Whether you’re just getting into rowing for the first time or are looking to level up your game with some fancy footwear, choosing the right shoes for rowing machine workouts is a big part of making sure you’re getting the most out of your hard work (and staying comfortable in the process).
However, many people are unclear about which shoes, exactly, are meant to be used for rowing. Can you slip into any old sneaker and call it a day, or do you need to invest in highly specialized kicks before you hop on your rower?
We chatted with our team of Hydrow Athletes and rowing experts to round up everything you need to know about picking the right shoes for your rowing workouts, including whether you should even wear shoes while rowing and what to look for in a rowing shoe.
Let’s dive in!
Should you wear shoes while rowing?
While you may assume you need special shoes just for your rowing workouts, many enthusiasts actually recommend going shoe-free.
The reason? Many traditional athletic shoes are designed with cushioning meant to absorb the shock of high-impact sports, such as running. As rowing is a lower-impact workout, this level of cushioning is simply unnecessary — and can create an undesirable gap between your foot and your machine.
According to Hydrow Athlete Mike, wearing no shoes at all lets you better maintain direct contact between your foot and your rower’s foot board.
“Additionally, your feet will be cooler and you won’t have to deal with stinky running shoes!” Mike says.
Rowing barefoot isn’t for everyone, however — some find the feeling of their bare feet against the strap to be uncomfortable and distracting. If you don’t want to go completely barefoot, we suggest wearing good-quality socks that go up high enough to cover your heel.
Mike also recommends testing this approach for at least five rows — if you’re still finding yourself getting uncomfortable, you’ll want to consider buying shoes specifically tailored to your rowing needs.
What should you look for in a rowing shoe?
While the best shoes for rowing machines will largely vary depending on your foot type and personal preferences, there are a few key features that rower-friendly shoes share.
According to Hydrow Athletes, three major factors to keep in mind when selecting shoes for rowing include:
Flexibility and support
If there’s anything our Athletes can agree on, it’s that comfort is the No. 1 factor to keep in mind when choosing a rowing shoe. Finding the motivation to work out is hard enough without adding painful footwear into the mix! If you’re comfortable, you’ll perform better and want to row more.
When trying on shoes, Hydrow Athletes Nick and Aquil recommend making sure they feel good both on and off your rowing machine. If they aren’t comfortable to stand in or walk in, they probably won’t feel great to row in.
One way to tell whether your shoe will fit with your rowing routine is to ensure you feel comfortable when your rowing machine’s straps are tight on the widest part of your shoe. Additionally, you want to make sure the heel of your shoe isn’t going to irritate your ankle as you are fully extended at the finish.
As mentioned above, another key feature of rowing shoes is having thin, flat soles with very little cushioning. According to Hydrow Athlete Mac, most serious rowers use a more minimalist shoe that’s lightweight, supportive, and flat.
“Wearing this type of flat shoe will help to make sure you’re getting the most out of your leg drive and that the explosive power you generated is being transferred directly to the foot stretcher,” she says.
Another benefit of avoiding too much cushioning with flat-soled shoes is feeling more connected to your workout.
“I personally prefer shoes with a flat bottom or zero drop, as it is a close approximation to what I feel in the boat,” Aquil says. “I would avoid shoes that have too much cushion, as they are made to absorb impact and could affect the feeling of your heels pressed against the foot stretcher.”
Not sure what types of shoes to look for? Mac suggests searching for a pair that are used more for training or weightlifting than for running. However, if you don’t want to invest in a pair of shoes specifically for rowing, you can still definitely do your workouts.
“I sometimes row in my running sneakers or, if I’m traveling, whatever shoe I have with me,” Mac says. “I honestly don’t notice a huge difference — I might feel slightly less connected to the foot stretchers at times, but it doesn’t stop me from getting in a good workout.”
3. Flexibility and support
Another key element to keep in mind when looking for the best sneakers for a rowing machine is how flexible it feels on your foot. Nick notes that comfortable ankle mobility is key here — you want to be able to have a wide range of motion while wearing your shoe to maintain proper foot mobility throughout the entire rowing stroke.
Stiffer shoes can also lead to increased stress on your feet, ankles, and lower legs, which could result in discomfort, pain, or even injuries. Flexible shoes distribute the forces of your workout more evenly, reducing your risk of overuse injuries.
Do note that you don’t want your shoe’s flexibility to come at the expense of support. Finding a balance between the two will ensure you can move freely while maintaining stability during your repetitive leg movements and powerful pushes against the footrest.
What are the best shoes for indoor rowing machines?
When picking the right shoes for rowing, the bottom line is to find something that works for you. Be sure to try on a bunch of shoes, and don’t be afraid to take them home with you to test them both on and off your rowing machine.
Staying in tune with the way your body feels during workouts and prioritizing your comfort is of the utmost importance. Happy shopping!