Of all the cardio machines gaining attention lately, the rowing machine sits atop the list. The low-to-the-ground machine, also known as the ergometer, torches calories while engaging your arms, core, legs, and back. Not to mention, working out on a rowing machine is easier on your knees and joints than most other options, so it’s a low-impact option for everyone. Thus, it comes as no surprise that it’s a staple in every gym—and should be in every workout routine.
If you’re just catching wind of this multitasking machine and haven’t quite figured out what to do (and not do) on it, don’t sweat it. We’ve rounded up the major do’s and don’ts of working out on a rowing machine. Tired of the treadmill or just looking to switch things up? Look no further.
Do: Use proper form while using the machine.
While you may be tempted to hunch your back and shoulders forward, refrain from doing so. This incorrect posture will put intense strain on the wrong parts of your body, resulting in more soreness and less results (no, thank you!). Instead, sit up straight. Your back will naturally arch just slightly—that’s okay! Don’t attempt to overcorrect it. Now, bend forward using your hips. Once the handle passes over your knees, bend your legs.
After bending forward, refrain from pulling back the handle using your back; instead, push your legs against the pedals to avoid back strain (and get a killer leg workout). As for arms, keep both of your elbows tucked at your sides, pulling until they pass your torso and the rower handle is around an inch away from the bottom of your ribs (or sports bra). Got all of that? Now, perform smoothly in the order of legs, hips, arms, arms, hips, legs. Repeat!
Don’t: Row with a high resistance (to start).
Just like with other cardio machines, it’s highly recommended that you start off slow, especially if you’ve never used a rowing machine before. While walking and cycling are natural movements, rowing definitely isn’t, so don’t look around at seasoned pros and think you need to keep up (cue breathless panting). The potential for injury and pain isn’t worth it. Start off at a low resistance, remaining at that level until you’ve perfected your form and rowing motion. Once you’ve got those down and are feeling comfortable, feel free to increase the resistance and vary your workout. This takes time, so don’t be disappointed if you don’t catch on after the first few strokes.
Do: Power through with your legs.
There’s no denying that this machine will work your arms, but the majority of your drive should be coming from your legs. While the arms should be constantly, well, rowing, your legs should be taking on most of the work by bending and pushing your body back up. Generally our legs are much stronger than our arms, so it makes sense that they should be doing more than the rest of your body—especially in the case of the rower. And be sure to use them to drive straight back, not upwards—lest you fall out of the seat (ouch).
Don’t: Pull too much with your torso.
Remember how we said to sit up straight? This is more on that. It’s important to keep your back at, or just past, a 90-degree angle in order to prevent injury, and to get that overall smooth motion on the machine. The reason people tend to bend too far forward and pull with their torso, is because it seems to give them more power post-row. In reality, this only puts your back in a bad position. To make sure you’re not leaning too far, check your feet. Even when leaning forward, you never want your heels to break contact with the pedals. Most of all, bend at your hips, instead of curving your spine.
Do: Grip the handle correctly.
Just as your arms, back, and legs need to be positioned a certain way, so do your hands. It might not seem important, but the way you hold onto the handle could affect the way your arms move and work throughout your set. Avoid using an underhand grip and go for the overhand. Your knuckles should face forward, with your thumb placed on the underside of the handle. Keep your wrist flat—not leaning outwards. If you find that your grip strength is subpar, move your thumb to the top of the handle along with your other fingers to build strength. Just don’t grip so hard that you rough up your palms.
Don’t: Forget to breathe.
Rowing is a repetitive, rhythmic motion, meaning you have to match up your breathing to that rhythm. Have you ever linked your breathing to your running or swimming? This is just like that. Similar to strength workouts, you want to breathe out when exerting power and breathe in when recovering. In this case, that means breathing out when you push with your legs and pull back, and breathing in when you’re resetting (rebending your legs).