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Can I Use a Rowing Machine with Sciatica?

Are rowing machines good for sciatica?

Rowing is life, am I right? Well, it is to some of us, and if you’ve developed sciatica or if sciatica keeps coming back and makes rowing painful, you certainly aren’t alone.

Many people mistakenly believe that sciatica means their rowing days are history, but this isn’t necessarily true.

Can I use a rowing machine with sciatica?

You sure can! Let’s talk about what sciatica is and isn’t and tips for making your rowing experience pleasant once more.

Please bear in mind that this is not medical advice; I am not a doctor nor am I aware of your health condition. Instead, this article serves as a friendly advice. If you’re experiencing severe back pain, especially lower back pain or sciatica pain, you should see your doctor, physical therapist, or chiropractor.

What Is Sciatica?

diagram of the body showing sciatica location

The sciatic nerve is the longest nerve in the body, running from the lower portion of your back, near the top of the buttocks, down the back of the thigh, the calf, and the bottom of your foot, all the way to your toes!

With a nerve this long, it doesn’t take long before something irritates it. Sometimes called a pinched nerve, sciatica is actually a compression of the nerve in some location, and where you feel the pain is not necessarily where the compression is. This means you may feel the pain in the back of your thigh, but the nerve is actually compressed at the lower spine.

How Do I Get My Sciatic Nerve to Stop Hurting?

What exercises are not good for sciatica

The good news here is that sciatica can often be reversed. In many cases, you can greatly reduce sciatic nerve pain simply through stretching. When muscles or connective tissue becomes tight (such as what happens when we spend too much time sitting), it puts pressure on the nerve. By stretching the muscles in the legs and back, you can stop or greatly reduce sciatic pain.

Learn about the Hydrow Rowing Machine

Are Rowing Machines Good for Sciatic Nerve Pain?

Yes, they can be.

Nearly all types of exercise that stretch the legs are good for sciatic nerve pain. This includes exercising on a rowing machine, recumbent bike, or elliptical.


One of the best ways to stop sciatic nerve issues or lower back pain is to stretch the legs, especially the back of the thighs, and strengthen your core.

Tips for Stopping Lower Back Pain and Sciatica Pain for Rowers

  • Stretch every single day, especially before your rowing session
  • Consider adding a yoga program to your workout routine. Yoga is excellent for preventing and stopping sciatic pain
  • When you finish the leg drive, don’t bend back very far. Stop at about the 1 o’clock position for starters. As your sciatic heals, you can push further back. Remember to keep your core (abdominals) tight
  • When performing the drive, don’t stick your butt out behind you. Keep the torso straight
  • Be careful not to tighten up your back muscles in anticipation of pain
  • Always keep a nearly neutral spine regardless of the stroke
  • Use a mirror to be sure that you’re not arching your back or slouching forward

man doing knee workout in a rowing machine

You may hear some people say that rowing isn’t good for those with back pain, but this is another misconception. If you have a poor posture to begin with and you don’t practice the strokes correctly, you will aggravate your situation and give yourself more back pain.

However, for those who want to prevent sciatica and back pain, rowing is an excellent full-body workout that can strengthen your core muscles and keep your leg muscles strong, which helps prevent sciatica.

Watch our Youtube video below by expert rower Max Secunda:

Is it Bad to Work Out with Sciatica?

No, in fact, not working out is often one of the root causes of sciatica.

When our core muscles and low back muscles are not strong, they often lead to compression of the sciatic nerve.

Should I rest or exercise with sciatica? Lady showing how to exercise in moderation

Does Rowing Aggravate Sciatica?

Rowing does not necessarily aggravate sciatica. It is a low-impact exercise, and the rowing motion stretches the legs, which is good for relieving sciatic pain. However, if your sciatica or lower back pain acts up when using a rowing machine, it could be that you’re not performing the rowing stroke correctly.

Stretching and rowing are good for your condition, but remember to be gentle when bending and avoid overstretching your hamstrings. When rowing, you should engage your core muscles and always be aware of your form and posture.

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What Exercises Should You NOT Do with Sciatica?

exercise that puts strain on the lower back

It’s important that you avoid any type of exercise that puts strain on the lower back. This would include exercises such as:

  • Fully Body Squats
  • Straight-Leg Sit-Ups
  • Heavy Weight Dead Lifts
  • Any Weightlifting program or routine
  • Leg Lifts or Leg Curls (Where you lie on your stomach)
  • Bent-Over Rows (regardless of how light the weight is)
  • Double-Leg Lifts
  • Leg Circles
  • Seated Hamstring Stretch (There are far better stretches than this one)
  • Toe Touches

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Best Stretches for Sciatic Nerve Pain

two woman doing body stretching

Some of the best stretches are yoga poses (but not all of them). Here is a shortlist of some well-known poses that can prevent future occurrences and stop sciatic pain right now:

    • Reclining pigeon pose
    • Forward pigeon pose
    • Sitting pigeon pose
    • Sitting spinal stretch
    • Standing hamstring stretch
    • Knee to opposite shoulder stretch
    • Pelvic tilt
    • Knee to chest
    • The dying bug

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If you feel any intense pain while doing these stretches, stop immediately and consult with your doctor or chiropractor.

man consulting with his doctor

The Final Word

If you came here to find out whether you can still use a rowing machine with sciatica, the short answer is yes, as long as you take care of your back.

You should probably consider seeing a chiropractor and/or a physical therapist to find out the root cause of your sciatic nerve pain. For many people, however, their age, excessive weight, poor posture, and sedentary lifestyle put pressure on the sciatic nerve.

Practice a stretching program daily, or at least before your rowing session, and watch your form while rowing. If you observe these small changes in your regimen, you’ll continue to enjoy rowing even if you have sciatica.

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