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“We Don’t Just Talk About Rowing – We Actually Row!”

Get Killer Abs with the Correct Rowing Machine Form

correct rowing machine form

Before I started rowing on a regular basis, I had very little idea about what a rowing machine really was. I saw them at the gym and since I live near the water, I also saw people rowing their boats or kayaks, but I never really made the connection between indoor and outdoor rowing machines.

Proper Rowing Machine Form 

I bet that the first time I sat down and started using a rowing machine at the gym, some of the more experienced people were probably laughing a bit behind my back. I had no idea what the proper rowing form was, let alone know how to do it myself.

Everyone is a beginner at one time or another. If you haven’t used a rowing machine and you would like to start but can’t imagine where to begin, or if you’ve started using one but you aren’t sure you’re doing it right, then this article is going to be very helpful.

More than anything else, I want to help beginners avoid the typical back, wrist, and elbow pain that come with doing the rowing strokes incorrectly.

Rowing is so much fun and it’s the best workout ever, in my opinion, so once you get the proper rowing stroke form down, you will find that rowing is addictive!

Are you ready to get on the rowing machine with confidence? Today’s article will have you rowing like a champ in no time, so let’s go!

Watch our video on Correct Rowing Machine Form by Olympic Rower Rachael Taylor:


What Is the Proper Form for a Rowing Machine?

Having the proper form for the rowing stroke is vital to avoid injury and get the most from your indoor rowing workout.

proper rowing machine form

Each stroke has four phases to it. Let me take you step by step through the entire process so you can get a better understanding of how this works.

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The Correct Rowing Form in Each of the Four Phases of a Rowing Stroke

  1. You start off with the Catch position. Sit on the seat and push it towards the front of the machine (near the handle). Grab the handle but don’t keep a death grip on it. Put your hands on the outer edges of the handle and just keep it from slipping out of your grasp. Your knees are bent, but your booty should not be touching your heels. Keep your back straight at all times! Do not slouch forward into a “C”, and use your stomach muscles to keep your body upright. The Catch is the starting position.
  2. This portion is called the Drive. Push your legs back. Keep your arms extended, you aren’t ready to pull on that handle just yet. Let your legs do the work. Really push with your legs until your legs are fully extended and don’t forget to sit up straight.
  3. The Finish is the release portion of the rowing stroke. It is when you lean back ever so slightly (Think about a clock: Lean your body back just a bit to the 11 o’clock position). With a light arm pull, bring the handle towards your chest. Keep your elbows close to your ribcage and pull outwards just a bit towards your lower chest.
  4. The last step is called the Recovery. Let your arms extend forward once more, keep your back straight, and bend your knees so you return to the start position. Don’t let your upper back hunch forward too much. Use those abdominals to keep your torso at about the 1 o’clock position.

This might sound complicated, but it’s nowhere near as difficult as it sounds. For those of you who have trouble picturing what I’ve just described, this short but entertaining video will help. He has some great tips that will help beginners get the right feel for the proper rowing strokes.

Watch our YouTube video by expert rower Max Secunda explaining how to get killer abs with a rowing machine:


How Do You Know If You Are Rowing Correctly?

This is where I tell you my little secret for learning to row. While I didn’t have trouble learning to row in class, I discovered that once I got home and no one was there to correct me, I returned to some bad habits and my back started aching.

Here is my secret for success while using a rowing machine: Use a mirror.

A simple mirror was taken off of the back of my bedroom door and propped up alongside the rowing machine where I could watch myself helped me tremendously!

Once I started watching myself during every part of the stroke, I saw where I was making my mistakes. I leaned back too far on the Recovery and pushed my butt out ahead of my legs on the Drive.

proper technique for a rowing machine

I watched myself for several workouts until I was fairly sure that I was doing everything right. I kept my core engaged, my shoulders relaxed, and my legs straight on the drive phase.

Then I set up a video camera and recorded my workouts. I still found a few minor errors, so I made a mental note and recorded my workouts probably for the better part of 3 months before I felt that I had the rowing technique down pat.

What Does It Mean When You Feel Sore after a Rowing Workout?

Remember that it is normal to feel some soreness. When shoulders feel sore or you find that your core muscles or other muscles in the upper body are sore, these are signs that you are doing a great body workout.

proper rower form

There is a difference between sore muscles and real pain. In most instances, sore muscles will be in the middle of the muscle, like the tops of your thighs or the top of your shoulders. When you aren’t performing the rowing technique correctly, you will most likely feel pain in or near the joints, such as the wrist, the lower or upper back, or the elbows.

Watch our YouTube Video from our expert rowing trainer Rachael Taylor as she shares her top 10 tips on using the rowing machine:

Should You Lean Back when Rowing?

Yes, you should lean back, but not too far. You may see many athletes really lean far back but do not attempt this until you are at a very advanced level. You are really asking for a lower back injury if you try to bend back too far.

man showing proper seated row form

Think of your torso as the hands of a clock. Lean back to the 11 O’clock position and no further. Really engage those core muscles when you do this to control your upper body. Keep the back straight as you lean forward from the hip flexors.

If you can’t control your torso, give yourself some time. Your muscular strength will improve with time and before you know it, your strong core muscles will enable you to have more control. 

Learn about the Hydrow Rowing Machine

The Bottom Line

If you’re a beginner, you should practice the proper rowing stroke and feel very comfortable doing it before attempting to increase speed.

This is the most important thing when it comes to indoor rowing. I’ve seen too many beginners ditch their rowing machine because they never learned the proper rowing technique. They injured themselves, so they gave up.

Don’t be a quitter! Rowing is the best full-body exercise on the planet. Take a few hours to learn the right body movements, and you will be ahead of the game.

Happy rowing!