How to Use a Rowing Machine

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Rowing machines are a great choice for a great cardio workout that works the whole body. It’s low impact, perfect for exercisers with joint problems. If done correctly, using a rowing machine can give you a great workout with less risk of injury.

Rowing also works most muscle groups, including the legs, arms, back and core, and builds heart and lung endurance. However, many people don’t want to use rowing machines at the gym, unsure of how to use them or how to get a good workout.

Some people even think rowing machines are only for the upper body. But make no mistake, your legs also work hard during a rowing workout. Here’s what you need to know about rowing machines including how to use them.

Benefits of Rowing Machine

The study was published in the journal Trends in Sports Science suggests that people can use up to 70% of their muscle mass when rowing. If you look at the movement, you can see why this is a full-body movement that starts at the ankles and moves up through the body to the hands in rows. Consider the many advantages of incorporating rowing machines into your workout.

Advantages of Rowing

  • It’s low impact, so it’s easy on the joints
  • It’s good cross-training for other activities.
  • It works the whole body.
  • It improves core strength.
  • It is very easy to use.
  • It takes up less space than other machines, which is great for home exercisers.
  • It builds muscle while also being a cardiovascular exercise.
  • It can improve flexibility.

Using rowing machine

The key to paddling is understanding the motion and the different positions you’re in while paddling. It’s very easy to use bad form if you don’t have any guidance, leaving you training clumsy and potentially injured.

You may also need to familiarize yourself with the paddler’s display. Each rowing machine will have a different display, but basically you will want to pay attention to how long you rowed, split time, distance traveled, and strokes per minute.

Rowing motion

The rowing motion has four stages from start to finish: a starting position, a transition, an end position, and then another transition back to the starting point.

Step 1: Catch

Sit upright on the rowing machine with arms straight, back straight, and bend your knees and ankles so that your shins are almost vertical. From this position, use the harness to pull your shoulders down and flex your body. This engagement will help protect your lower back. Then lean forward slightly, keeping your back high.

Step 2: Drive

Start by doing push-ups with your legs, while still flexing and contracting. With your legs straight, bend your hips and lean back about 45 degrees. The final movement is from the arms as you pull the handles toward the torso, a few inches above the navel. Note the order of body movement: legs, core, hips and shoulders, arms.

Step 3: Finish

This is the rest position opposite the catch position — though you won’t stay here for long. Legs long, shoulders and back leaning away from legs, arms (and handles) pulled toward body, and elbows toward torso.

Step 4: Restore

Now perform the drive movements in reverse order to return to the starting position. Extend arms, swing hips forward to bring torso over legs, then bend knees.

Common rowing machine errors

Most common mistakes on rowing machines are related to improper form. Here are a few ways you can avoid making some of the more common mistakes when using a rowing machine.

No use of your core during Drive

Before pushing back with your feet, make sure your muscle part is done. Otherwise, you’ll be doing the movement with your hips instead of your legs.

Round the back

Another problem is rounding back and leaning forward, which puts strain on the back and shoulder. Instead, try sitting tall with your gyro in a neutral position. You can also focus on working your abs or core to ensure you have good posture while rowing.

Bending the first knee in recovery

When you follow the proper order of restorative motion (arms, hips, torso, and then knees), you can begin a solid rhythm. The knee flexion changes the timing of movement and efficiency.

Rowing machine exercises

It’s easy to use the rowing machine to create a variety of exercises that target all of the body’s energy systems. If you are a beginner, start with about 10 minutes of rowing, Gradually increase the time each week as you get used to being active. You can do it alone or add it to the end of your regular cardio workout.

If you need some help getting started, this is an easy rowing exercise to do and is great for beginners. It’s short and allows you to focus on your form while staying at a moderate intensity so you can feel the machine.

You can also create your own workouts. Set your goals by distance, time, and/or intensity.

Model rowing exercise

  1. Warm-up (5 minutes): Warm up at an easy pace for 5 minutes, using an easy, rhythmic massage to get your heart rate up. You should be around 3 to 4 on the perceived exertion (PE) scale.
  2. 300 meters: Now increase the number of strokes per minute to bring your speed to moderate intensity. It’s Level 5 or 6 with perceived exertion or only slight shortness of breath. Finish 300 meters at this pace.
  3. Recovery (2 minutes): Slow down and regain breathing by reducing the number of strokes per minute. You may even need to rest completely or just move your legs around to recover.
  4. 300 meters: Increase your runs per minute to return to a moderate pace for the 300 meters.
  5. Recovery (2 minutes): Again, slow down to get your breath back.
  6. 300 meters: For this final stretch, increase the number of strokes per minute even more to get to the 7th level of activity you feel.
  7. Cool (5 minutes): Cool down at an easy pace and end your workout with a stretch.

Who should not use rowing machines?

Rowing machines are not for everyone. First, make sure you check with your healthcare provider if you have any type of back pain or injury. Scientific research has found that if you’ve had a lumbar spine injury in the past, rowing machines can worsen the problem or even cause further injury.

The researchers determined that rowers with back pain or injury had less efficient core movement and exaggerated back turns while performing the exercise. As a result, this can lead to more severe lower back problems.

A word from Verywell

Before starting any new exercise program, including rowing, talk to your healthcare provider. If you’ve had any previous lower back injuries or are experiencing pain, take extra precautions and make sure you’re following proper form while on the rowing machine. And if your provider indicates that sailing might not be right for you, try something else. There are many options when it comes to fitness.

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