Rowing is a great form of low impact cardio exercise that will get your heart pumping and engage up to 86 percent of the muscles in your body (1). That's right; rowing is a total body experience! Tone your legs, core, arms, and more, all while working out on the rowing machine.
Your first time strapping into a rower can be intimidating, but with a few tricks up your sleeves, you'll be well on your way to perfecting your rowing form and acing your workouts.
The Rowing Machine (or Ergometer)
Fan Rowing Machine
Fan rowers are likely what you're most familiar with if you've ever used a rowing machine at the gym. As you pull on the handle, you spin the fan, and the air that pushes against the fan is your resistance.
These rowers create a natural, smooth, and continuous rowing stroke that most rowers prefer when on an indoor rowing machine. While it's not necessary to have adjustable resistance on a fan rower, you'll find some of our rowers do have this option to keep challenging you as you get more fit in your fitness journey.
Water Rowing Machine
Water rowers typically involve a water tank with fan blades inside. Water rowing is designed to mimic rowing on the water, using the density of the water versus the speed at which you row to apply resistance. Rowing with a water rower feels incredibly smooth, and the relaxing flow of the water can be incredibly soothing to listen to during your workout.
Magnetic Resistance Rowing Machine
Magnetic resistance rowers are great for those looking for something smooth and durable. The best thing about magnetic resistance is the adjustability. The ability to adjust your workout to your fitness level and goal for each workout can help personalize your experience and make your rower a tool that can be used as a part of a well-rounded fitness routine.
Hydraulic Rowing Machine
Hydraulic rowers are typically a different experience than many of our other rowers, as many of them do have an incline function. They usually don't have a handlebar with a belt pulley system but rather a handlebar or oar setup - that's directly connected to your rower and controlled through the hydraulic system. Because of this, your workouts and experience may look a little different than those using a regular rowing machine; but overall, your posture and timing should be very similar.
The great news is no matter what type of rower you have; you're going to get an awesome workout - burning tons of calories, increasing your cardiovascular strength and performance, and toning muscles in your entire body!
Get Started on Your Rowing Journey
Getting the right set up on your rower is going to make a world of difference in the efficiency of your stroke and the power you're able to generate while on your rower. Rowing with the correct form will also reduce your risk of injury! Because you're getting your whole body involved in the action, rowing incorrectly can quickly lead to back pain.
Start slow and taking time to practice, learn the correct form, and get a feel for generating power when rowing is essential for the longevity and success of a solid rowing routine. Follow along with the simple tips below to get started!
1. Strap in
For most rowing machines, the setup is pretty simple. You'll want to begin by strapping into the footplates. Adjust the strap so that it sits on the widest part of your foot (right around the top of your shoelaces) - this will keep you tightly strapped in while giving your ankle the range of motion it will need throughout your stroke.
A key part of rowing is pushing with power through your legs and evenly into your heels against the footplates. It requires a good range of motion to keep your heels in contact with the footplate throughout your stroke.
Most Sunny rowing machines are designed with swiveling footplates to accommodate users with a limited range of ankle mobility. This will help you easily keep your body in proper positioning, whether you're new to rowing or advanced.
2. Rowing Form
Your rowing form is incredibly important; without the proper setup and form throughout your stroke, you'll lose out on a lot of potential power. Practice makes perfect! Be mindful about your form throughout each session; eventually, that proper form will become like second nature.
Every great stroke starts from a good 'catch' position. Your arms should be reaching forward to grasp the handlebar, chest proud, shoulders down and back, core activated with a neutral spine. Your shins should be perpendicular to the ground.
Your drive is where most of the work happens! Keep your arms extended in front of you, grip on the handlebars light. Maintain an upright posture as you push back, driving with power through your legs. Think about driving through your heels into the pedals to generate power.
Finally, as you near the back of your push, engage your core and shift back slightly with the torso, keeping your neck and head straight. Your core should never be underestimated during rowing, as power through your extremities is going to originate through a strong and stable core.
Finish your row by using your back and biceps to pull the handlebars through just below your breastplate. Keep your elbows close to your body and squeeze your shoulder blades together to complete the finish.
Your recovery is important, and a good recovery will set you up for a successful next stroke. Recovery happens in the reverse order of your drive; so, first core, then arms, and finally legs to follow. Below you'll see all of this put together.
d) Full Stroke
Put it all together! When rowing form is broken down, it sounds like a lot, especially at first. When you first hop on the rower, it can be hard to remember everything and put it all together.
Because good mechanics and your form play such a big role in rowing, you'll constantly be thinking about your posture and form at first, but eventually, it will come like second nature.
One of the most helpful cues in rowing is "legs, core, arms, arms, core legs." This is something you can quickly bring to mind during each stroke and throughout your workouts to make sure you're on the right track.
Ready to give it a try? Get started with this rowing drills workout, which will help you break down your rowing stroke and practice key elements of your stroke, finished with some free time to practice putting it all together!
3. Stroke Rate
Once you've gotten the hang of your stroke, it's time to put it into practice. Focus on your stroke rate; you can think of your stroke rate as similar to speed or how many strokes you take in one minute. Start slow, practicing stroking at 16, 18, and 20 strokes per minute (SPM). It might feel painfully slow at first, but generating speed doesn't always mean rowing faster.
Rowing efficiently requires powerful, consistent strokes, and learning how that feels from the start will make a world of difference when you move on to intermediate and hard workouts and actually start incorporating some real speed work into your training.
Hit the ground running with these rowing workouts designed to take your fitness to the next level. Follow along with our trainers as you develop speed, strength, and momentum. The more you practice your rowing, the more natural and efficient it will feel!
(1) “Physiological and Performance Effects of Low- versus Mixed-Intensity Rowing Training”. Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, 2008, https://insights.ovid.com/crossref?an=00005768-200803000-00026. Accessed 12 October, 2020.