How To Use A Rowing Machine (And 4 Common Mistakes To Avoid!)

correct rowing machine techniqueWelcome to my article on how to use a rowing machine. Here I want to explain proper rowing machine technique so you get the maximum benefits from your workout, and avoid injury. The rower isn’t difficult to use, but there is a sequence of movements that should be followed correctly which will be detailed below.

Warm Up

As you may already know before beginning any exercise warm-up is an essential part to get your body prepared. A slow and steady rowing motion should do it, 1-2 minutes is sufficient.

The actual rowing session can be explained in 4 simple steps:

Rowing Machine Technique

1. The Catch

The catch is the starting point. This is when you are sitting tall, arms straight, back fully upright, knees and ankles should be flexed. The idea here is not to be hunched, as this can result in lower back strain or injury.

Shins should be vertical and perpendicular (if possible – heels can lift if needed)

Upper body should lean forward from the hips with shoulders in front of the hips.

2. The Drive

You should begin the drive by pushing with your legs while still keeping the core engaged and contracted.

Once you have got your legs straight, hinge at the hips and lean back at around a 45-degree angle.

3. The Finish

The final movement is from your arms as you draw the handles towards your torso – hands move in a straight line. Keep shoulders low and grip relaxed. You should stop at 2-3 inches above your belly button.

4. The Recovery

The finish is just the same movements only in reverse order. You extend your arms until they straighten, hinge your hips forward and lean forward over your legs while bending your knees. Slide the seat forward on the monorail until you end up back in the catch position.

The best way to navigate rowing is to think of legs, hips, core, and arms, then go in reverse on the way back to the starting point.

Here’s a simple one minute video demonstrating correct rowing machine form:

Common Mistakes

There are a number of common rowing mistakes that people make when using a rower. Here are a few that you should try to avoid to get the best results from your workout:

1. Only Rowing With The Arms

Many people make the mistake of thinking that rowing is all about the arms. In fact, rowing is primarily a leg exercise and as much as 60% of the power should be coming from your legs, 20% of the power from your abs, and 20% from your arms. The pulling motion with your arms is just the follow through for the push you make from your legs.

If you put too much effort into pulling with your arms and back you will put an unnecessary strain on the upper body and may end up with a sore back, arms, neck and/or shoulders after your workout. You will also miss out on the benefits you would get from working your lower body properly. Push against the foot rests with your legs to generate power. Let the strength come from your legs, and then follow through with your back and arms.

2. Hunching your back

Many people have the habit of rounding their back when sitting at a desk, and this can often translate to bad posture when using a rowing machine. It’s important to sit tall and engage your core (the abdominal muscles). Relax your shoulders and keep them low and not hunched. The spine should be in good alignment. By keeping your back as straight as possible you will prevent post-workout soreness and injuries.

3. Using the wrong damper setting

The damper setting is the lever on the side of the flywheel on an air rower which controls the level of air flow into the flywheel. It doesn’t control the resistance or intensity level as many people think (these are controlled by how hard you pull when rowing). With higher damper settings it takes more work to spin the flywheel and to accelerate. Lower damper settings make it easier to spin the flywheel.

Many people start off with a damper setting that’s too high. This can exhaust the muscles too quickly before you get a full cardio workout and makes it hard to maintain good form and technique. Concept2 recommends starting out with a level of 3-5 (which is actually most like rowing on the water). The most important thing is to get the technique correct, and you can adjust the damper settings accordingly when you know which suits you best. Many people find they get a better aerobic workout with a lower setting. Higher settings are more suited to strength workouts.

4. Going too fast

If you’re going so fast that you’re not getting the full range of motion, or your seat is slamming into the front of the rower with each stroke, then you’re probably going too fast. It’s easy to think that the faster you row, the better the workout, but this isn’t necessarily true. A more controlled and slower rate might be beneficial to improve both your power and technique.


If you’ve been making any of the above mistakes or haven’t quite mastered proper rowing form don’t worry, this is easily fixed. There are some great videos online demonstrating correct technique (like the one we’ve posted above, and many more on Youtube). Once you’ve worked out what you need to do, get back on your rower and take it slowly. Slow, controlled movements will help you to pay proper attention to your stroke. Or if you’re a member of a gym maybe you can ask a trainer to help you achieve the correct form. Rowing is an excellent form of exercise and it’s worth getting right if you want to get the most benefit from your workout!

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