How to Use a Rowing Machine to Achieve Your Fitness Goals

Hydrow Marketing Team

Chances are, you’ve never really learned how to use a rowing machine. In fact, you may have never used one before at all! Many adults have tried a treadmill, exercise bike, or elliptical, but a much smaller portion of the population has actually tried a rowing machine. 

The good news is that if you’ve landed here, you’re ready to give rowing a try. We have your back (and your arms, legs, and core). In this guide, we’ll cover: 

In this guide, we’ll cover:

  • How to choose the right rowing machine for you

  • The setup and requirements for using a rowing machine

  • How to use a rowing machine with proper form

  • How long rowing machine workouts should last

  • Guided vs. unguided rowing workouts

Let’s get started!

How to choose the right rowing machine for you

When you’re learning how to use a rowing machine, it’s important that you are using a rowing machine that is best suited for your needs. There are a few important factors to consider:

  • Weight restrictions

  • Height restrictions

  • Resistance mechanism

  • Support for guided workouts

Weight restrictions for rowing machines

Rowing machine weight restrictions will vary depending on which rowing machine you choose. Limitations vary drastically. For example, Hydrow and the Hydrow Wave have a weight limit of 375 lbs, while a cheap rowing machine from an online retailer might have a 220-pound weight limit. When you’re choosing which rowing machine is right for you, you’ll want to make sure the weight capacity supports you (and everyone else in your household who may want to row, too).

Height restrictions for rowing machines

Height restrictions play an equally important role in determining the right rowing machine for you. The length of the rowing machine wild determine what the appropriate maximum user height is. 

To use Hydrow as an example again, both Hydrow models support up to a 36-inch inseam (the measurement from the uppermost part of your inner thigh down to your ankle). Other rowing machines may support a shorter inseam (aka shorter people).

Resistance mechanism on rowing machines

The resistance mechanism is quite possibly the most diverse aspect of a rowing machine when making a comparison. You’ll see water tanks, fans, electromagnetic, and more. Each type of resistance has its selling points and downfalls. The biggest factors you should consider include: 

  • How easily they adjust

  • The range of resistance they support

  • The amount of noise they make 

  • The smoothness of the resistance

  • The ease of maintenance (as machines with chains or water may require more complicated maintenance than those that don’t)

Support for guided rowing workouts

When deciding which rowing machine is right for you, you’ll want to weigh the importance of having a “connected” rower that supports guided workouts through a subscription service. These memberships provide guided workouts that will support your fitness goals. 

Each subscription has its own pros and cons, so if you’re looking for guided workouts, it’s important to compare the type of content the machine and platform supports. If you aren’t looking for guided workouts or other fitness content, you may opt for a machine without connected features.

The setup and requirements for using a rowing machine

When it comes to the setup and requirements of your rowing machine, it depends on which machine you choose (once again, everyone’s favorite answer!). As a general rule, you should leave around two feet of space between your rowing machine and anything else like walls or furniture. This allows you to have the space for proper form without the risk of hitting something. 

When your machine is not in use, you may be able to store it vertically. Many rowers require additional hardware (like a vertical storage kit or mount) to ensure safe storage, while others may fold for more compact storage. 

If you’ve opted for a connected rowing machine, you’ll also likely need to set up both a power and internet connection before using your rower. Power is still often required for rowing machines without connected functions, though internet connection is not usually mandatory.

How to use a rowing machine with proper form

When you’re learning how to use a rowing machine, the first step is learning proper rowing form. Using proper form will reduce your risk of injury and support more powerful strokes. 

Proprioception, or how aware your body is of itself as it moves through space, is important in proper form. It may take some time for you to become aware of how your body moves, but as you learn to row and pay attention to how different muscle groups work together, you’ll learn to row more effectively. 

So, what does proper rowing form look like? Take a look:

Looking for a step-by-step walkthrough of your rowing form? Check out How to Row Correctly on a Rowing Machine

There are some common errors that many rowing beginners make that you can easily avoid to encourage proper form.

Hand placement on handle

You’ll want to have your hands placed wide on the handle, with your pinkies towards the edge of the handle. Having a loose grip on the handle will provide a comfortable grip without straining your wrists or forearms. Think of your fingers acting as hooks to hold onto the handle (there’s no squeezing involved).

Foot placement 

Finding proper foot placement for your body is really about finding a comfortable position that you’re able to deliver force through the legs and hips efficiently. If your feet are too high in the stretchers, you’ll be getting in your own way coming back to the catch phase of the stroke. For most people, the strap should be over the ball of your foot, and we typically recommend adjusting the foot stretchers so the strap runs across the bottom eyelets of your sneakers or the widest part of your foot. 

Make sure you’re adjusting the footbed to a setting that allows for a comfortable range of motion. This setting may differ for each person in your home using the rowing machine, so remember which setting is right for you and adjust accordingly each time before you begin your rowing session.

Knees in or out, or aligned 

As you bend your knees, you want to find the alignment that is comfortable for you. Each body is different, so it’s important to listen to your body and find the position that works best for you. 

That being said, typically you’ll want to keep your knees in line between your hips and ankles. You want to avoid rocking your knees towards each other and letting them touch. This can cause additional strain and prevent you from getting the most out of your workout. Similarly, you’ll want to avoid sending your knees too far away from each other.

For more on rowing form, check out How to properly use a rowing machine

How long rowing machine workouts should last

Once you’ve nailed the proper rowing form, you’ll be able to start adding rowing into your fitness routine.  

Rowing is an efficient full-body workout — it doesn’t take long to get a sweat in. However, there are various health benefits to completing different durations or distances on your rower. The amount of time you should spend on your rower depends on your individual fitness goals.

Many people wonder how long their rowing workouts should be per day. Although seemingly a simple question, there are a few factors to consider when deciding how long your rowing workout should be. 

As previously mentioned, the first thing you want to recognize is your goals. Why are you rowing?

Whether you’re looking to cross-train, improve your health, establish a consistent routine, lose weight, get faster, or train for a race, all of these goals will influence the ideal duration of your workout. Take time to think about what is motivating you to row. 

If you’re new at this (welcome!), you’ll want to keep your rowing workouts on the shorter side to start. Give yourself some time to understand this new movement and avoid creating bad habits in your technique. As you continue to develop sound technique and fitness, you may gradually increase the length of your rows.  

If you’re prone to injury or facing health complications, you may also want to keep your rows on the shorter side. Rowing is a low-impact workout and it’s a workout for everyone! But first, you may want to consult your doctor or medical professional to address any initial individual concerns.

With that said, below is some insight into what different workout durations can provide you with!

  • Five- to 10-minute rowing workouts are short and perfect durations for warming up, cooling down, working on active recovery or getting in a quick sweat. A 10-minute rowing warmup can improve blood flow, boost focus, and help prevent injury. Cooling down for a similar time can speed up your body’s recovery post-workout.

  • Twenty-minute rowing workouts are a Hydrow favorite. A 20-minute row will aid in the release of neurochemicals that make you feel that “Hydrow High,” as we call it — the after-effect of a great rowing session. 

  • Thirty minutes is an ample amount of time for you to feel properly warmed up and fully engaged with your workout. Not only will you feel the endorphin release, but you’ll also build strength and stamina. 

  • Forty-five to 60 minutes on a rowing machine can be intimidating, for some but the benefit is well worth it. Rowing for 45 minutes is an excellent way to improve endurance, mental resilience and overall confidence.

Let’s talk distance! Similar to the sport of running, where runners train for 5K, 10K, and marathon events, in rowing, competitive rowers train for a 2K, 5K, or 6K races. If you are training for one of these events, the workouts you’ll do in preparation will vary in duration. 

No matter your goals, it’s important to mix in different durations, distances, and intensities, along with complementary movements such as mobility, strength, and yoga to add balance to your fitness routine. 

Hydrow offers a wide variety of workout durations (anything from five to 60 minutes) and intensities (Steady State, HIIT, Technique, Cardio) so that you can get the most of your time on a rowing machine.

Guided vs. unguided rowing workouts

Guided rowing workouts are led by an instructor or Athlete to coach you through the workout. These workouts are like what you’ll experience on a Hydrow, or other connected rowers like the NordicTrack RW900 or Peloton Row. However, not all connected rowing machines offer guided rows – for example, Ergatta provides gamified rows, but does not have instructor-led workouts. Each connected rowing machine will have different types of workouts and breadth of offerings in their library when it comes to rowing content. 

On Hydrow, guided rowing workouts are led by Hydrow Athletes who are trained to provide you with workout structure, guidance, motivation, technical reminders, and encouragement throughout the workout. Guided Hydrow workouts feature unique and beautiful rowing locations that keep you engaged from start to finish. 

You will also have the option to do unguided rowing workouts on Hydrow — these are self-led, at your own pace, without instruction or coaching. These workouts are also scenic and from the perspective of a rowing shell (boat). If you’ve used a rowing machine at your local gym, chances are you’ve done an unguided workout. 

So, what are the pros and cons to guided and unguided workouts? 

Guided rowing workouts

  • Pro: These provide guidance and structure to your workout and can be educational for improving your rowing technique. Guided rows keep rowing engaging and provide variety in your workouts.

  • Con: If your experience level is not aligned with the style of workout you’ve selected, it can be difficult to synchronize with the Athlete or instructor leading the workout. Guided workouts also typically have an additional cost associated — either a subscription fee or membership fee. 

Unguided rowing workouts

  • Pro: These allow you to row at your own pace and often do not come with an additional cost. However, some platforms like Hydrow offer scenic, unguided rows through their membership that provide a variety of settings to row in.

  • Con: Unguided rowing workouts don’t provide structure or guidance to help you improve your rowing technique.

How to set yourself up for successful rowing

Now that you’re armed with all this information, how do you set yourself up for a healthy and successful rowing workout? 

Start by focusing on your form. Take some time to learn to row properly and understand how  to listen to your body. 

Choose guided workouts that are appropriate for your experience level, or use unguided workouts while focusing on proper form and technique to help you advance on your own. 

Above all, find a routine that works for you and supports your fitness goals. Rowing can play different roles as your primary method of training, or as an element in cross training. With the proper foundations set, you’re sure to find the love of rowing that thousands of Hydrow members have found, too.