How to Work out Using a Rowing Machine

A rowing machine, also known as an indoor rower, an ergometer, or simply an "erg," is a piece of exercise equipment that simulates rowing a boat with an oar. Rowing machines provide a workout to all of the major muscle groups, provide great cardiovascular exercise, and utilize a low-impact, smooth rowing pattern ideal for avoiding injuries. If you work out using a rowing machine properly, you will ensure that you avoid straining your body and get the best workout possible. The proper technique consists of 4 positions per stroke.


  1. Image titled Work out Using a Rowing Machine Step 1
    Set the resistance of the rowing machine. The resistance, which is usually adjusted through a dial on the machine's flywheel, determines how much energy you will have to expend on each stroke. Ideally, you want to set the resistance just high enough so that you can still maintain a fast, smooth rowing motion for a prolonged period of time. Setting it too high may result in injury or fatigue, while setting it too low will make your workout too easy.
  2. Image titled Work out Using a Rowing Machine Step 2
    Position yourself on the rowing machine. To get started, place your feet onto the foot pads, securing them with the straps. Sit on the seat and grasp the handle using an overhand grip, being careful to keep your elbows close to your body.
  3. Image titled Work out Using a Rowing Machine Step 3
    Get into the "catch" position. The starting position of each stroke is called the catch position. Extend your arms forward, keeping them straight and angled slightly down towards the flywheel. Leaning forward just slightly, slide forward on the seat while bending your knees until your shins are almost vertical.
  4. Image titled Work out Using a Rowing Machine Step 4
    Execute the "drive" position. Begin by pushing off against the foot pads, using your legs to power the stroke. Keep your arms and back straight as your legs extend. When your legs are fully extended, the handle (oar) should be about mid-chest level. Finish powering the stroke by pulling the handle downwards towards your abdomen while leaning slightly back. This helps you get into the habit of lifting your oar out of the water after each stroke, which you will have to do when in a boat.
  5. Image titled Work out Using a Rowing Machine Step 5
    Proceed to the "finish" position. As you finish powering each stroke, your legs should be fully extended. You should be leaning slightly back at the hips. Your upper arms should be near your side, with your elbows bent and the handle against your abdomen.
  6. Image titled Work out Using a Rowing Machine Step 6
    Proceed to the "recovery" position. Begin this step by extending your arms straight towards the flywheel, leaning your upper body slightly forward in the process. Begin sliding forward on the seat while bending your knees.
  7. Image titled Work out Using a Rowing Machine Step 7
    Return to the "catch" position. This should flow naturally from the end of the recovery position. Make sure to lift the handle slightly to practice dropping the oar into the water in preparation for the next stroke. From this position, you should repeat the entire process, maintaining a smooth, flowing motion throughout.
  8. Image titled Work out Using a Rowing Machine Step 8
    Plan your workout. Most effective workouts take the pattern of a slow warm-up, a repeated cycle of a few minutes of hard rowing and a few minutes of rest, and then a slow cool-down. For beginners, row 500 meters (1,640.4 ft) hard and the rest for two minutes. Repeat this cycle six times, trying to keep your times consistent across the workout.[1] For more experienced rowers, try rowing ten minute intervals, gradually gaining speed throughout the ten minutes, separated by four minutes of easy rowing to rest.[2] Always focus on having controlled, relaxed, efficient strokes.
    • Research rowing workouts to find those that will work best for your skill, fitness, and technique.


  • Consider working with a trainer or an experienced rower when using the rowing machine for the first time. This will help you to develop the correct form.
  • Set a target strokes per minute. Closely watch the meter to try to maintain this goal. Focus on being consistent over a long period of time, rather than simply going as fast as possible.
  • Your moves should be rapid, deliberate and strong. The chain should move up and down with NO rattle.
  • An experienced recreational rower should use the erg to "rehearse" the routine eventually performed in the shell itself on the water.


  • Do not arch your back when using the rowing machine; even when leaning forward or backward, keep your upper body straight.
  • Be careful not to power the initial stroke with your back rather than your legs. This common mistake can lead to injury or fatigue.

Things You'll Need

  • Rowing machine

Article Info

Categories: Cardio Exercises