If you’ve never used a rowing machine before, you may be at a loss for what to do once you sit down. Here are some tips for navigating your first rowing workouts:
Learn Proper Rowing Technique
To get the most benefits from your workouts and avoid injury, it’s essential to nail proper rowing technique. Let’s break it down, step-by-step. Here are the instructions from Concept2, a company that manufactures rowing machines:
- Begin in a “catch” position, with your feet securely strapped into the footrests. Grip the rower handle with hands shoulder-width apart, arms straight, upper body leaning forward from the hips, knees bent with shins vertical (or as close to vertical as is comfortable), and heels lifted (if needed).
- From here, initiate the “drive,” which is the working portion of the rowing stroke. Press your feet into the footrests to push back with your legs, while pulling the handle just below your ribs in a straight line. Wait until the handle passes your knees to extend your legs and keep your shoulders low and relaxed.
- End in the “finish” position. Upper body leaning back slightly, legs extended (with a slight bend in your knees), handle held lightly below your ribs, and shoulders low with wrists flat and grip relaxed.
- Move into the “recovery” portion of the stroke. Extend your arms, allowing them to straighten completely before you lean forward from the hips. Once your hands have cleared your knees, allow your knees to bend as you slide the seat forward to begin your next stroke.
Your first few sessions on the rower may feel awkward as you get used to rowing movements, but don’t worry if your technique isn’t on-point at first. “It’s okay to start without perfect technique, because you can improve it along the way,” Rafaee says. Just make sure that you’re not yanking the rower handle during the “drive” portion of the stroke. Instead, focus on using power from your lower body to pull the handle just below your ribs and extend your legs.
Use Rowing Drills
Brezler recommends using rowing drills to hone your technique. For example, practice using your arms and body only: Keep your legs and back straight while you hinge forward at the hips to extend your arms and hinge back at the hips to pull the handle to your ribs. This drill helps you focus on maintaining good posture and get used to the horizontal movement required at various phases of a stroke.
Another great drill involves pausing at different portions of the stroke to check in on your form.
For example, pause for two seconds in the “finish” position and do a quick scan to ensure your upper body is leaning back slightly, your legs are extended (with a slight bend in your knees), the handle is held lightly below your ribs, and your shoulders are low with wrists flat and grip relaxed.
Pause again as you move into the “recovery” to check that your arms are extending and you’re allowing them to straighten before leaning forward from the hips.
Practice pausing at other phases of the stroke, especially portions that still feel awkward. “A lot of times, this fixes 80 percent of someone’s bad technique,” Brezler says. Positioning a mirror to the side so you can watch yourself while you row can also help you catch mistakes.
If you’ve never used a rower, start with five minutes and incorporate that time into your workout for the day, recommends Rafaee. Then, build gradually from there, adding time as you feel comfortable. “The more consistently you do a rowing workout, the easier it gets,” Rafaee says.
Expect Some Muscle Soreness
Your back may feel a little sore at first, but don’t let that scare you away. “Typically those muscles just need time to get stronger,” Brezler says. Giving yourself more recovery days in between workouts in the beginning can help limit this soreness. Start with one rowing workout a week and increase as your body gets stronger and you become accustomed to the workout. Rest assured this soreness should disappear after a couple of weeks, Brezler says.
Soreness-related pain typically feels achy. If you notice any sharp pains during or after rowing, you may be injured or at risk for injury. Stop your rowing workouts and contact your doctor.