Tips & Techniques for Rowing Machines

Exercise bikes, elliptical machines and treadmills line gyms’ cardio sections. All provide aerobic benefits and users certainly reap health benefits from spending some time on them. But none combine a non-impact, total body, aerobic workout like the rowing machine. Rowing machines challenge all the body’s major muscle groups and cover a large range of motion, says rowing instructor and expert Angela Hart in the October, 2006 “CrossFit Journal.”

Set the Display

Before starting a rowing workout familiarize yourself with the rowing machine. Almost all rowers have an electronic display. The American College of Sports Medicine says these displays normally show information on pace, calories burned, power output measured by watts and distance. Set the display to show the information you want to know while working out. Taking care of this beforehand allows you to focus on your workout.

Changing Resistance

A rowing machine’s resistance changes with every stroke. How much force you apply to the stroke corresponds to how much resistance the rowing machine returns. Hart describes this as the harder the user pulls, the greater the resistance from the machine. This variability makes rowing workouts easy to scale for different difficulty levels and workout purposes.

The Catch and Drive

The row begins from the catch position. Proper catch form has the knees bent, shins perpendicular to the floor, arms forward and extended. Ensure proper form before initiating movement. The ACSM says the drive phase initiates from the legs. Extend the legs explosively to generate power. With the legs almost fully extended, pull the handle towards your stomach using your arms, until the elbows extend past the body and the handle almost touches your abs.


Good rowing form takes more than a proper starting position and powerful drive phase. Recovery form matters. From the drive phase’s end, begin recovery with extending the arms back toward the flywheel while also bending at the hips. As the hands pass over the knees, flex the knees and slide back forward to the starting position. When you do it correctly, the chain attached to the handle moves smoothly and does not jiggle up and down. In general, the recovery phase takes twice as long as the drive phase, says Hart.

About this Author

Aaron Jacobsen specializes in writing about health, fitness and mental performance topics for various websites. He holds a master’s degree in kinesiology and is a former faculty member at San Jose University.