How To Use A Rowing Machine

The rowing machine is a very useful exercise machine when used correctly.

 It is able to involve and strengthen the muscles of the abdominal corset, arms, legs and back; however, to train effectively you need to perform the movement exactly.

 This is vital for exercising your muscles correctly and safely.


Begin the row

Secure your feet with the foot straps. Before starting, make sure that the feet are fixed on the support base; to do this, use the straps the rower is equipped with. 

  • Pull the straps over the backs of your feet. Close them so that they fit snugly and that your feet can’t slide on the footplate.

Get into the starting position. It is called “grip” in the technical jargon of rowing. Bend your knees until your body is close to the bar mounted on the front of the machine; grab the bar with both hands and make sure your back is straight. 

  • Make sure you keep a good grip on the bar to prevent it from slipping during the row.

Tip: Bend forward at the pelvis, so that the torso is tilted over the legs; try to keep your spine as straight as possible.


Push your feet onto the footplate using the strength of the leg muscles. When using the rowing machine, you have to move one part of the body at a time starting with the lower limbs; 

 When pushing on the platform, engage your quads and glutes to stretch your legs.

  • Don’t make the mistake of using your whole body at once during exercise; rowing correctly means making a progression that starts from the legs, passes to the trunk and finally ends with the movement of the arms.
  • 60% of the traction is exerted by the leg muscles, 20% by the abdominals and the remaining 20% by the arms and shoulders.
  • Keep your arms and torso in their original position.

Lean back at a 45 degree angle. When your legs are fully extended, use your abdominal corset muscles and hamstrings to bring your torso back in an approximate 45 ° inclination; don’t forget to keep your spine straight.

Note: The abdominal muscles must move the torso and pelvis as if they were a single solid block – in this way, you stabilize your back and prevent the spine from moving, with the risk of some injury.


Complete the Movement

Practice isolating arm movement. When the legs are straight and the torso tilted, you can try to insert the movement of the upper limbs. The abs must remain contracted to keep the trunk reclined 45 ° as you pull the bar towards your chest.

  • Bend your elbows to bring the grip close to your chest.
  • Pull the bar inward until it touches your body just below your chest.
  • This movement causes the great dorsal muscle to contract to stabilize the shoulders, along with the delts and triceps to bring the elbows back and the bar near the breastbone.

Extend your arms as you bring your torso forward. The next phase consists in returning to the starting position respecting the reverse sequence: arms, abdominals, legs; stretch your arms away from your chest and lean your torso forward 45 degrees.

  • First, straighten your arms and then lean forward at the pelvis.

Bend your knees and return to the starting position. Keep flexing your leg joints until you get the “grip” again. The knees should be bent, the body close to the front of the rower, and the bar should be firmly in the hands; at this point, you can repeat the stretching movement.

Note: Remember that this is not a two-step movement: one to lie down and one to return to the starting position. 

The correct rowing takes place in three bars, where the first corresponds to the propulsion movement during which you extend the body, while the second and third bars mark the movement back to the “grip” position, giving yourself some time to rest before the next pull. 


Correct Common Mistakes

It starts with the correct setting of the instrument. If you train in the gym, the rowing machine may be adjusted with too much or too low resistance. Remember to check the machine before starting the workout; if you’ve never used it before, you shouldn’t start with very high resistance. 

  • The higher the gear, the greater the resistance the rower opposes to the back and forth movement of the body.
  • For beginners, a setting between 3 and 5 is recommended.

Engage the right muscles during the rowMany people use this tool to train their arms; however, if your goal is to strengthen the upper limbs, it is better to use dumbbells. Remember that the rowing machine works the muscle groups of the arms, legs and abdomen; use them all when rowing, instead of just training your arms. 

  • Focus mainly on the lower limbs to move forward and backward on the machine; remember that 60% of the traction force is exerted by the legs.
  • Only 20% of the movement is carried out by the arms, the remaining 20% is supported by the abdominals.

Do not move your legs and arms at the same time. Remember that the stroke develops in a specific order. It begins with the thrust of the legs, then with the movement of the torso against the abdominals and hamstrings, finally ending with the traction of the arms and back; stick to this sequence rather than moving your whole body at the same time. 


Keep your spine straight. If you collapse during the row, you end up with back pain. Be aware of your posture throughout the exercise, making sure your spine remains as straight as possible during each phase of the movement. 



  • Maintain a relaxed grip on the handle; in this way, you avoid the formation of calluses and blisters. Beginners often grip the bar too tightly, leading to an unnecessary expenditure of energy that causes pain.
  • Keep your knees aligned with your ankles; if your legs spread sideways, you can suffer from knee problems.


  • Be aware of physical limitations; if you experience a sharp pain or an abnormal sensation, stop. Find a personal trainer who teaches you how to use the machine and makes sure you are doing the movement correctly.
  • Storing the rower with the bar attached to the ring can cause damage to the tool over time; when you put it away, make sure the cable has retracted fully.

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