How to Row Correctly on a Rowing Machine

Pete Donohoe and Peter Donohoe

The year is 2022 and, more than ever, you don't have to sign up to a gym to work out. If there's one silver lining from the Covid-19 pandemic, it's that more people in the UK have discovered the benefits of working out at home.

If there's one piece of at-home workout equipment that does it all, it's the rowing machine. However, you still need to know how to use it properly for both safety and results.

When it comes to technique, we're always here to help. Let's talk about tips and tricks to get the most out of your equipment.

The correct rowing machine form

Rowing, when done properly, is an explosive movement that you will repeat over and over, working dozens of muscles throughout the body.

For this reason, the right technique is essential to avoiding injury. If you are repeating the same explosive motion without proper form for hours of your week, then it can result in harm.

However, when done correctly, you will see results much faster than any other cardio machine.

Get into position

First, grasp the handle with both hands, and ensure your grip is even on either side. Then, you should straighten your back so it is perpendicular to the floor, get comfortable and secure in the seat, and double-check your feet positioning.


While rowing is widely considered a pulling movement, it starts with a push from your legs. This is the most important part of the movement, as it should generate the most power.

To start the movement, push with your legs until extended. You can practice this motion slowly without moving your upper body (keep your back straight) until you get used to the movement.


Next, just as your legs fully extend, build off the momentum they’ve generated and complete the pull back movement with your arms. Lean back 20 to 30 degrees and pull with your arms until the handle reaches your chest (no higher!) for the full range of motion.

You can also practice this part, without using your legs by keeping them straight or slightly bent, and focus on your pull form.

For more information, check out the Hydrow YouTube channel. Plus, once you purchase a Hydrow rower and activate your membership, you can access multiple introductory workouts to get you rowing safely and efficiently.

Most common rowing mistakes 

Now that you know the proper form, knowing what to avoid is just as important. Here are the most common mistakes beginners make on rowing machines.

It’s not just an arms workout

One of the most common assumptions is that rowing only works your arm muscles. In actual fact, the majority of the force you generate should come from your legs, as they are the strongest muscle group in your body. Your back and your arms should then exert proportional force, rather than equal. All of this means you will get a highly efficient full-body workout and work almost double the muscles used when running or cycling.

The lower back is one of the most sensitive parts of the human body, and it needs to be used correctly.

After pushing with your legs, lean back slightly to help work your core. You don't want to go more than 20 to 30 degrees, and you certainly don't want to arch your back forward at any point during the motion.

Arching your back or excessive movement

Try to keep your back as straight as possible. With the right technique, rowing will help with posture as well as build muscle.

Limiting range of motion

Each repeated rowing movement should start as close to the catch as possible, and it should be pulled back all the way to your chest. Remember, most of the power should come from your legs!

Adjusting your set up

Once you have your new rowing machine, it's time to set it up. With Hydrow, it’s easy. You just need to adjust the foot straps to your shoe size, in order to hold your feet firmly in place.

By sitting on the seat, ensure that your body and the seat are able to slide back and forth without any obstructions. Make sure to keep enough distance from walls and furniture!

And whenever your fancy an On-the-mat workout with Hydrow, simply angle the screen to the side and lay your yoga mat down beside your rower.

Varying your rowing machine workout routine

Fortunately, it's easy to monitor progress with a rowing machine, and there are plenty of on-demand workout options available on a rower like Hydrow.

Keep an eye on your splits and try to gradually - but safely - improve them each week. The Hydrow community will be (remotely) on hand to encourage you with kind words and kudos.

Once you've reach your initial goals, there's nothing stopping you from adding new exercises into your routine. You can generate a highly effective workout using just your body weight, both on and off your Hydrow. By adding complementing push motions like push-ups, dips, and tricep extensions into your rowing routine, you will effectively target even more muscles at no extra cost, all from the comfort of your spare room or at-home gym.

Why stop there? With no additional equipment, you can perform squats, lunges, jumping jacks, and so many more bodyweight exercises along with your rowing sessions, which will help you develop an even more well-rounded and functional physique. However, rowing acts as an excellent, full-body "base" for any workout!

Lastly, you can also use a rower to isolate your upper or lower body if you wish. Keep your legs straight and only use your back and arms (all the while maintaining proper form) to isolate your lats and biceps more, or keep your arms still to focus your legs.

Enjoy your workout with the right rowing machine technique

Now that you’re aware of the importance of technique, put these tips to good use and stay safe. When using proper form, few exercises compare to the benefits of rowing - it’s our best kept secret! (And we can’t wait to share it with you.)Stay up to date with our latest rowing tips and feel free to contact us with any questions!

Peter Donohoe

Peter is our head strength and movement specialist. As an Olympian, conditioning coach, and corrective exercise specialist, Peter’s methodology continues to influence the movement of athletes from many sports. Join Peter for On the Mat workouts and benefit from increased mobility and enhanced performance.