How to Properly Use a Rowing Machine

Also known as ergometers or ergs for short, the rowing machine is a full-body immersive workout machine that targets your arms, chest, back, shoulders, quads, calves, hamstrings, & butt muscles. They even target your visceral muscles, such as those in the heart and lungs.

Despite being a low-impact workout machine, it engages about 80% of your muscles. Because of its increasing popularity, it’s becoming a common piece in several homes, gyms, and health clubs.

The Makeup of A Rowing Machine

We know what you’re thinking, “how’s this machine built?”

It’s a simple machine that consists of a wooden frame with a rowing setup that’s fitted around a modified bicycle wheel. The wheel has dampers that provide the resistance the user has to work against. The damper does this by controlling how much air flows into the cage.

When gotten right, the rowing machine will help you get enough oomph to burn fat in a very short time, build your endurance and power, improve posture and overall fitness, and stave off osteoporosis.

These and many more are the benefits of incorporating a machine in your workout sessions.

Despite its growing popularity and the many health benefits, surprisingly, not many people know how to use the rowing machine. In this article, we aim to teach you how to properly use this machine. Keep reading!

The Rowing Machine: How to use it

The model of your rowing machine doesn’t matter when it comes to usage. Knowing how to use a rowing machine properly is important as it will enhance your workout efforts.

We will not only teach you how to use it, but we’ll also try our best to show you identify the common mistakes users make while at it.

Before we dive into the steps, we want to highlight some key things. First off, the rowing motion, also known as rowing stroke, has four stages: catch, drive, finish, and recovery or transition phase. Each of these movements or stages is blended to create a stroke. Got it? Let’s go!

Step 1

The first step involves adjusting the damper setting if you have air rowing machine. The damper is usually set at a particular level from 1-10. The higher the value, the more air that’ll flow into the cage.

More air flowing into the cage means more work. This requires you to put in more effort to spin the flywheel. A low value means less amount air flows into the cage. In this case, spinning the wheel becomes quite easier.

However, you should note that the intensity or resistance from a particular value does not come from the damper setting alone (in a way). Rather, it is more of how much of your arms and legs you use to pull.

The harder you pull, the higher the resistance and vice-versa. When it comes to damper setting, an ideal value is 3-5. A very high value will not provide you with any cardiovascular benefit. It will just exhaust your energy in a short time.

If you are all out for aerobic exercise, then a lower damper setting helps you get the best out of the workout.

Step 2: The Catch Stage

This is the beginning of the rowing stroke. You’re at the front of the machine, ready to explore. The foundation of a strong catch stage begins with leaning slightly forward with your butts on the edge of the seat while you sit tall at the same time.

Ensure your heels are slightly lifted. Your shins should be vertical, and don’t go past them. There’s a reason for that. If they go past vertical during the drive stage, it’d be harder to bring them in contact with the footplates.

We understand that some may have some issues with their shin; if that’s the case, try as hard as possible to bring them close to the vertical position.

Your shoulders should not be behind your hip rather in front. This is because stroke power is dependent on body swing. And, if your shoulders aren’t rightly placed, your effort becomes fruitless.

Make your arms straight like you’re reaching out to grab something—you are actually grabbing something, which is the handle, with your thumb around it. If your arms are bent, they will make the stroke less effective.

Now, you can use your lats (your back muscle) to pull your shoulders up and down.

Step 3: The Drive Stage

In this stage, a propulsive force is generated by pushing through your legs. Extend your legs to the machine, pushing your upper body away from the rower.

The three mechanisms to produce power include legs, hips, and arms in that order. However, the legs play the dominant role.

As a new learner, break your stroke into segments. After thorough practice, you can integrate all the segments as one stroke.

For example, start with only leg drills before you lever with your whole body. Then proceed to suspend your weight off the handle, thereby activating your core.

Step 4: The Finish Stage.

The five mechanisms in this stage involve legs, core, hips, shoulders, and arms in this order. As the name implies, the finish stage involves pulling the handle towards your torso after the leg drive.

Your shoulders are pulled together, your back is straight, your chest slightly pushed forwards, and your elbows bent behind the back.

Step 5: Recovery Stage

You can think of it as the drive phase in reverse but at a slower pace. The three mechanisms include arms, body, and legs. Unlike the drive phase, the arms are loosely extended. In mid-extension, the body follows.

As the body simply shifts forward from the back of the seat to the front, the legs move out of their extended position. While your hips are hinged in the forward direction, your knees are bent so that your torso is brought over your legs.

See these gifts that you can buy a rowing enthusiast

Common Rowing Mistakes You Should Avoid

Poor posture. Some users maintain extremely poor posture while rowing. This poor posture includes hunched back, rockover, tense and raised shoulders, etc. The rockover position can be corrected by raising the feet to seat level. Tense and raised shoulders can be corrected by relaxing your shoulders or keeping them low. Hunched back can be avoided by starting right, which means, in the right posture.

Pulling the oar too high. This is another bad practice that could be avoided not because it is inherently bad, but because you expend more energy than necessary. Imagine the amount of energy required to pull the oar to your chin! You can avoid this by pulling the oar to your chest only.

Flopping your knees too wide. Relaxing too much and letting your knees fall to the sides while working out are sure signs that you are not engaging your inner thigh muscles. To correct this, ensure your knees are in line with your hip.

Leaning far back in the finish. There’s a bit of temptation to lean far back in the “finish stage,” this can be avoided by making use of your core to stabilize yourself. However, this action may contribute little or nothing to speed, power, or efficiency.

Failure to check damper setting. Most users just jump right into workout sessions without checking or adjusting damper settings. What they fail to realize is, if the damper setting is at a high value, training would be heavy on your body, and you’d get exhausted easily and early.

Rowing with your arms only. If you row with your arms only with the sole aim of building a bigger upper body, you’ll not just put unnecessary pressure on your upper limb muscles; you’ll end up with injuries.

Your combined power is supposed to come from pushing your legs, pulling with your hands, and the remaining from the core of your body.

Bending your knees too early on recovery. Remember the order of movement in the recovery stage? Arms, body, and legs. People who make this type of mistake bend their knees too early, even before they swing their arms forward. The fix is to maintain your knees in a straight position as you swing or extend your arms. Don’t be in a rush.

Some people even rush the recovery as they approach the “catch stage.” This is another bad practice. The solution is to slow down your recovery as much as you can as you approach the catch.

Stopping at the peak of the stroke. Always resist the urge to stop at the peak of the stroke. The whole process is supposed to be one continuous flow, don’t break it or try to segment it.

The thing is, once you have got the hang of the whole training, it’d be easier to spot an error and work towards avoiding or overcoming it.

Check out the best water rowing machines

In Summary

There’s been a surge in the use of rowing machines these past few years. This is because, unlike other fitness machines that focus on either your upper or lower body, the rowing machine is an all-body workout machine.

Many still get it wrong when rowing. We’ve already highlighted the key things that will aid your practice and the common mistakes to avoid in the article.

However, we like to reiterate that rowing requires mental focus and a powerful grip. Roll your sleeves up now and get down to business.

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