The only organized sport I’ve ever participated in was crew. (I train for the sport of life!)
Way back when I ‘manned’ the number two seat in an eight woman boat. Despite despising the 5 am workouts, I enjoyed the time spent on the water, the camaraderie of the group and the weekend regattas/48-hour long parties.
Because spring training began long before the lake thawed, I also learned how to use the rowing machine.
Lately, I’ve been re-visiting my youth; turns out that the rowing machine is one of the few forms of cardio training that doesn’t aggravate my Achilles tendonitis. In addition to being a great cardio workout, rowing is also a fantastic, whole-body strength workout. Legs, butt, arms, back and core are all required to work together to move the ‘boat’ through the water.
People new to the rowing machine often complain of a sore back; both lower and upper back pain can be caused by improper form.
In addition to giving them a program to strengthen their mid-section (check out this challenging core workout), I also spend considerable time on technique, explaining the three phases of the stroke and reminding them of what the various movements are supposed to be simulating (funny how most people forget that the handle they’re holding represents an oar which must be moved efficiently through the water to propel the boat forward).
Improve your own form using the (blurry iPhone) photos and tips below.
How to use the rowing machine
Set yourself up for success:
- Choose your resistance level. Most rowing machines have a ‘fly’ wheel with a dial for changing resistance. If you’re new to rowing, set the resistance between 3 and 5. Work on form before increasing resistance to avoid putting excess strain on your lower back.
- Find a comfortable position on the seat. Make sure you’re centred and that the seat slides easily from back to front.
- Place your feet in the stirrups. Adjust the foot plates so that the straps cross your foot midway between your ankle and toes. Ensure that the straps are done up tightly to prevent your feet from slipping as you start to row.
- Reach forward and grab the handle with palms facing down and hands approximately shoulder width apart. Keep your grip on the handle relaxed to avoid forearm fatigue.
Phase 1: The Catch
- Begin with the seat close to the fly wheel, hinged forward from the hips and arms outstretched in front.
- Knees will be in line with your ankles with your shins perpendicular to the floor.
- Your back will be nearly straight, with a slight forward lean at the top.
Phase 2: The Drive
- Press through your heels to push the seat backwards, straightening your legs as you do so.
- Keep your arms extended until your knees are about half way down. At this point, start pulling the handle back towards your body.
- Once legs are extended fully (knees will be soft, never locked), continue pulling handle towards your body (between lower ribs and navel), elbows driving backwards and slightly out to the sides, shoulders staying down away from your ears.
- Keeping your back straight, lean back slightly to finish the stroke.
- Wrists should remain straight at all times.
Phase 3: The Recovery
- From the ‘legs outstretched’ position, straighten arms and reach them forwards.
- Once the handle has reached your knees, bend legs so that the ‘slide’ moves forward as well.
- Return to starting position, with arms fully outstretched and hips hinged forward.
Imagine you’re on the water:
- Focus on increasing the length of your stroke; reach forward and lean back farther to move the boat through the water more quickly.
- Aim to keep the chain parallel to the floor throughout your stroke. Doing so increases the efficiency of the movement and just feels more professional!
- Keep your eyes forward. Not only will it minimize upper back and neck fatigue, lateral movements as small as the turning of one oarswoman’s head can throw off the balance of the boat.
- Don’t slow down until you’re past the finish line! Races are often won or lost by mere inches!
I love to finish my strength training sessions with cardio intervals on the rowing machine. Try the following program below for a great, full body workout (and a ‘finisher’ to boot)!
If you liked this video and/or plan on trying the workout, please ‘like’, ‘pin’ and ‘share’!
Are you a rowing machine fan?
Ever rowed in a ‘real’ boat?