Rowing is a full-body workout that continues to gain acclaim—and for good reason. The rowing machine is effective and efficient, tackling both strength training and cardio. It’s quite the double threat. But, before you cue up your workout and hop on, it’s important to know what not to do. Keep scrolling for the rowing machine mistakes that you could be making that prevent you from getting your best workout in on the rowing machine.
You’re only rowing with your arms.
One of the most common rowing machine mistakes is going into the workout and thinking that it’s all about arms. Although the machine engages major muscle groups, like the arms, core, back, and legs, rowing is primarily a leg exercise. Sixty percent of your power should come from your legs. Another 20 percent of your power should come from your abs and the other 20 percent from your arms. The pulling motion you make is actually follow through for the push from your legs. It helps to create that smooth rowing motion.
Fix it: You might be tempted to start off your routine by pulling on the handles with your arms and back, but refrain. Doing so will put a strain on your upper body while taking the focus off your lower body. Not to mention, you’ll probably feel post-workout neck and shoulder soreness (no thanks!). Instead, use your legs to push against the foot panels to generate power. Then follow through with your back and arms. Think of deadlifts or picking up a piece of furniture—sure, something’s in your hands, but you wouldn’t try to lift it with your arms alone. Most of that strength comes from your legs.
You’re mixing up your movements.
Like the scientific method, rowing has an order of operations—and mixing it up can also put a major strain on your upper body. Using both your arms and legs at the same time, leaning back before your legs have completely pushed against the panel, and bringing your arms and elbows back too quickly are all common mistakes in this area.
Fix it: Once you’ve got your form down (elbows tucked, back naturally arched, hinging at the hips), perform in the order of legs, hips, arms, and then arms, hips, legs. Push with your legs, hinge slightly back with your hips, and pull with your arms. Then, move your arms away, hinge forward at the hips, and bend your legs to start the next stroke. The first half of this sequence makes up the “drive” while the second is your “recovery.”
You’re not checking the damper setting.
The what? If you just asked yourself that, you’re not alone. Plenty of rowers—especially beginners—are completely unaware of this important part of the machine. Many will immediately sit down on the rower and begin without checking it. The damper is an important pre-workout adjustment, though. It’s the lever on the side of the flywheel that controls the flow of air into the cage. The higher the setting, the more challenging the workout becomes (sort of like the gears on a bike). Think of going from a canoe to a hefty rowboat. While upping your workout sounds great in theory, setting your damper at a ten straightaway is a surefire way to exhaust your muscles before you’re able to get your cardio in.
Fix it: Set your sights in the 3-5 level range to start and always practice good form. If, at some point, you find that you need more of a challenge, gradually test higher levels.
Is your seat knocking on your heels and your body jerking around uncomfortably? If so, you’re going way too fast. It’s important to take note of your speed, even as you get into your zone and are about to cross that imaginary finish line. Rushing through the motions sacrifices your ability to get a full range of motion on each move. When you watch real rowers you’ll notice that it’s not always the ones with the most strokes that win the race. In fact, more often than not, it’s those who go at a steady, slightly slower speed.
Fix it: Focus on keeping a smooth rhythm. Technically speaking, your “drive” to “recovery” time ratio should be 1:2. What this means is that you should be using the most energy quickly for the drive, then taking the recovery movements at a slower and more controlled speed. Using the right muscles at just the right time takes practice, but it’s how you’re going to become your best. Avoid rushing, always check your form and technique, and, only after you’ve got those down, focus on the numbers (stroke and dapper).