Rowing Machine: How to Know You’re Doing it Right?

People using rowing machine with fitness instructor standing in gym

Like most physical activity, you get of it what you put into it. But when you’re trying a new exercise regimen, it’s sometimes tough to know whether you’re doing what you should be to get the most out of your workout. In a gym setting, you can often rely on trainers or other gym-goers to help you figure out how to use each machine. When you work out at home, it can be a little more difficult to know if you’re “doing it right.”

When it comes to rowing, the most important thing to remember is to use good form. Since rowing uses so many muscle groups at once, incorrect form can have a domino effect and not only keep you from reaping the full benefit of your workout, but can possibly lead to accidentally putting too much strain on particular muscles. 

Here’s What NOT to Do When Rowing

Rowing is an intense workout despite being low impact – depending on your experience and fitness level, a good row should leave you feeling breathless and fatigued but not in pain. If you’re experiencing a sore back or neck after your rowing workout, chances are you’re making one of the following common mistakes:

  • Not engaging your core. Rowing is 30% core strength, so failing to engage this crucial muscle group can make you overcompensate for that lack of strength by putting too much strain on your back
  • Hunching your shoulders. Proper rowing form should have you sitting up straight, with your shoulders away from your ears. A good rule of thumb is to roll your shoulders while seated with the handlebars in your hands before you start rowing, and try to keep your shoulders in the “down” position for the duration of your row. 

Tips for Proper Form

It’s a good idea to do a “body check” at various times during your workout, to make sure that you’re maintaining proper form. The more intensely you’re feeling your workout, the less you may pay attention to the placement of your body, so it helps to check in with your muscles every once in a while.

Once you master proper form, you’ll be able to feel it. Starting from head to toe, let’s discuss some tips to make sure your technique is on point:

  • Hold your head high with a straight neck, and roll your shoulders back and down. Picture a string coming out of the top of your head and attached to the ceiling, to help straighten your neck and spine (that’s the next step!)
  • Straighten your spine, and engage your core
  • When you push back with your legs, your back will lean slightly back; when your legs contract, your back will lean slightly forward. NEVER let it round. 
  • Hold the oar handles loosely but firmly. You don’t need a death grip, but you want to make sure it doesn’t slip out of your hands. 
  • Make sure you don’t raise your arms above your chest, and you keep your knees in line with your hips. 
  • Your weight should be on the balls of your feet. 

If you’ve been using your rowing machine with improper form, you’ll notice a world of difference once you start paying attention to the placement of your body when you row. Chances are you’ll enjoy your rowing experience even more once you’re doing it right! So the next time you hop on your machine, do a head to toe body check and follow the tips above to ensure you have top-notch form during each stroke. Your muscles will definitely be able to tell the difference. 

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