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Rowing Machine Workout Tips
How to get the most out of a rowing machine workout.

Rowing Machine Workout Tips
How's your rowing machine form?

Rowing machines are often ignored when people want to do cardio workouts. That's a shame, because rowing uses almost every major muscle group in the body. They're also a great way to lose weight. A vigorous workout for a 185-pound person can burn 374 calories in 30 minutes.

Rowing machines are also good if you have injuries, because they exert minimal pressure on joints. The movement is very low-impact. The key is learning that proper rowing motion.

CATCH is the position you start in. Sitting on the seat, bend your knees while keeping your back upright and tall, with your torso angled slightly forward. Your shoulders and arms are relaxed with your hands holding onto the "paddles" or rowing handle. The name came about because in an actual boat, the paddles are swept back and they're just slightly "catching" the water.

There are three stages to the actual rowing motion.

DRIVE is the first movement that begins with a strong leg push. Press down through the bottom of your feet and extend your knees. As you push back, you engage and brace your core. Once your knees are straight, you continue pulling the rowing handle toward your chest.

FINISH with your core (torso) leaning slightly backward, hands holding the rowing handle at your chest and your legs fully extended. Ideally, your hands will end up in the same position they would be if you were doing a bench press.

RECOVER by relaxing your knees and your hands as you return to the starting position.

Keep repeating the drive, finish and recover steps. Make sure you don't hyperextend your knees or elbows in the drive motion. In classes that use rowers, you'll often hear LEGS! CORE! ARMS! to remind students what they should be concentrating on in their movements.

To make the most of your workout, follow these six simple rules. 

Check the damper. That's the lever or switch that makes the rowing harder or easier. Too high and you'll move sluggishly and exhaust yourself before you get a good workout in. Too low and you won't have enough resistance from the machine to burn off much fat.

Start at the lowest setting, get your form right, and gradually increase the intensity as you get more fit. If you're using a rower that has a flywheel, start with a few short and quick strokes. That flywheel is at a dead stop and it takes a few pulls to get it up to speed. Once you've hit your pace you can start doing full strokes. 

Keep your core engaged. Sitting at a desk, many people tend to round their back and slump down. When you first get into position, engage your core and sit tall. Keep your spine in a neutral position and maintain a stacked posture throughout the exercise.

Put most of the power in your legs, not your arms. A common mistake is to try and use mostly arms when rowing, but that puts undue pressure on your back and shoulders. When performed as they should be, rowing uses about 60% lower body, 20% arms and 20% core.

Don't stick your butt out further than your body during the drive. If that happens, you'll have to snap your core back in place to catch up and risk a lower back injury. Perform the entire exercise slowly. Make sure your abs are firing and that you're keeping your core engaged through the full range of motion.

Maintain control throughout the exercise. You're going too fast if your butt is banging into your heels or the seat is hitting the front of the slide on a stroke. Sloppy form leads to injuries. An optimum rhythm is 1:2. That means the time it takes you to perform the drive (1), should be doubled on the recovery (2).

Below is a great video from Concept 2 that shows proper form and common rowing technique errors.

Try something different. The next time you've got a cardio workout scheduled, use these tips and grab a session on the rowing machine.

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