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How to Get the Most Out of Your New Rowing Machine

A man on a rowing machine.
Dean Drobot/Shutterstock

So, you decided to step up your at-home fitness game with a rowing machine? What’s the best way to use it, anyway? Let’s discover how you can make the most of every workout.

You’ve probably heard a bunch of amazing things about rowing machines—especially if you’ve already invested in one. From awesome calorie-blasting workouts to the most efficient HIIT routines, these clever machines build muscle and improve your endurance.

We’ll help you get started with the basics, and then cover some of the other exercises you can do on this workout wonder.

What’s So Great About Rowing Machines?

Rowing is a full-body workout—studies have found it activates around 85% of your body’s muscles to perform the full movement or stroke properly.

It’s also one of the safest workouts you can do, as the impact on your joints and spine is really low, no matter how much you up your intensity level. As a matter of fact, many people who have knee or ankle problems and injuries use the rowing machine as a great recovery tool that will help strengthen the supporting muscles and help with healing.

Rowing regularly strengthens your core, legs, and upper body, improving your posture and building muscle without any added weights, making it a great exercise you can do without the fear of getting too sore. Sure, you’ll experience some soreness in the beginning, but as the movement becomes familiar to your body, you’ll be able to reap all the benefits without having to take a lot of days off.

Another great rowing benefit is how much your endurance improves as getting in a mediocre workout is almost impossible. The rowing movement itself requires a lot from almost every muscle in your body and it’s therefore hard to perform without elevating your heart rate and increasing the number of calories burnt; even after only 10 min.

And lastly, because it’s pretty challenging, you can make it fun for yourself by setting up specific goals (distance covered, stroke power average, timing…) and trying to get better and progress every time you buckle yourself up for the ride.

How to Start Rowing

If you’re just starting out, you might feel out of breath after only a few minutes, so it’s important to know how to start using your new rower to really get the best out of it. Keep the following things in mind:

  • Start slow: Don’t go crazy on your first ride as chances are, you’ll quickly realize rowing is much harder than you thought. Take it one step at a time and give yourself a few minutes of moderate rowing with minimal resistance to start with and then gradually grow from there. There’s nothing to gain from burning yourself out in three minutes.
  • Breathe: This cannot be stressed enough. Just like running or riding a bicycle require finding a good pace and breathing pattern, so does rowing. Find a good inhale to exhale ratio you can maintain throughout your entire workout and keep it that way. Getting enough oxygen determines how efficient your workout will actually be and it allows you to go longer, become faster, and get stronger over time.
  • Maintain proper form: This is important with any exercise, as it prevents injuries. Painful sensations might occur if you use the wrong muscles at the wrong time, but especially as your pace and intensity increase.

Understanding the anatomy of a stroke is important, so you’ll know which muscles are involved at each point. Again, this will bust the myth that rowing is predominantly an upper-body workout.

Once you’re sitting in the sliding seat with your feet tightly secured in front of you, and you’re gripping handle, follow these steps:

  1. Start at the front of the slide with your knees bent, back straight and hinge forward at the hips. Your arms should be extended right in front of you.
  2. Use your legs to push and extend, while simultaneously pulling the rowing handle towards your sternum. Retract your shoulders and keep your core strong so your back remains straight the entire time.
  3. As your hands and shoulders move forward and extend, your knees soften and come to the bent position. Your torso hinges at the hips.
  4. Repeat.

Now that we’ve covered the basics, don’t stop there! Let’s look at some other exercises you can perform on this multifunctional machine.

Pike Tucks

You’ve probably seen this awesome ab exercise being done with a pilates ball, ab sliders, or even a towel, but using your rower will add to the intensity. The sliding seat is harder to control, which makes this exercise that much more challenging.

Follow these steps:

  1. Place your hands shoulder-width apart, two feet away from the end of the rower, then step up on the sliding seat. Tighten your core because your balance will be challenged.
  2. Inhale, then as you exhale, bring your legs toward the center of your body, piking your hips high upward. Aim for them to be straight over your shoulders.

Bend your knees if you find it’s too difficult to keep your legs extended. The goal is to use your abs to tuck your legs under your body and squeeze your core as much as possible, feeling the burn.

Front Shoulder and Bicep Pulls

Just like you’d use a cable machine, you can perform a variety of upper-body exercises with the rowing handle, including the front shoulder and bicep pulls.

You can see some great examples in the video below. He shows you exactly how to do these, while maintaining proper form.

Side Lunges

Another awesome exercise to try on your rowing machine is a side lunge. These not only challenge your standing leg, but also the adductors of the one you’re extending. The pulling in the sliding seat is harder than you think.

Follow these steps:

  1. Start by standing two feet away from the edge of the rower, facing sideways.
  2. Place your leg on the sliding seat and, as you inhale, start to push the seat away from you while bending the knee of your standing leg. Imagine you’re trying to sit down on an imaginary chair behind you.
  3. Once you’ve reached your depth, exhale, then push the ground away from you. Extend your bent knee as you pull the sliding seat toward you.
  4. Repeat

Side lunges will never feel the same again!

Rowing is an excellent way to work your entire body. Now that you’ve invested in your own machine, these tips and techniques will help you reap all the benefits!

Karla Tafra Karla Tafra
Karla is a certified yoga teacher, nutritionist, content creator and an overall wellness coach with over 10 years of international experience in teaching, writing, coaching, and helping others transform their lives. From Croatia to Spain and now, the US, she calls Seattle her new home where she lives and works with her husband. Read Full Bio »
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