Rowing machines are one of the best hybrid workout machines that we have available today, and they’re a great way to work out your legs, lower back and chest muscles while also getting some intense cardio in.
That is, if you can use a good rowing technique and actually achieve those results.
It might be trickier than most people think at first, so today we’re going to take a look at how to improve that form, and ensure you’re getting the most out of your rowing machine.
The goal is to start on these during your next rowing machine workout, and improves gradually over time to the point that you don’t even notice anymore.
You’ll just slip into that habit of doing things better.
- The Perfect Rowing Form
- Tips for Rowing Indoor Technique
- How is Rowing on Indoors Rowers Different Than Rowing on the Water?
- How to Get Better Over Time
- It’s a Gradual Process
The Perfect Rowing Form
There are three main parts of your rowing technique that you need to work on.
We’re going to cover all of them, then dish out some tips on your technique at the end.
Part 1: Position
- Your arms should be straight out in front of you without overlocking your elbows
- Push your shoulders and hips forward to straighten out your posture
- With your feet planted, your shins should either be slightly elevated or completely straight depending on your build
Part 2: Pull
- Start with your legs and push off
- Pull your arms back after grasping the handle evenly, keeping those shoulders straight even as your body pulls back on the seat
- Push at the same pace as you ull to balance the resistance across all appendages
- Keep your wrists flat during the entire pull
Part 3: Release
- Quickly count to two on your head – a simple little one-two, and get ready to release
- Gently alleviate the pressure from your legs by bending your knees up
- Unlock those elbow and let the handle pull back on its own just a little bit, then guide it back while holding it tight to get that resistance feeling
- When you release all the way, you should be back in the same position from part 1; now it’s time to repeat these steps until you can’t anymore
Tips for Rowing Indoor Technique
These are just some fast and easy tips to keep in mind while you’re rowing to your fitness goals.
Don’t Hold Too Hard
It’s very easy to just grasp onto that handle with all the intensity in the world, but it’s going to tire out your hands and arm muscles.
Take it easy; it’s not going anywhere.
Distribute Weight Evenly
Many people will say that rowing is 100% about your legs, but it shouldn’t be.
If you want a full-body workout from it, use your arms and legs evenly to distribute weight and build up your entire physique.
Roll With the Seat
You don’t want to yank yourself back too hard. Go with the seat; don’t let it guide you, you should be guiding it.
The seat should move with your pulls and pushes, otherwise you’re putting too much stress on your lower back.
This is form-related, but all too often I see people pull their shoulders up when they should just be making them square.
Don’t pull them up like little mountain peaks. It’s not going to do you any favors.
Bottom of Your Ribs
When you pull that handle back, remember that you’re not pulling it up to your chin, or to your shoulders.
To engage your arms properly, as well as your core muscles, you should aim to pull it straight back to the bottom of your ribs.
This is going to be different for various heights, of course, but as a general rule this should work well.
It’s very easy to feel all the strain on your heels and ankles when you release from your row.
This indicates that you’re not putting enough on your arms, so do yourself a favor and follow this up with a pull that’s mostly from your arms so you can see where the imbalance is, and how to feel it out.
How is Rowing on Indoors Rowers Different Than Rowing on the Water?
Without sounding too reliant on machines, the differences are actually very marginal, all things considered.
If you use a water rowing machine, you’re emulating a lot of the same resistance that a still body of water would give you in an actual rowboat.
Thanks to modern advances in physical fitness machinery, you can target the same muscle groups, and effectively work them out without ever having to set foot on a real boat.
But that isn’t to say that it’s completely superior. Rowing on the water has a variable that you don’t have to account for on a machine, and that’s balance.
When you’re rowing on a boat, you could be using two oars instead of one.
You have to balance those, and you’ll feel the impact of rowing targeting each arm individually.
There’s no central handle to distribute the pressure, so it can feel harder to row for a while.
However, rowing indoors works out more muscle groups than rowing on a boat.
When you’re on a boat, you’re just working out those arms, but there’s no sliding rail seat that works your lower and mid abdominal muscles.
There’s no leg workout to be had. That’s where indoor rowing can be a superior form of exercise, because it’s targeting more muscles.
Balancing on a rowboat can also be difficult, but it trains and strengthens your ability to balance at the same time.
Overall, rowing outside is more difficult than rowing indoors, but the muscle gain benefits in your arms are relatively the same.
How to Get Better Over Time
This is one of those times that old childhood lessons of “Practice makes perfect” rings in my head, but in fact, that term has a lot of falsehoods to it.
I take the approach of working smart and hard at the same time.
Your whole entire reason for using a rowing machine is to put in resistance training, so it’s going to be hard.
Being smart about it means focusing on form every single time.
So long as you’re following a proper technique, you’re going to do better.
You may not be able to do as many reps or sets as before, but I would take five correct rows over fifteen incorrect rows every time.
Before you sit down to row, go through a note on your phone or an image—anywhere that you can save this information—and look at it every single time.
Look at the steps to proper form, and review the benefits of using proper form.
Repeat these steps in your head while you’re working out.
This doesn’t mean you’re going to get perfect form on your first try, but it does mean that you’re going to be a lot better off than you were before.
Gradually, you’ll find yourself reviewing these rowing machine tenets, if you will, and already having the proper form down pat when you actually use your rowing machine.
The goal here is to develop a habit by reviewing these time after time.
It takes precisely 66 days to form a new habit. 66 days in a row, mind you.
If you aren’t rowing every day (and you should be giving your muscles some rest, so rowing every day is not advised), then you will need to work at this for three to four months, accounting for the little breaks in between, before this is a solid habit.
If you can commit to reviewing this information on a repeated basis until you have the habit of proper form down, you’re going to see improvements in your workout efficiency, and certainly in your targeted muscle groups. Form is everything.
It’s a Gradual Process
It’s not going to change overnight, but it can change the second that you put in the effort and focus on proper form with every single pull.
Regardless of what rowing machine resistance type you’re using, you might have to tone things down a bit now that you’re using proper form.
It’s easier to put additional stress on your shoulders and lower lumbar when you were practicing improperly the entire time.