Is a Rowing Machine Bad for Your Back?

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If you’re considering buying this exercise machine, you’re probably aware of the many benefits of rowing. The question is whether it is a good choice if you’re prone to back pain.


We can’t deny the fact that the chances of back problems are significantly higher if you are a rowing machine user. Let’s take a look at why this is the case, and whether there is a way to prevent back pain and continue rowing.

can you get back pain on a rowing machine

Rowing machines belong to the group of low-intensity exercise gears. They work on multiple muscle groups, and they can also help with losing weight. It is interesting to note that the lower body does more than 60% of the work in this exercise, so it is crucial to have strong core and legs.

Experts recommend rowing for injury recovery, too, and that’s one more reason to own and use this machine. If that is so, then there’s no reason to think that rowing can be bad for your back.

See Our Top Rowers if you have Back Pain Issues!

Can I Use a Rowing Machine for Back Pain?

Yes, you can, but that depends on what’s causing your back pain.

If your back muscles are sore due to a posture problem, a day job that requires you to slouch and be sedentary, your age, a medical condition or an injury, then rowing will be perfect for you. 

Not so fast, though, you’re better off consulting your doctor and seeking clearance first. Exercise is usually part of the therapy that doctors prescribe for people suffering from a bad back, and rowing is one of the best forms of exercise for that.

Why do I say so? Rowing is low-impact – which means that it’s gentle on your joints. That’s the reason why indoor rowers are the fitness machine of choice for seniors and people recuperating from an illness or injury.

Not only that, it’s a total-body workout that engages the major muscle groups of your body. In other words, you get all your exercise requirements in one machine. In time, your muscles become stronger and more capable of supporting your back, easing pressure on the joints and reducing pain. 

Now, if your back pain is caused by rowing – or should I say, ‘rowing incorrectly’ – you should stop immediately. Let the pain subside, and honestly, I don’t want you aggravating a painful back with your incorrect rowing methods. So, do yourself a favor and just stop for now.

Take this time-off as an opportunity to evaluate your rowing form and technique. Video-record yourself while you row and ask for feedback from a coach or a rowing friend. It’s also worth your time to take basic rowing lessons. Only when you’re sure that you’ve gotten it down to a fine art should you resume with your regular rowing routine. 

Aside from rowing properly, you should know your limits. Don’t row too long or too hard, since this will definitely take a toll on your body, especially your back.    

How to Avoid Lower Back Pain When Rowing

 

The first thing to do is warm up before engaging your body in a strenuous workout. Be kind to yourself and make a promise that you will NEVER row again without warming up first.

Do the exercise properly and avoid burdening your back muscles with too much stress. It is all about keeping the right posture and applying the right technique.

If you’re meeting the fitness machine for the first time, try to assess your capabilities. It is crucial to be honest when it comes to what you can do. Try setting a low damper resistance first, and only increase it if it feels too easy.

Remember, you will work out on this machine for a long time. Avoid pushing yourself to the limit right away, but find optimal resistance.

Now, here is how to row properly:

  1. Find the footpad of the machine and put your feet squarely in the center of it.
  2. Now, grab the handle, and put it in the overhand position. You want a firm grip, but not too tight and uncomfortable.
  3. Position yourself to the back of the exercise machine. Do not bend your knees and hold the legs straight.

During the exercise itself, you don’t want your body to be too tight. Tightening the muscles too much might lead to injury, and that is not something you want to see happening. Try consulting a friend who is an expert rower, or a gym instructor. They can ensure that you’re doing everything right and offer tips on improving posture.

Read My Article on the Right Way to Use Rowing Machines

Why Could A Rowing Machine Cause Back Pain?

how to avoid back pain when rowingWhile exercising, you’re making your lower back muscles work. Rowing puts a strain on this muscle group, and that is something you must consider.

Some people tend to be more susceptible to back issues. The fact that your lower back is under stress during exercise doesn’t help. You may also tighten this muscle group while exercising because you either expect the pain or see it. That can contribute to the back issues you may feel later.

Your age is also important for back pain. It doesn’t come as strange that you develop a higher risk for back issues as you get older. Older adults are specifically prone to these problems.

It seems like it is simple to exercise on this machine. However, once you try it for the first time, it may be surprising how much effort you need. Additionally, you need maximum focus so that you can exercise properly.

If you were wondering why it could be bad for your back, it is because it can cause injuries. Many back injuries are a consequence of not performing the stroke as you should. You may lose your focus or misjudge the power a stroke requires. As a result, you may move your upper body to the back too fast.

Read More About the Teeter Rower – Ideal for Back Pain!

You may even do everything properly, except for judging how long your back can hold on doing the exercise. The goals you set may be too ambitious. That is why you force yourself to row for a long time, and that results in muscle pain. Your back is the first muscle group that will react to the extra stress.

What to Do If You Feel Back Pain from Rowing

If you’re experiencing back pain, it is important to stop exercising immediately. Monitor the pain you feel for several days, and see if there is any improvement. As long as you’re in pain, you shouldn’t exercise on the machine.

Feel free to do crunches, sit-ups, and other exercises that do not burden your back muscles. It is critical to let them heal to avoid any long-term back issues.

You can help your back pain by stretching regularly, too. That means not only before and after working out, but also during the recovery process.

If you’ve wondered whether a rowing machine could be bad for your back, the bad news is that it could be, but you can minimize the risk if you exercise properly and perform the strokes correctly.  I suggest you give it a go, you might be pleasantly surprised!

On a side note:  If you do suffer from back pain I highly recommend the Teeter FitSpine – I love this machine, I use this daily right before I go to bed – I invert for 3 – 5 minutes and it has done wonders for my back issues!  Yes that’s a personal recommendation from me!

Teeter FitSpine LX9 Inversion Table

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Frequently Asked Questions

1. Are rowing machines OK for bad backs?

Yes, rowing machines are beneficial for people with bad backs. Of course, you should first seek medical clearance from your doctor to avoid aggravating your injury or condition. Rowing is a perfect choice because it is low impact, meaning it won’t pound on your joints, and it’s a full-body exercise, which is what you need to strengthen your muscular system, including your core and back muscles.

2. Is a rowing machine bad for your lower back?

Working out on a rowing machine is low impact and, thus, will not cause any injury to your muscles and joints. It’s a full body exercise, which makes it ideal for overall fitness. In short, a rowing machine is never bad for your lower back. It’s safe even for people who suffer from physical disabilities or are recuperating from illnesses. The important thing to remember is to perform the strokes correctly. Make sure to learn the basics before working out on a rower.

3. How do I protect my back while rowing?

It’s all about rowing with the correct form and technique. To protect your back when doing your rowing workout, you need to do some stretching exercises first to relax your tight muscles and limbs. On the rower, start by sitting up tall with an open chest. Take the correct starting position – legs bent on the knees, shins vertical, upper body slightly leaning forward, and arms extended to hold the chain. Don’t round your back; instead, bend on your hip. Begin the drive with a push from your legs, and as you extend your legs, open your chest and hip angle. Make sure to pivot from your hips as you tighten your abdominals. This technique is called the hip hinge, which loads weight primarily to your glutes and hamstrings, powering the rowing motions while protecting your spine.

4. Can I use a rowing machine with a lower back pain?

It depends on the reason for your lower back pain. Poor posture, lack of activity, over-exertion, or an injury can cause pain in the lower back. Rowing can actually help you ease your back pain, but I suggest that you see a doctor first to avoid aggravating your condition. Exercising is often recommended as part of a therapy to strengthen back muscles, and rowing is one of the best ways to do that. If you experience back pain as a result of using a rowing machine, it is best to stop immediately. Take a rest for a few days. Evaluate your rowing technique before resuming with your workout routines. Better yet, refer to a coach or a friend who knows about rowing to make sure that you’re performing the rowing movements correctly.

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