Rowing Machine Technique for Best Results

Is There a Special Technique to Indoor Rowing?

Rowing Machine Form
courtesy of

When I first started using a rowing machine, I assumed the exercise was all about the pulling and building upper body strength. I figured that I was tired after using it, so I was doing it correctly.


There is a strategy to rowing. Timing, rhythm and form all play big roles in helping you increase the efficiency in your stroke and achieve a whole-body workout. You’ll maximize the results you get from your workouts if you use the proper rowing technique. Furthermore, you’ll avoid forming bad habits which can be difficult to break later.

1. Use Your Legs More on a Rowing Machine

You want to incorporate your legs so that your arms aren’t trying to do all the work. In fact, as you’ll see in the video below, legs should account for 60% of the work involved when rowing. You want to start each stroke by pushing with your legs before you ever start pulling with your arms. Crossfit Journal published an article discussing proper rowing technique, saying that people should actually initiate the the drive with the legs using a powerful push or kick off the footplates.

Check out this rowing machine technique diagram to see what I mean:

Rowing Technique Diagram courtesy of

2. Time Your Rowing Stroke to Your Advantage

Rather than putting consistent effort throughout each stroke, focus on a strong push and powerful pull with your arms and legs and then take a mini-break on the return. I’ve seen some people even stop for a split second after they have completed their pull before making the return.

This strategy helps rowers push more water in less time and can help you improve your stroke efficiency on the rowing machine. When you are more efficient, you don’t tire out as fast and therefore can grow the duration and/or speed of your workouts and get results faster.

3. Proper Rowing Form

Correct rowing form is important as well. A common mistake is to lean forward and hunch your back on the return. Instead, you want to keep your back straight and head upright. This will help you build your back strength, which will in turn help you improve your rowing speed and efficiency.

If you are not a beginner, and you find that your back is sore after rowing workouts, take a look at your form in the mirror. You may be able to make a quick and easy fix to your posture to prevent unnecessary pain or stiffness in the future.

Learn more about rowing technique

Jay Nithus, author of Indoor Rowing: Perfection in Exercise, explains that indoor rowing eliminates many acute injuries that many other athletes face, due to the fact that rowing has no body impact, the legs are used in a tandem position and a majority of the body weight goes into the seat of the rower.

In addition, the entire body splits the “work” of the workout, rather than one section enduring all of the strain. On top of that, workouts can be shorter while still achieving maximum results because the entire body is being exercised at the same time. Injuries caused by repetitive motion are not an issue in this case.

This video covers common technique mistakes that new people make when starting on a rowing machine (and how to avoid them).

More Tips on Rowing Technique:

Something else I learned when starting out is to keep the back in the 11:00 o’clock and 1:00 o’clock positions. By this, I mean that when leaning forward, angle your back at 11 o’clock. When pulling back, angle your back at 1:00 o’clock.

You might also notice over time that proper rowing machine technique provides a great grip-strengthening workout. Many athletes don’t even think about this because they see and feel results in their arms, shoulders, legs, back and core, but don’t forget your hands!


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