How to use a rowing machine – Tips and Mistakes to avoid to get better on a rower

How to use a rowing machine

Rowing machines are very efficient tools when used properly. They allow you to strengthen your core, legs, arms and back. However, in order to exercise effectively, you must use the rowing machine correctly. Doing the right movements in the right order is essential for your rowing machine exercises to be effective.

How to Properly Row on a Rowing Machine

How to Get on a Rower

Slide your feet into the foot straps. Before you begin, you need to make sure that your feet are securely attached. To do this, simply use the straps installed on the device.

Pull the Velcro tab over your foot. Tighten it enough to prevent your foot from slipping off the bracket.

Pro tip: The straps should be around the middle of your foot for optimal performance.

The Starting Position

Get into the starting position. This is a very simple position, but vital to be effective. Bend your knees until your body is close to the bar at the front of the machine. Grab it with both hands. Make sure your back stays straight.

Now hold the bar firmly. Do not let it slip from your hands while you are exercising.

Tip: Bend your torso forward at the hips to get above your legs. Keep your back as straight as possible.

The Initial Push 

Press down on the foot support with your legs. When using the rowing machine, you should move one part of your body at a time, starting with your legs. When you push on your legs, you will use your quads and glutes to extend your legs.

Don’t make the mistake of using your entire body during the push. To properly use the rowing machine, you must start with your legs, move to your core and finally to your arms, you should not do these exercises all at once. The muscles used should be about 60% legs, 20% core, 20% arms and shoulders.

So until the push phase is over, keep the arms and core in the starting position.

The Hip Thrust

Once your legs are straight, use your core and hamstrings to lean back about 45 degrees while keeping your spine straight.

Note: the core muscles help lock the pelvis and upper torso, which will stabilize your back and prevent movement along the spine that could lead to injury.

The Arm Pull

Once the legs are straight and the back is bent, you can include arm movements. The core will stay active by keeping the torso at a 45-degree angle while you pull the handle toward your torso.

Bend your elbows so you can pull the bar toward your torso.

Pull it inward until it touches the bottom of your rib cage.

This allows you to contract the latissimus dorsi muscle to stabilize your shoulders, contract your deltoids and triceps to pull your elbows back and the bar toward your sternum.

The Release

Stretch your arms out and bend your torso forward. You will now begin to return to the starting position by following the same sequence of movements but in reverse. Stretch your arms out in front of you, then bend your torso forward at a 45-degree angle.

Stretch your arms out first, then bend your torso forward by bending at the hips.

The Knee Bend

Bend your knees to return to the starting position. Keep them bent until you are back in this position. You should hold them bent and have your body close to the front of the machine, with your hands gripping the bar tightly. Now you can start again.

Note: Remember that this movement is not a two-count, one-count forward, one-count backward movement. It is a three-count movement, with a time of strength development during which you stretch your body. It will take you only two beats to return to the starting position, which gives you time to rest.

Here’s a quick 2min. videos to recap what we’ve just learned:

Correct Rowing Machine Technique, Improve Your Rowing | Concept2

Additional Rowing Tips

The Damper Settings

The damper setting on a Concept 2 (and most other standard rowing machines) is used to modify resistance. On the flywheel, next to the handle, there are ten settings numbered 1-10. The position of the handle controls how much air enters the flywheel. A “10” position allows for maximum airflow and hence maximal resistance, A “1” permits little airflow and minimizes resistance.

Beginners should initially start at the 3-5 range (here’s a list of affordable rowers if you’re just starting). Higher settings are better suited to strength-oriented workouts, which are more difficult to maintain and, as a result, provide fewer aerobic benefits. Note: The damper setting on any given rower is determined by the condition of the machine.

How to Move on a Rower

Move the right muscles. Many people use a rowing machine to work their arms. However, you should use dumbbells instead if that is your only goal. Remember, the rowing machine engages your legs, core and to a lesser degree, arms. Use all of these muscles when you do it instead of just your arms.

Focus on your legs as you move your body back and forth on the rowing machine. Again, 60% of your movement should come from your legs. Only 20% of your movement should come from your arms and another 20% from your core.

Deconstructing the Movement

Do not move your arms and legs at the same time. Remember that there is a specific order in which you must move on a rowing machine. You start with your legs, then move to your core and hamstrings before finishing with your arms and back. Make sure you follow this order to move your legs, arms and core at the same time.

Keep Your Back Straight at All Time

Keep your back straight. If you slouch, your back will hurt later. Be aware of your posture throughout the workout. Keep your back as straight as possible during each step of the rowing exercise.

Tips: Keep your knees in line with your ankles. If your knees or legs bend to the side, it could cause knee problems.

Don’t Grip the Handle Too Hard

Keep a relaxed grip on the bar. This will prevent blisters and calluses. Beginners tend to tense up and grip the bar too tightly. This causes inefficient use of energy in addition to discomfort.

Top Mistakes to Avoid When Rowing

Here is our list of the most common mistakes to avoid:

  • Leaning back when pulling, or leaning forward when returning to the starting position.
  • Rowing with your arms bent all the time: this indicates that you are pulling too hard on your arms, and not pushing hard enough with your legs
  • Spreading your elbows
  • Pulling the handle up towards your chin rather than your belly button
  • Stretch your knees too much and risk damaging your joints

A Word of Caution

Be aware of your physical limitations. If you feel a sharp pain or abnormal sensation, stop. Find someone who can show you how to use the machine properly and make sure you do it right.

If you try to row too fast or with too high a resistance setting without the proper technique, you could seriously injure your back. Take the time to learn the technique and refine it to increase your resistance.

Sample Rower Workouts

Classic Cardio Session

Example of a classic cardio session on a rowing machine:

  • Set the resistance of the rowing machine at a medium level
  • Row at a moderate pace for 30-45 minutes at 60% of your maximum capacity
  • Aim for 20 to 25 strokes per minute
  • Maintain a steady pace

HIIT Workout

  • Set the resistance of the rowing machine at a medium level and row at a moderate pace, at 70% of your maximum capacity, for 1 minute
  • Row as fast as you can for 1 minute at 90% of your maximum capacity
  • Row more slowly for 1 minute to recover
  • Repeat the sequence for at least 20 minutes