For most of us, the idea of rowing is familiar: even if we haven’t been on a rowing machine at the gym before, we’ve rowed on an actual boat or watched rowing at the Olympics. If we were using equipment that was totally new to us – say, for instance, Kangoo Jumps shoes, which are a ton of fun but take a bit of practice – we would likely pause for instruction before jumping in.
With rowing machines, however, we’re often tempted to get right in there and do what we know (or think we know).
Let’s reverse for one moment – or “drive”, in rowing speak – and check that we’re rowing the right way. Although rowing is a low-impact sport that benefits the arms, legs and core, a rowing machine has the potential to cause injury if used incorrectly , particularly to your lower back. So take a moment and read this easy guide to using a rowing machine properly, to ensure you get the best and safest workout you can.
Catch, Drive and Recover
The rowing motion can be broken down into three basic movements:
1. Catch: Your feet should be firmly on the foot plates and your shins should be in line with your knees at a 90 degree angle. Your hips should be forward, in line with your shoulders. If your hips are drawn back, you will experience strain in your lower back. When your hips are in the right position, you will feel your body weight over the seat. Relax your shoulders away from your ears and keep a loose grip on the handles, wrists straight.
2. Drive: Push through your legs and as your wrists come over your knees, pull with your arms, until your wrists meet your navel. Remember to keep your shoulders and hands relaxed. Your back should stay straight and your elbows should be tucked in at your waist to create a more efficient stroke.
3. Recovery: Let your arms move forward first, until your wrists pass your knees. Start pushing into your heels, bend your knees and round your back slightly as you come back into the catch position.
The action should start with your legs and finish with your arms on the drive, and start with your arms and finish with your legs on the recovery. Think of rowing as a continual exercise; there is no point of pause. The drive is one smooth, powerful movement that should be completed on the count of one. The recovery is a slower, steady return that should be completed on the count of three. Keep your gaze forward to help maintain your posture throughout. This video demonstrates basic rowing technique, if you want a visual demonstration.
As you row, remember…
Don’t resist too much: Challenging yourself is good; hurting yourself is not. Choose a resistance level that allows you to row smoothly at a fast pace. Increase your resistance as your muscles adapt. Starting with a lower resistance level allows you to practice good form.
Mix it up: One way to avoid fatigue is to switch your hands from an overhand to an underhand grip periodically.
Implement intervals: As your technique improves, add faster strokes into your rowing machine workout. You might start with a steady 30 strokes a minute for three minutes. Then, spend a minute rowing at 35 strokes per minute. Recover for a minute at 25 strokes per minute. Used intensively, a rowing machine can help you burn more calories than walking, swimming or running.
As with any other exercise, posture and awareness are crucial to maintaining proper form and getting the maximum benefit for your body. If you’re new to rowing, expect to experience the same learning curve as if you were learning a new sport. If it’s not feeling right, try booking a session with one of our licensed personal trainers or kinesiologists to get you started.
Set the right foundation and row happy!