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Tips For Using the Rowing Machine

Overlooked and Underappreciated: How to Use the Rowing Machine

The rowing machine can be intimidating, but once you get the hang of it, it's an effective way to spice up your cardio routine. But while the rowing machine, also called an ergometer, is a calorie buster (about 280 calories in 30 minutes for an 130-pound woman) and a good leg and core workout, improper form can lead to back injuries if you're not careful. Read on for our tips on proper rowing form.

Before you start, there are a few things to note about using the rowing machine. Make sure you wear formfitting clothes, otherwise you risk getting fabric caught in it while working out. Don't set the resistance too high — experienced rowers generally use the rowing machine at 3-5 during their workouts, so setting the machine at 2 or 3 is perfect for a beginner. Keep your strokes per minute somewhere in the low- to mid-20s as well.

There are different ways to measure your workout, so use the change display button on your machine to track your strokes per minute, calories burned, kilometers traveled, or your split (how many minutes it takes you to travel 500 meters).

Beginning Position

  1. For your first row, set the resistance low while you figure out your form, then slowly ramp it up on subsequent rows.
  2. Secure your feet on the pads with the straps tight enough so your feet don't move around as you slide.
  3. Bring your knees up and slide to the top of the machine. Grab the handle using an overhand grip, but don't hold too tightly.
  4. Pull the handle with you as you slide to the end of the machine. Your legs should be straight, but knees should still have a slight bend in them so they aren't locked. Lean back slightly and pull your hands up to your chest, holding the handle so it is right below your breasts, with elbows pointing down against your sides. This is the position where you should begin your workout, and it's also your ending position once you complete a full stroke (see below).

The Catch

  1. Move your arms out first, followed by your upper body. Your back should always stay straight, not slumped, with shoulders back and abs engaged as you follow through. As your arms extend out, your upper body position will go from slightly angled back to slightly angled forward.

  1. As your arms extend and body leans forward, slide your body forward on the seat by bending your legs. Once you are at the top of the machine, your arms will be fully extended and legs will be bent (see below). This part of the stroke is called the catch.

The Drive

  1. To slide back to your finish position, push off with your feet first, so that your legs straighten but your arms are still extended and your body is still slightly leaning forward (see below). The drive is the part of the workout that mimics pulling the oars out of the water and propelling the boat forward, so it's this part that works your leg and core muscles the most.

  1. As you continue to push through with your legs, move your upper body so that you begin to lean back (see below).

  1. The last part of your body to return to finish position are your arms; as your upper body angles back, pull the handle and bend your arms so that the handle ends up back to touching the front of your chest, just like how you started (see below). Don't grip the handle too hard; the power should be through your legs, and using too much force while pulling the cable can cause hand blisters as well as back problems.
  2. Continue practicing your stroke slowly and at low resistance until you get the hang of it! It can be helpful to break the moves down into a sequence of what should move first: "arms-body-legs" as you pull up to the top of the machine and "legs-body-arms" as you push back.

Image Source: POPSUGAR Photography
Bridgitt14936523 Bridgitt14936523 3 years


Julia15430695 Julia15430695 3 years
Great article,but you have not named this article properly because rowing machines are truly underappreciated,but many of us not not understand how effective it is in joint saving.Thank you for writing such a good article. Ergometer test
chienthang chienthang 3 years
Thank you for writing such a good article , I happened on your blog and read a few post . I like your style of writing
EdwinM EdwinM 4 years
You could not have named this article any better because rowing machines are truly "overlooked and underappreciated". It really boggles my mind that more people out there don't understand how effective and 'joint saving' rowing machines are. Articles like this one get to spread the message more while showing people how to do it. After the very first time I used a rowing machine while recovering from a damaged knee from running, I read some rowing machine reviews, bought myself a good rowing machine, and I've been in the best shape of my life ever since. And the best part is I don't damage my ankles and knees any more like I used to when I was a heavy runner. Thanks for showing pictures and videos on how to row properly, that's probably one of the most important things to know when you first start rowing. More power to rowing machines!
allenmichelle allenmichelle 4 years
Thanks for sharing your nice article.You can visit texasbraggtrailers website to get the best of utility trailers.
allenmichelle allenmichelle 4 years
fyou fyou 7 years
"your own calorie burn here"... nice article, with a link that doesn't allow you to use it... geez
pimprenelle pimprenelle 8 years
To prevent blisters, it's not that hard, just get gloves. The ones used for weight-lifting are alright. If you get blisters on your fingers, tape them (zinc oxide tape is really nice). Frankly, I don't think anyone should get on an erg/rowing machine without having someone show them how to use them properly first. I see so many people use the ergs at my gym who don't know what they're doing and they risk serious back injuries. I row for my college at Oxford university and have to spend a lot of time on the rowing machine. I hate long endurance pieces so when I have the choice (ie. when I'm exercising alone, not with the coach/captain yelling at me to finish my 5k) I like to do 1 mn sprinting/1 mn off on the erg for as long as I can, I find it less boring and more rewarding.
papertiger05 papertiger05 8 years
I love rowing, but it always gives my hands blisters. How do I stop that from happening?
georgie2 georgie2 8 years
Am I the only one for whom the calorie calculator doesn't work? It's asking for an username and password!
opentypeA opentypeA 8 years
I've never tried the rowing machine, but I just might give it a go after reading this. Thanks, Fit! :-)
gigglesss gigglesss 8 years
The rowing machine is my favorite thing to do at the gym
neonbee neonbee 8 years
I love it. I row every summer, but I stopped a little because my shoulders started looking way too broad.
sunshinepointe sunshinepointe 8 years
I used to row for University of Miami and I was soooooo strong and lean then. Now when I go to the gym I see so many people with bad form and it saddens me. I should really try to get in more time with the erg - although surprisingly the three at my gym are typically in use.
Sun_Sun Sun_Sun 8 years
i too am always eyeing the rowing machine but i dont use it for the simple yet silly reason of not being sure how to do it (form etc.). maybe i should just ask someone at the gym to show me! now theres an idea :P
heatherhas heatherhas 8 years
Awesome. I haven't rowed in a while, but this is a great reminder for me!
Flack Flack 8 years
Glad to see a proper break down of the rowing stroke here - it worries me, as a rowing coach, seeing gym enthusiasts begging for back injuries by trying to jam out workouts at 10 resistance with no form. That said, the only other thing I would add is to remember to control your whole stroke - remember, this exercise comes from a sport practiced in a smooth hulled, rudderless boat that's less than 2 feet wide. There, if you're not controlled, you end up in the water (at 5am in mid-February, which I've done, and don't recommend). Here, you could just be compromising your workout by relying on momentum, but it's still inadvisable. Don't just slide back up to the catch (the compressed position) however fast it wants to roll up...control it, then power back on the legs. Like someone above mentioned COMPLETELY correctly, rowing is 80% leg power...where it becomes that intense full-body workout is in the control. Oh, and keep your abs tight, sit up straight and try not to look around...completely aside from the fact that it keeps you upright in an actual boat, you'll activate your deep abdominals throughout the stroke. Lastly - an olympic mid-race pace can be betwen 35-38 strokes per don't need to do that if you want a 40 minute cardio workout. Keep your stroke rate in the mid 20's, and your split around or just above the 2 minute mark, for a reasonably fit beginner (press the view button a few times until you see a number like 2:00/500m to get your split).
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