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The Boathouse arrow right Rowing Machine Form: How to Properly Use a Rowing Machine

Rowing Machine Form: How to Properly Use a Rowing Machine

January 18, 2020

Back in the day when you entered a gym, it wasn’t uncommon to see people waiting patiently for the treadmill to become available. In fact, the treadmill was so popular, other pieces of exercise equipment got pushed to the back to collect dust – like the rowing machine.

However, times have changed, and the humble rowing machine is making a reappearance. Experiencing a surge in popularity, the indoor rower is quickly becoming a fan favorite as more people are becoming aware of the incredible benefits a rowing-workout has to offer. 

If you are interested in learning more about one of the most versatile workout machines on the market and rowing machine form, then keep reading. In this article, we will cover:

– The four rowing motions and their proper techniques
– Common rowing mistakes
– The benefits of a rowing machine workout

The Four Rowing Motions

The rowing machine can sometimes be a little intimidating to those who haven’t had much practice with rowing technique. Do you lead with your legs or your arms? Should your shoulders feel sore? How do you position your feet? If you find yourself asking these questions, you’re not alone.

The most important thing to remember is: it’s about power, not speed.

The rowing machine form mimics the sensation of rowing on the open water. To have proper rowing machine form and to complete a proper stroke, it is important to understand the four motions that are involved with rowing: The Catch, The Drive, The Finish, and The Recovery. 

The Catch

The first rowing machine form motion of the rowing stroke is called the Catch. Sit tall on the rowing machine with your arms straight and your back upright. Your knees and ankles should be flexed so that your shins are vertical. From this position, use your lats to pull your shoulders down and engage your core. Then, lean forward slightly, still keeping your back tall.

The Drive

The next motion is known as the Drive. Begin by pushing with your legs while still contracting your core muscles. When your legs are straight, hinge at your hips and lean back to about 45 degrees. The last movement in this motion is an arm pull, bringing the handle towards your torso, roughly a few inches just above your belly button. Note the specific order of body movements: legs, core, hips, shoulders, and arms.

The Finish

The Finish is the resting position that is opposite of the catch position – however, you won’t rest here for very long. Legs are long, back and shoulders are leaning away from the legs, hands are still gripping the handle which is pulled in toward the body, and elbows are tucked in toward the torso. 

The Recovery

To complete the final motion called the Recovery, you will essentially just do the Drive movements in reverse order to return to the original catch position. Extend the arms, hinge the hips forward to bring the torso over the legs, then bend the knees. 

Voila, you’ve just made the first cycle in your Olympic full-body workout. 

Common Rowing Mistakes

Until you are accustomed to the rowing machine and how it works, keep practicing your stroke at low resistance, nice and slow, one stroke at a time, with plenty of warm-up and cool-down time. 

If you are having a tough time and aren’t getting the hang of it, try breaking down each move into a sequence: arms-body-legs as you pull up to the front of the machine, and legs-body-arms as you push off. Having proper rowing form is extremely important, and will help to mitigate the risk of injury. 

Here are some of the most common rowing mistakes to avoid.

Pulling Too Soon

Snatching back the handlebar before your legs have had a chance to fully extend can cause a significant blow of power, and place undue tension on your upper body. Pulling the handlebar is only ten percent of the stroke, so it should only take ten percent effort.

How to fix it: Simply make sure your hips and legs have extended to the complete extent of the movement prior to pulling the handlebar back to your torso. Keep in mind that the majority of the work of the stroke is in your hips and legs. 

Rushing The Slide

Rushing the slide means that you’re pulling yourself back to the starting position – the Catch – too fast. Doing this can throw off the entire rowing sequence, making the exercise less efficient and more likely to cause injury.

How to fix it: One simple solution is to practice the sequence without locking your feet in the stirrups, which will naturally make it much harder to pull yourself back too quickly. 

Hunching Your Back

Hunching, also known as rounding, usually means that you haven’t fully engaged your core muscles, which reduces power, decreases stability, and increases the risk of injury.

How to fix it: Take a deep breath, slow down, and focus on your form. Make sure to keep your back flat – not hunched – keeping your core muscles engaged. Maintain that posture and engagement through the duration of your workout.

Benefits of the Rowing Workout

What may, on the surface, look like a simple, basic movement is actually an effective, strength-and-endurance-building, full body workout. 

Here are some of the best benefits associated with rowing:

Utilizes every major muscle group 

Did you know that there are over 650 named skeletal muscles that make up your body? Each muscle has an important role, such as working to allow your heart to pump blood efficiently and facilitate movement. With that in mind, it goes without saying that full-body exercise is of the utmost importance for maintaining an active and healthy lifestyle. However, many people simply don’t have the time to hop from one machine to another in order to work out every major muscle group. The good news is that indoor rowing can help. According to a recent study from the English Institute of Sport, research suggests that the rowing machine engages over 86% of the muscles in the body, debunking the myth that the rower is only a leg and glutes workout.

Pushing from the Catch to the Drive engages all of the muscles in your lower body, primarily your quads, as well as your core, as you keep your torso upright and engaged. When you complete the stroke, pulling the handlebar engages many of the muscles in your upper body like your shoulder muscles, biceps, traps, and rhomboids. 

Helps to burn fat

Activating all of these muscle groups won’t only increase your calorie burn as you work out, but it also helps you to build more metabolically-active (fat-burning) tissue to help combat stubborn belly fat. It also amplified the “afterburn effect”, which is the number of calories you burn post-workout as your body recovers. 

Keeps impact low

If you talk to a long time runner, chances are they suffer from a little bit of knee pain. Running is an excellent way to get in shape, but it’s high-impact exercise. The indoor rower is low impact, meaning it will put little to no stress on your weight-bearing joints such as the knee, hip, or ankle. Think about it – you’re not pounding on your body when sitting nice and tall, smoothly rowing through a workout. 

Good cardio

In addition to building muscle, an indoor rower is an excellent choice for those looking for good cardio workouts. Rowing can help by strengthening your cardiovascular system, which includes the heart, blood vessels, and blood. Since rowing is such an intense workout, it requires your heart to work a little harder to transport oxygen and more blood throughout the body to fuel your working muscles. When your heart has to work harder, it gets in a great workout, too.

In Conclusion

An indoor rowing machine proves itself to be superior to other pieces of exercise equipment because it strengthens every muscle group in the body, helps to burn fat, is low impact, and offers good cardiovascular exercise. However, if you are new to this incredible machine, it’s important to take a step back to make sure you have proper rowing machine form and understand the four motions to complete a rowing stroke – the Catch, the Drive, the Finish, and the Recovery. Not having proper form can put you at risk for injury, which can slow you down immensely on your personal fitness journey. 

If you are considering an indoor rowing machine, it’s also important to keep in mind that not all machines are created equal. The Hydrow Rower was designed to create a compelling pathway to whole health for individuals of all fitness levels, providing a means for everyone to access the soothing experience and holistic benefits of rowing without actually having to get into a boat.

Hydrow is all about bringing the powerful impact of rowing directly to you, including the sights and sounds of being on the water, paired with challenging workouts and guidance from world-class athletes, all combining to provide a much-needed escape from the hustle and bustle of everyday life. 

We’re excited to help get you started on your journey not only into the world of rowing, but into a community of like-minded rowers looking to both challenges and support each other along the way. 


  1. https://www.wellandgood.com/benefits-of-rowing-machine/
  2. https://www.loc.gov/everyday-mysteries/item/what-is-the-strongest-muscle-in-the-human-body/
  3. https://insights.ovid.com/crossref?an=00005768-200803000-00026
  4. https://www.openfit.com/best-quad-exercises
  5. https://www.healthline.com/health/fitness-exercise/afterburn-effect-workouts#:~:text=Because%20your%20hard%20work%20doesn,exercise%2C%20your%20metabolic%20rate%20increases.&text=This%20causes%20an%20increase%20in,known%20as%20the%20afterburn%20effect.

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