Written by James Cooper
Last Updated

What’s your go-to piece of equipment? Rowing machines used to be one of the more neglected pieces of equipment in the gym, perhaps due to a perception they were hard to use, but now they are growing in popularity again but it’s important to know how to use one safely and effectively. 

Misuse of a rowing machine can lead to sore shoulders and backs or even worse, an actual injury and there are many common mistakes people make when trying one out for the first time. Here they are, so you can avoid making the same ones: 

How to use a rowing machine
Hunching over your back

If you are hunching over it means your shoulders are doing all the work on the rowing machine and will end up sore. You need to improve your posture by pushing your shoulders back and opening your chest. It’s important not to have any tension across your neck while rowing and try taking deep breaths while you row, it’s a quick way to make you sit  up straighter and stop hunching.

Creating a scoop motion

When you row, if you find yourself bending your knees before you fully stretch out your arms, you will end up creating a scoop motion otherwise the oar will hit your legs. You need to make sure all of your techniques are correct otherwise every incorrect movement will lead to another one.

Lifting the oar up too high

You don’t need to pull the oar right up to your chin, that’s a bad move and you will end up using up more energy than you need to. The oar should come to a stop just below your chest, no higher. You should be using your back muscles to pull the oar inward towards your chest. 

Don’t let your knees drop

While you should be relaxed, your legs need to be engaged while rowing so don’t flop your knees out too wide to the sides. Your thighs should be working to keep your knees together and prevent that flopping.

Don’t grip the oar too hard

It can be easy to grip the oar far too hard, creating a lot of tension around your wrists and arms but this is totally unnecessary. Just relax your hands, try only holding on with three fingers and don’t wrap them right round the oar. It should be your back muscles working not your hands.

Techniques to use when rowing

So now you know the most common mistakes to avoid when using a rowing machine so let’s look at some other techniques that you should be using to get the most out of your exercise and to avoid those sore shoulders and back problems. 

It’s important to keep the focus on using all of your lower body muscles during rowing so focus on using your glutes, hamstrings, and quads, to get the rhythm going and to power the machine. Here are some key moves to try:

Do leg isolation exercises

Hold the oar out with your arms fully extended but keep your knees bent tight. Engage your core and push hard with your legs until they are fully extended as well. You don’t move your arms while doing this move. It will exercise your legs and teach you the techniques.

Try some arm isolation exercises

This time, keep your legs straight and pull the oar in to your chest. Keep your elbows bent outwards and bring the oar to chest level. Continue using your arms and make sure your back muscles are engaged as you keep your legs straight.

Combine the two movements

Once you have practiced both movements, you can combine them together working legs, then arms, to create the perfect rowing motion. Using a rowing machine is a great workout for the whole body when it is done properly.

Conclusion

Rowing machines have been a staple of the gym for a long time but can seem intimidating to new gym goers or anyone who has never used one before. And using one incorrectly, such as making the common mistakes highlighted above, can lead to very sore muscles and injury, which might put you off using one again. 

But getting the right technique through practice and training, will help you to improve you overall stamina and fitness while giving both your legs and your upper body muscles an amazing workout at the same time. 

If you are unsure about how to use a rowing machine at your gym, don’t be put off, ask one of the gym instructors or personal trainers for a quick training session so they can show you how it works and make sure you are using the correct techniques. 

Rowing with bad posture will lead to pain and injury so if you are coming away from your sessions hurting then you are doing it wrong. 

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