found in every elite rowing team and club around the world. At $900, it's not an inexpensive piece of fitness equipment. However, it provides an efficient, total body strength and endurance workout.

    The machines are extremely durable and hold their value for years. You can often find used Concept 2 rowers on your local Craigslist under the sporting good section.

  2. The proper rowing stroke consists of four phases:
    1. The Catch
    2. The Drive
    3. The Finish
    4. The Recovery
  3. Getting Started
    • Sit on the seat, strap your feet into the foot pads and grab the handles with an overhand grip.
    • Extend your arms straight toward the flywheel, and keep your wrists flat.
    • Slide forward on the seat until your shins are vertical.
    • Lean forward slightly at the hips.
  4. The Drive Position
    • The 'drive' position is the beginning of the rowing motion. This is a powerful yet controlled force that initials the pull. The biggest mistake new rowers make is to attempt to start the drive with the arms and back rather than with the legs. Begin the drive by extending your legs and pushing off against the foot pads.
    • Keep your core tight, arms straight and back firm as you transfer power to the handles.
    • As your knees straighten, gradually bend your arms and lean your upper body back. Finish with a slight backward lean.
  1. The Finish Position
    • Bend your elbows and pull the handle into your abdomen.
    • Extend your legs, but avoid locking out the knees—you'll want to keep a slight bend in them in order to keep a fluid and dynamic rowing stroke.
    • Lean back slightly at the hips.
  2. The Recovery Position
    • Extend your arms by straightening your elbows and returning the handle toward the flywheel.
    • Lean your upper body forward at the hips to follow the arms.
    • Gradually bend your knees and slide forward on the seat to the start position.
  1. The Catch Position
    • Similar to the start position, extend your arms straight toward the flywheel and keep your wrists flat.
    • Slide forward on the seat until your shins are vertical.
    • Lean forward slightly at the hips.
    • You are ready to take the next stroke.


  1. Common Rowing Machine Mistakes
    Using the rower safely is an excellent workout, but using improper form can stress the lower back. Novice rowers often make the following mistakes while rowing:
    • Leaning too far back at the Finish Position
    • Leaning too far forward in the Catch Position
    • Jerking the handle back with the arms
    • Starting the Drive with the low back instead of the legs
  2. Learning to Row
    Using a rowing machine takes some practice in order to develop the appropriate techniques and a fluid motion. It also uses many muscles that you may not have used before, so it's important to make gradual increases in time on the rowing machine. Starting too quickly and rowing too long is likely to cause muscle aches, pains or other more serious muscles strains. In order to learn how to properly use a rowing machine, it's helpful to work with a trainer the first time, use light resistance, but not too light—you'll need enough resistance to get the proper form.
  1. Start Slowly
    It's also recommended that beginning rowers start out by rowing no more than ten minutes on the first day and slowly adding time.

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