Coaching, Just Getting Started

Why The Rowing Machine Is The Most Underrated Fitness Tool

Woman Rowing on a Matrix Fitness rowing machine.
You’ve seen it in your gym, but just haven’t had the guts to hop on it and give it a shot. Maybe you’re intimidated by the freakishly fit people that regularly use it, or perhaps you’re frightened by the thought of doing it wrong and embarrassing yourself. So what is this intriguing, yet intimidating piece of equipment I speak of? The rowing machine, of course!

Rowing: An Effective Full-Body Exercise

While it is easy to make some initial mistakes when first using a rower (also called an erg machine or rowing machine), you’d be smart to keep at it and learn the proper form and technique. Rowing can be one of the most effective and efficient exercises around today, making it a great choice for working your entire body. Depending on how you utilize it, the rower can increase your aerobic fitness while also building strength and explosive power. Rowing has increasingly gained popularity in gyms and fitness studios across the country because of it offers an intense yet low-impact workout. Everyone from active older adult exercisers to competitive athletes are helping to make rowing machines a popular piece of equipment and a staple in many fitness programs.

So what exactly makes rowing such a great total body activity that pretty much anyone can do?

Here are a few key benefits of rowing:
  • Rowing packs a double-punch by not only providing a great cardiovascular workout but is also a strength training exercise that works the legs, core, arms and shoulders.
  • Rowing provides a smooth, low-impact workout.
  • You can burn on average approximately 800 calories an hour on the rowing machine!
  • It can be done individually or as part of group fitness workouts, much like the spinning worktouts that are gaining popularity.
So the big question now is …

How Do I Use A Rowing Machine?

First, let’s get our terminology straight. There are two main phases of the rowing exercise. The Catch: Extend arms, upper body forward, legs bent. The Drive: Extend legs, upper body back, arms bent.

Here are a few key tips that will help get you started and on your way to quickly mastering the rowing machine:

  • Secure both feet with the straps in the footholds. Many beginners may not think having their feet securely strapped-in is that big of a deal, but as you learn to use your legs to push off you’ll understand the importance of the straps!
  • Grasp the handle with an overhand grip and sit tall, making sure your back is not rounded.
  • Start in the “catch” position. This is where your seat is slid forward, your knees are bent, and your arms are fully extended out in front of you. This well set you up in the correct position to be able to perform the “drive,” which is the next phase of the row.
  • From the catch, keep your arms extended as you push off with the feet and straighten your legs. Your upper body should lean back just a bit at the same time. At the point where your legs are extended and the seat is all the way back, pull your arms into your upper body.
  • The end position of the drive phase is with your legs extended, arms pulled back and handle just below chest level.
  • You then return back to the catch position: arms should be fully extended, body slightly leaning forward, then legs should bend and bring you forward to the starting position.

Here are a few key points to consider as you get more involved into rowing:

  • Start with low resistance as you practice and get comfortable with the movement.
  • Different rowing machine have different resistance settings, so be sure to know where and how to adjust.
  • Start with a goal of 10 minutes of steady state rowing to master your form before increasing your time or workload.
  • You can use the rower as a full workout or as part of a conditioning circuit.
  • Beginners often make the mistake of trying to use their arms too much. Roughly 60% of your power should come from pushing with the legs, 20% from bracing the core area, and 20% from pulling with the arms.
  • Remember to always be aware of your posture. If you find you sit at a desk with rounded shoulders, chances are you will naturally assume that same position when you sit down on a rower. Sit tall, engage your core, and pull your shoulders down and back.
  • Stay in control. As you get in the zone and push yourself toward the finish, don’t let your form fall apart and lose control. Pay attention to the timing of your stroke. You should be working harder and faster during the drive and allowing your body to return to the catch in a controlled manner.
Happy rowing!  
About the writer: Ken Grall is a Certified Strength & Conditioning Specialist (CSCS) and owns and operates an Edge Fitness in Madison, Wisconsin. Learn more about Ken.