Beginner’s Guide To Rowing

By: Chris Freytag, CPT // August 10, 2017

Tired of the elliptical? Bored with the treadmill? Confused with where to go in the weight room? Maybe its time to make your way over to the one machine in the gym you haven’t tried. It’s time for you to try indoor rowing! Indoor rowing has gained a renewed popularity, and for good reason. Rowing is the definition of a full-body workout: it uses all your major muscle groups and gives you a killer cardio workout to boot! If you’ve walked by the rowing machines at the gym before and not known what to do, have no fear—we’re here to teach you the basics of how to use a rowing machine, why indoor rowing is such a great workout, and how to row on an indoor machine successfully. Read on to learn why rowing might just become your new favorite workout.


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    What Is Indoor Rowing?

    You’ve seen crew teams at college campuses row on the water, right? Indoor rowing machines take that action and bring it indoors. Indoor rowing machines, also called “ergs” or “ergometers,” have long been used by crew teams who want to maintain their training during the winter months. But over the years, they’ve also gained popularity with other people—anyone who wants a total-body workout that’s low-impact and gets your heart rate up. Most gyms have rowing machines, and there are even some group fitness rowing classes you can take.

    Benefits Of Indoor Rowing

    There are so many benefits to indoor rowing, it’s no surprise that it’s become the latest trend not only with trainers and their clients, but as a group fitness workout too. Here are just a few benefits of indoor rowing:

    1. It’s Low Impact

    Rowing is a low-impact cardio workout that’s easy on your joints because of the simple gliding motion. You’re not pounding your feet on the pavement on a run, but you’re still getting your heart rate up.

    2. Gives You A Full-Body Workout

    You might not guess that rowing is a full-body workout, but it is! You actually use about 85% of your muscles on a rowing machine.Your legs, arms, and core are all utilized, making it a great way to tone all of those areas at once!

    3. It Can Be Meditative

    Rowing requires tons of mental concentration, making it a somewhat meditative experience. People who row often will tell you it’s a way for them to clear their head, like running or biking is for some people.

    4. It’s Simple and For Everyone

    Rowing is an exercise that can be done by all ages, body types and fitness levels from beginners to professional athletes. You don’t have to have any special training to hop on a rowing machine. Plus, the learning curve is simple: most people can learn how to do it in just a few minutes!

    5. You Burn A Ton Of Calories

    Rowing can surprisingly burn a ton of calories. It stands to reason that when you engage that many muscles, you use a bunch of energy. Energy equals calories burned. A 160-pound person will burn about 250 calories in just 30 minutes!

    How To Use An Indoor Rowing Machine

    First things first, pay attention to your form. It’s a simple movement to learn, but since it does utilize multiple muscle groups, there’s a specific order you want to move through. Focus on your legs, arms, and core; then reverse that order to go back to the starting position. Here’s what it looks like:

    • The position you start in is called the catch. Grab the handle and make your seat is edged up to the front of the machine, close to your heels. Make sure your shins are perpendicular to the ground.
    • Pull the handle back and really focus on using the strength of your legs to power your movement. (Rowing experts suggest that about 60% of the power for this exercise should come from your legs.) Push all the way back until your legs are straight, then…
    • Pull the handle in a straight line until it hits just above your belly button. Be sure to squeeze your shoulder blades together.
    • Once your legs are fully straight and you have the handle above your belly button, lean ever-so-slightly back to engage your core.
    • Now reverse these motions. So you go core, arms, and legs back to the starting position or “catch.”

    The Two Different Types of Rowing Machines

    There are two different types of rowing machines, although the first is predominantly what you’ll see in a gym setting.

    Air or “Flywheel” Rowing Machine

    This type of rowing machine has a wheel at the end of it with a fan inside—hence being called a “flywheel” machine. As you row, your force spins the wheel, creating resistance through the air pushing against the fan blades. These types of rowing machines are pretty standard and frequently used in indoor rowing competitions.

    Water Rower

    These rowing machines use water for resistance instead of air, because there’s a water tank at the end of the machine with the fan inside. These machines use the density of the water to mimic rowing on a boat. These are slightly quieter than the flywheel machines.

    6 Tips For Your Best Rowing Workout

    Before you jump onto a rowing machine and start to pull, there are a few tips you should know to help you perform the exercise properly, avoid injury, and get the most from your workout every time you sit down. Here are some things to consider.

    1. Rowing is a full body exercise

    Initiate the movement from your legs. 60% of the movement should come from your legs, 20% from the core, and 20% of your upper body—in that order. Make sure to begin the movement with your legs and follow through with the rest.

    2. Core is king

    Though only 20% of your work comes from your core, that is a crucial 20%. It is extremely important that you watch your posture, keep your back long, your shoulders down, and abs pulled in tightly. TRAINER’S TIP: Exhale as you exert the force to pull.

    3. Handle alignment matters

    When you pull the handle to your body it should end up just below your chest. Initiate the pull with your upper back and latissimus dorsi and be sure to engage the proper muscles.

    4. Do your intervals

    Interval training is a proven way to burn more fat and calories as well as get fit more quickly. Interval training on the rowing machine is as simple as on any other machine. Go hard for a period of time followed by a period of rest. You could row for distance, time or calories burned in your interval, depending on what you prefer.

    5. Cross-train

    As with all activities, it’s good to mix up the way you work out. Use the rowing machine as part of your entire fitness plan. It’s still important to fit in time to strength train and build up your core. This will all enhance your rowing technique and make you more efficient.

    6. Use the power of people

    Spinning alone on an indoor cycle can get long and boring. Jumping into a spin class, however, suddenly pumps up the energy in a whole new way. The same goes for indoor rowing. Find a partner or group to do it with, or better yet, if you can find an indoor rowing studio and jump into a class, you might just become an indoor rowing addict!

    Now that you know that ins and outs of rowing, try it for yourself! Adding some variety to your exercise regimen is the best way to avoid boredom and keep seeing the best results possible.

    Beginner Guides, Fitness, Workouts

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    on Reply

    Amazing information I will tag my friends here this information is valuable.

    on Reply

    I am looking for a rowing machine. Could please tell me which one would be perfect? BTW, Thanks for this guide

      on Reply

      Hi Daniel - we've never purchase a rowing machine ourselves as we've only used them in the gym, but here's an article you might be interested in:

    on Reply

    I think this is a creative workout with a machine in the house, I usually practice at the gym, sometimes rowing to strengthen my biceps muscles. Thank you for suggesting this home gym. Chester.

    on Reply

    Excellent! Looks quick and effective. Smart workout

    on Reply

    This is a great video, thank you. Great tips and advice

    on Reply

    Very informative site, so many interesting and new. Thank you for your work!!!

    on Reply

    Rowing machines really great for daily workouts, it's effect on full body parts, your post really nice, Thank you for share :)

    on Reply

    Do these tips hold true for rowing exercise with resistance bands?

      on Reply

      Well - cardio rowing machines are a little different - they really keep your heart rate up and are powered by air or water. Rowing with resistance bands is still a great workout but just not the same motion… rowing machines involve the whole body:)

    (This will help us personalize your experience so that you can get the best advice possible from us!)
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