Rowing is an excellent cardiovascular exercise and an effective fat burner but it also has the potential to hurt you if you do it wrong. Unlike an exercise bike or cross trainer, which are quite hard to do wrong, a lot can go awry when using a rowing machine. In this brief article, I want to explain the basics of using a rowing machine so you can exercise in both comfort and safety.
Firstly, sit on the seat and slide forward – this will save you having to lean forward and round your back excessively. Switch the rower on and select the functions you require. Initially, the timer is probably all you need.
Next, loosen the foot straps and place your feet in the footrests. Adjust the foot rests so that the straps are across the broadest part of your foot. Tighten the straps so they are snug but not so tight you end up cutting off the blood supply to your toes.
Grab the handle with an overhand grip. Ideally your hands should be around shoulder-width apart but very few rowers have a wide enough handle to permit this so use the widest grip you can. Wrap your fingers AND thumbs around the handle – no thumbless grips please.
With your arms straight, your hands level and just below shoulder-height, sit up straight. Pull your shoulders down and back, look straight ahead and try to sit on the boney part of the bottom of your pelvis – properly called your ischia.
While your lower back will most likely be rounded, do your best to keep this to a minimum. Depending on your flexibility, you will probably find it is all but impossible to sit up with a slightly arched (neutral) lower back but you’ll significantly reduce your risk of injury by rounding your lower back as little as possible.
From this position, and keeping your arms straight, push with your legs to drive yourself backward. As the handles passes over your knees, pull the handle into your abdomen. The handle should reach your abdomen at the same time or slightly after your legs reach full extension. Your elbows should be close to your ribs and not flared outward and your wrists should be straight with your hands level – no twisting the drive chain. Complete your pull with a slight backward lean.
Next, extend your arms and, as the handle passes over your knees, bend your legs and slide forward. Do not crash into the consol by sliding forward too fast – keep control at all times. Once you are back in your starting position, perform another stroke.
Many newbie rowers find it hard to coordinate their arms and legs so just remember this sequence: Legs -> arms -> arms -> legs.
There are several mistakes that I see people make when using the rower…
- Using the arms too early – initiating your stroke with a powerful leg drive takes pressure off your otherwise weaker arms. Trying to start the stroke with your arms will cause you to lose power and get tired quicker.
- Rounding the lower back – excessive rounding places an inordinate amount of stress on the intervertebral discs and lumbar ligaments. Easily injured and slow to recover, this is the last thing anyone needs! Make sure you sit up tall and work hard to keep your back from rounding.
- Not fully extending the legs – your legs are the engine room in rowing so use them fully. Extend your legs all the way to make the most of the power they can provide. Do not snap your knees straight though – that’s a recipe for injury.
- Not pulling the handle all the way in to your abdomen – in an effort to start sliding forward again as soon as possible, many rowers cut their arm pull short. This is very inefficient and also causes that annoying “chain slap” that often accompanies many rowing workouts. Pull all the way into your abdomen each and every stroke.
- Always putting the resistance on high – the resistance damper on the rower is not unlike gears on a bike so you should choose the setting based on what type of workout you are doing and your preferred rowing style (slow and powerful or fast and light). Damper settings are beyond this particular article but will be covered elsewhere. For new rowers, a low damper setting is generally best.
You now have all the information you need to ensure you can use a rowing machine properly and safely. Time spent now mastering your rowing technique will ensure that your workouts are productive and painless so keep practicing your rowing technique until it becomes second nature.