Right Way To Use Rowing Machine For Your Workouts

A rowing machine may appear straight and simple but using it correctly can make all the difference in your workout. With proper technique, a rowing exercise machine offers a range of benefits – from cardio warm-ups to intense conditioning sessions, all while reducing the impact on the joints. 

Read through to explore how to use a rowing machine effectively to maximize its benefits and get the desired results. 

Start of Rowing Machine

Before diving into the specifics of using a rowing machine effectively, it is crucial to familiarize yourself with the different parts of a rowing machine and the terms associated with its use.

1. Parts of a Rowing Machine

A rowing machine comprises different parts. These are: 

  • Flywheel – The flywheel is a large circular component positioned at the front of a rowing machine. It provides resistance through various orientations.
  • Damper – The damper in a rowing machine is a small lever located next to the flywheel. It regulates the amount of air that flows into the flywheel, affecting the feel of the rowing stroke. It does not directly control resistance but rather the intensity of the workout.
  • Straps and Footplates – The straps and footplates of a rowing machine are adjustable components that secure the feet in place during the rowing motion. The straps are buckled around the midfoot, while the footplates are adjustable in height to accommodate different user preferences and sizes.
  • Display Monitor – The display on a rowing machine typically consists of a screen or monitor that provides information such as distance, time, strokes per minute (SPM), calories burned, and other metrics related to the rowing machine gym session.
  • Handle or Bar – The handle in a rowing machine is the grip that is held onto during the rowing motion. It is attached to a chain or strap, which connects to the flywheel, allowing you to engage the upper body muscles while rowing.

2. Rowing Terminology

For the beginners of rowing, understanding the terminology is essential. Here are some key terms associated with rowing machine use:

  • Stroke – The complete motion of rowing, consisting of the catch, drive, finish, and recovery.
  • Catch – The starting position of the rowing stroke, resembling the moment when an oar blade enters or ‘catches’ the water.
  • Drive – The phase following the catch, involving the most effort as users pull the handle against resistance.
  • Finish – The concluding point of a rowing stroke, with extended legs, the handle near the ribs, and a slight backward lean.
  • Recovery– The restful interval between the finish and the next catch, as the handle returns to the starting position.
  • Strokes Per Minute (SPM) – The number of strokes a user completes within a minute, displayed on the rowing machine monitor.
  • Split – The time it takes to row 500 meters at the current speed, serving as a performance benchmark.

Steps to Master Rowing Form

Mastering the rowing form requires a step-by-step approach. Here’s a guide for you:

1. Leg Isolations

Begin by focusing solely on the leg drive. Sit tall on the rowing machine, engage your core, and strap your feet in securely. Push off with your legs, keeping your arms straight and relaxed. Focus on driving through your legs, feeling the power generated by your quads and glutes. Repeat this motion several times, ensuring a smooth and controlled leg drive.

2. Arm Isolations

Once you’ve established a solid foundation with the leg drive, incorporate the arm pull. While maintaining proper leg technique, start bending your arms and pull the handle towards your chest. Focus on engaging your back muscles and maintaining a straight back throughout the motion. Pay attention to the coordination between your leg drive and arm pull, ensuring synchronized movement.

3. Bring Them Together

With the leg and arm isolations mastered, it’s time to integrate the full rowing stroke. Begin in the catch position, where your legs are bent, arms are extended, and your body leaning slightly forward. 

Initiate the rowing stroke by driving through your legs, followed by the arm pull and the finish position where your legs are fully extended, arms are near your ribs, and the upper body is slightly leaning back. Finish the stroke with a smooth recovery, returning to the catch position.

Throughout this process, focus on maintaining proper posture, engaging your core, and coordinating the movements of your legs, arms, and body. Take the time to practice and refine each step before progressing to the next. 

Common Rowing Machine Mistakes and How to Fix Them

Rowing machines are a popular choice for workouts but users make common mistakes that hinder their progress. Listed below are some common rowing machine mistakes and suggestions on how to fix them:

1. Poor Posture

Mistake – Slouching or rounding the back during rowing, leading to ineffective strokes and increased risk of injury. 

How to fix – Sit tall with a straight back, shoulders relaxed, and core engaged. Imagine a string pulling you upward from the top of your head. Maintain this posture throughout the stroke for optimal form and power generation.

2. Excessive Grip Tension

Mistake – Gripping the handle too tightly, which can lead to unnecessary tension in the forearms and wrists.

How to fix – Hold the handle with a firm but relaxed grip. Avoid clenching your fists or over-gripping. Focus on using your fingers to secure the handle while keeping the rest of your hand and forearm relaxed. This allows for better control and reduces strain on your upper body.

3. Rushing Through the Stroke

Mistake – Performing the rowing stroke too quickly, sacrificing proper technique and power.

How to fix – Slow down and focus on maintaining a controlled and smooth stroke. Take time to fully extend your legs during the drive, follow through with a fluid arm pull, and then gradually return to the starting position during the recovery. Emphasize quality and consistency rather than strokes per minute.

4. Neglecting the Legs

Mistake – Overemphasizing the arm pull and neglecting the leg drive, resulting in reduced power output.

How to fix – Remember that rowing is a full-body workout, with the legs being the primary source of power. Priorities the leg drive by pushing through your legs, engaging your quads, hamstrings, and glutes. Coordinate the arm pull with the leg drive to maximize power and efficiency.

5. Using Excessive Resistance

Mistake – Setting the resistance level too high without proper form and technique, leading to poor rowing mechanics. 

How to fix – Start with a moderate resistance level that allows you to maintain proper form and technique. Focus on mastering the stroke mechanics before gradually increasing the resistance. This ensures that you’re building a solid foundation and preventing unnecessary strain on your muscles and joints.

6. Shortening the Stroke

Mistake – Not fully extending the legs or pulling the handle to the chest, resulting in incomplete strokes. 

How to fix – Strive for a full range of motion in each stroke. Fully extend your legs, lean slightly back, and pull the handle towards your chest, aiming to make contact just below the sternum. This ensures that you’re utilizing the full potential of each stroke and engaging the major muscle groups effectively.

7. Lack of Variation

Mistake – Performing the same rowing routine repeatedly, leading to plateaus and reduced motivation. 

How to fix – Incorporate variety into your workouts. Explore different rowing intensities, interval training, and workout structures. Try incorporating HIIT (High-Intensity Interval Training) workouts, endurance-focused sessions, or even rowing challenges. This not only prevents boredom but also helps you continually challenge your body and improve your overall fitness.


A rowing machine can provide an effective workout but only if done properly. Proper technique and form are crucial to maximize the benefits and minimize the risk of injury associated with rowing machine use. Understanding the different components of the rowing machine allows for optimal usage and performance. Additionally, avoiding common mistakes like setting the drag too high or neglecting the legs ensures a balanced and efficient workout. 

Consistency, variation, and progression in the rowing routine are also important for continued improvement and achieving fitness goals. Learning how to use a rowing machine correctly will help you harness the full potential of a rowing machine gym and enjoy its many benefits for cardiovascular fitness, muscular strength, and overall well-being.