10 Helpful Tips To Remember When Using Rowing Machines

As you get started with your rowing workout routine, there are a few things that you should know and remember. By keeping the following in mind, you can ensure that you have the best workout possible, feel the most comfortable while you row, and see maximum results from each and every session you complete.

Perform A Good Warm-Up

Nothing is more important than making sure you perform a good warm-up. Do not skip over this, no matter how rushed you are. The rowing machine is going to utilize many of the major muscle groups and if you aren’t warming up, your risk of injury will be quite significant.

It only takes five minutes, but it’s well worth doing. Some simple leg swings, a few lightweight deadlifts, and some good mornings is all you really need.

Adjust The Damper Setting

Know that if you adjust the damper setting, this is going to impact the total resistance level you have in the rowing machine. You want to ensure the resistance level is both something that you can do and also something that is going to work with the goals that you have set for yourself.

Use too high of a resistance level and you won’t be able to complete much work, but if you use too low of a resistance level, the workout is going to be so easy you won’t derive much benefit.

Finding that sweet spot is what really matters.

Loosen Your Grip

One of the biggest mistakes that people tend to make as they go about their rowing routine is they use too tight of a grip. If you are squeezing those handles for dear life, think of how much energy you are wasting doing this. That is energy that would have been much better put towards the workout session itself.

Loosen your grip and let your hands relax. You obviously still do need to hold on, but the grip should be so loose that the bar can easily rotate if needed.

Legs First, Arms Second

Another common error that’s made too often is using both the hands and the legs at once. You pull back on the handle bar while you are pushing back with the legs.

This isn’t quite the order of events you should be using here. Instead, you should be driving with the legs first, letting them lead the movement. Then once they are partway straight, you begin pulling with the arms and complete the movement with the arms. Then the legs take over once again directing the movement forward as you bend the knees and the arms relax after that.

It’s important to get this rhythm straight as it will go a long way towards ensuring that you feel most comfortable when doing your rowing routine and the movement pattern feels natural.

If it feel awkward at all, chances are good this is what’s getting thrown off. Look at how you are completing the movement pattern and consider some changes.

Drive Straight Back

Which brings us to the next point, be sure to drive straight back. Some people have the tendency to drive up, which could end in you in a rather painful situation. If you drive up and back, you may even come right off the seat, landing on the rail and you can imagine how that one ends.

Instead, push straight back, keeping the butt in contact with the seat at all times.

Keep Your Back In Line With Your Butt

It’s also essential that you focus on keeping your back in line with your butt as you go about the movement. Some people shoot their butt back first and then the rest of their body follows after.

This is not the correct way of doing things and if done often enough over time, will almost certainly lead to a back injury.

You want to keep the back in line with the butt and move the entire body back at the same time. If you think of keeping the chest open and upright, you will almost always automatically correct this because it’s hard to do that while leaning forward so much.

Another smart tip to remember to help solve this is to tighten the core. When your core is tight, your back is less likely to bend forward with the force of motion because you are more rigid and less like a noodle.

If you imagine a noodle and then you push the bottom out, what happens? The noodle will just collapse and fall over. This would be your body.

If, on the other hand, you have a stiff board and apply force towards the bottom, what happens now? Instead, the entire board moves backwards as it’s firm and upright.

Avoid Pulling With The Arms

It’s also going to be essential that you avoid pulling with the arms as you complete your rowing reps. The arms are going to be doing some pulling movement for sure, but it happens in the second phase of the movement pattern. The arms are not the main muscle groups directing this movement pattern. The legs are. So the arms should follow the legs. If you remember that, you’ll likely help yourself avoid this problem.

And when you do finally pull with the arms, it’s not the arm muscles you want to think of directing the movement. Instead, you want the movement to come from the back. Think of squeezing the shoulder blades to help pull the arms toward you so are you able to work these important larger muscle groups.

The biceps will be worked indirectly when the back is working as well but sometimes you need more mind-muscle connection to get those back muscles firing like they should.

Elbows Relaxed And Down

In order to create the smoothest movement pattern possible, you want to think of keeping the elbows relaxed and down. While they likely won’t ever be straight down as it would be very hard to even move at all like this, they should only be flared out to the side a little bit. They should not be directly lifted or you will be taxing the shoulder joint in a harmful manner.

Think chicken wings. If you use your arms like they were chicken wings and maintain that position, that’s where you want to be.

Know Your Handle Position

It’s also important that you visualize the right pattern of movement with the handle bar when doing this exercise. You want the handle bar to come to the bottom of your ribs with each stroke that you do. If it’s lifting too far up and coming to chest level or going all the way down to waist level, this is not going to be ideal and where you want the handle bars to be. You’ll be again wasting energy on excessive movement that doesn’t need to be there, not to mention the movement pattern won’t be as efficient.


Finally, don’t forget to breathe. Get into the habit of adopting a very regular breathing pattern so that you aren’t ever holding your breath at any point. Do that and you severely limit how much oxygen is getting to the working muscle tissues and fatigue will shortly be on its way.

Most people will feel best breathing in when they are returning back to the base of the rowing machine and breathing out as they push away from it, however you do need to do what’s comfortable for you.

Note that your breathing pattern should never feel forced nor should you be catching your breath simply because of how you are breathing. It’s normal to need to catch your breath because you are working so hard, but not just because of a simple change in breathing style.

It can feel a bit weird to try a breathing pattern that isn’t quite as normal but keep trying for a few sessions until you either make the adjustment or it becomes normal and natural for you. Breathing is quite important, so don’t give up on it right away if the in and out breathing pattern described above feels weird. You just need to let the body adapt and find your rhythm. When you do, you’ll find your performance increases because you are using this style of breathing.

So there you have a few quick helpful tips to know and remember when it comes to doing your rowing sessions. Of course not everyone will need these tips as some of this does come naturally to certain people, but it’s always a good idea to check over your form every so often and see exactly how you stack up. If you are letting yourself make small errors here and there, you can get into the habit of doing so and soon, that habit will become hard to break. If you use improper form for too long, it’ll only be so long before an injury is on the way and then you’ll be sidelined and really regretting not staying on top of yourself.

Train wisely and avoid these problems and you can look forward to many great rowing sessions to come.

Photo credit: Microgen/Shutterstock; LightField Studios/Shutterstock; Pressmaster/Shutterstock

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