Mon-Fri 9am-5pm EST
More often than not, the way you think you look when you’re working out, versus how you actually look, are usually worlds apart. If you’ve ever attempted to work out in front of a mirror, then you understand this fact all too well. That sexy jog on the treadmill you imagine you have isn’t often the case when you see yourself do it.
That’s why having proper form when working out is important – to look good while you’re doing it. That, and the fact that it protects you from getting injured.
Besides, using proper technique also keeps you from expending more energy than necessary during your exercise session. So, you won’t wear yourself out before getting to the all-important fat-burning zone. Having proper form becomes even more apparent when you’re on a rowing machine.
This guide focuses on everything you need to know about the right rowing machine technique, as well as the common mistakes you need to avoid to get the most out of every rowing session.
Rowing is a full-body workout. Every coordinated movement engages every large muscle group in the body.
To learn how to row properly in proper form, you need to understand what’s required in each phase of a complete stroke.
The catch phase is also referred to as the “start” or “ready” position. The name was coined from the point in water-rowing, where the oars would, quite literally, “catch” the water.
So, you would essentially be at the front-most part of the machine ready to use your feet to produce the force you need to push you off and drive you back along the rails.
At this phase of the stroke, your shins should be vertical, and your legs compressed. Your triceps need to be engaged and ready to extend your arms. The flexor muscles in your fingers and both thumbs should be gripping the handle firmly.
At this point, your abdominal muscles need work to flex your torso forward while your back muscles remain relaxed.
This phase is a transition from the catch phase to the finish (more on this in the next section). The legs initiate this phase by extending and pushing the upper body away from the front of the rower towards the back.
During this phase, you need to be engaging your legs’ powerful muscles to push your body backward. Your shoulder muscles then need to contract as you engage your biceps to pull the handlebar towards your abdomen.
The muscles in your torso open up, while your hamstrings and glutes contract to extend your hips. Your torso needs to be in a vertical position as you glide through the rails. The drive finishes with the pull-through of your arms. Nearly all your upper body muscles should be engaged at this point.
The finish position needs to find you with straight and firm legs that are all the way extended. The angle of your torso should assume a slightly leaned back position, with your hands pulled in at a position that’s on more or less the same level as your belly button.
Your shoulders should be down and relaxed with your elbows positioned midway between being pressed-in against your sides and winged out – sort of like if you were holding an apple between your elbow and the side of your torso. Your wrists and forearms should be parallel to the floor.
In this phase of the stroke, your abdominal muscles stabilize while your quads and glutes contract. Many of your back muscles should be contracting as well, to keep your torso in the leaned-back position, and to rotate your upper arms from the inside.
The recovery position is simply the reverse of the drive sequence. So, rather than have the drive's legs-hips-hands motion, you would instead have the hands-hips- legs sequence to get you back to the catch position.
You, therefore, lead with the hands – also known as the “hand away” motion, extending them away from your abdomen. You would then distend your legs and finish with them bent, as they first were in the catch phase.
The triceps engage to move your arms forward and away from your abdomen, while the abdominal muscles flex to move your torso forward. The calves and hamstrings contract as you slide forward towards the catch.
As is the case with any workout, you need to create a breathing technique if you want to get the most out of your rowing workout. The key thing to keep in mind is that your breathing rhythm should be in-sync with your stroking rhythm.
If, however, you’re rowing at much higher intensities, you need to take one breath for each stroke. If you feel like that’s not enough to get you through one complete cycle, then you can add a second shorter breath for every stroke.
The point at which you switch from one/two breaths per stroke ultimately depends on what feels the most natural to you. It’s always a good idea to experiment to find what works for you.
Here’s how you should coordinate the timing of your breaths with the phases of each stroke.
The most important thing to remember is that you need to create a breathing pattern and stick to it throughout your rowing session. That way, your muscles get a regular supply of oxygen required for them to function optimally. That’s what will give you the energy you need to power through your entire rowing session.
If you’re new to the rowing world or have simply never had anyone to show you the ropes, here are some of the common mistakes to avoid.
This is a classic rookie mistake. Before you get onto the rowing machine, you first need to prime your body. Remember, rowing engages all the major muscle groups in your body.
So, if you want to keep injuries at bay, start with some walkouts, hamstring stretches, pushups, and some reverse lunges to warm up and stretch out these muscles.
Do a plank to open up your chest and fire up your abdominal muscles as well. After all, you’re going to need them for the next several minutes.
Rowing has proven to be one of the most effective exercises for improving your posture. But, to reap this benefit, you need to ensure that you’re always sitting tall anytime you’re on the rower.
Slouching on the rowing machine will likely put a strain on your lower back and shoulder muscles, both of which are the perfect ingredients for chronic back and shoulder pain.
This is another common mistake people make, especially those who are focused on getting built upper bodies. If you let your arms and shoulders do all the work, this will inevitably cause serious injury to your body. You need to spread it out.
More than half of the drive power – like 60 percent – should come from your legs, with the remaining 40 percent spread between pulling with your arms and bracing with your core.
Every time you settle down for a rowing session, always begin gradually and build up from the lower resistance settings. Think of it as a gear. You need to start from a low one and build your way up.
Otherwise, it will feel like you’re rowing a heavy boat and end up exhausting your muscles too early on.
You’ve probably experienced it – you’re in the zone, rowing as fast as you can as you speed towards an imaginary finish line. That’s great and all, except for the fact that your butt keeps banging into your heels.
Believe it or not, the whole point of rowing isn’t to go as fast as you can. What you want is power. You want to feel every stroke and engage every muscle with every drive.
If you go too fast, then your strokes aren’t as powerful or efficient. This means that you’re not using as much effort as you would if you just slowed down.
So, focus on engaging your leg muscles and your core with every stroke to reap the maximum benefits of your workout session.
Rowing is an amazing workout. Not only is it effective in blasting fat, but it also works like a charm to elevate your heart rate and tone your muscles, all while being low impact – which is great news for your joints. The fact that it also happens to be an excellent stress reliever is a definite plus.
So, use proper rowing machine technique and avoid making the common mistakes detailed in this guide if you intend to get the most out of your rowing session. When you do, you’ll begin to see results sooner than you expect.
Are you wondering how to choose the best rowing machine? Check out our blog for the ultimate guide on what you should look for in a good rower.