Rowing Machine Techniques for Beginners – Let’s Get Ready to Row!

Do you often pass the rowing machine at the gym and wonder what could be? We’re here to tell you to stop, jump on, and get started! We’ve got some great techniques for you to become a rowing champ! This full-body, low-impact workout is what you need in your life. Keep reading to find out more.

Why Rowing?

Rowing machines were initially designed to help rowers keep in shape in the off-season. Different rowing machines, from water to magnetic rowers, simulate rowing to keep you on track once you’re back in the water.

While passionate rowers benefit from rowing machines, anyone can jump onboard and get a full-body workout from this machine. It features upper and lower body activation to torch calories and builds muscles. One of the best benefits of the rowing machine is the lack of impact on joints. It’s an excellent low-impact workout for anyone from high-profile athletes to beginners. 

How Rowers Work?

We mentioned there are different types of rowing machines. They vary by how they provide resistance as you perform the rowing motion. Depending on a person’s preference, they range from air, water, magnetic, and hydraulic resistance. Regardless of the type of resistance, all rowing machines simulate the motion of rowing a boat. Pulling back on the handles, the rowing machine’s flywheel spins, creating resistance similar to water when rowing a boat. All rowing machines contain a sliding seat, handlebar, and footrest.

Benefits of Rowing Machines

Rowing is a full-body workout that uses 84% of your body’s mass. A rowing workout works muscles but also increases the heart rate for a cardio workout that torches up to 535 calories in an hour at a moderate intensity. All of that happens with low impact on joints for excellent exercise for any person.

We love the versatility of a rowing machine. There are many different workouts like HIIT (high-intensity interval training) or circuit exercises to keep you from getting bored with your activities. Rowing is an excellent way to promote better cardiovascular health as it helps increase blood volume, strengthening heart walls over time.

Rowing Terms

Suppose you’re new to rowing. Welcome! You should familiarize yourself with some rowing terms to understand what you should be doing, especially during an instructor-led class. Here’s a summary of rowing terms.

  • Stroke Rate or Strokes per Minute (SPM) – Refers to the number of strokes you perform per minute.
  • Ratio – The ratio refers to the relationship between the drive and recovery time. Rowers work for a short, powerful stroke with longer, controlled recovery.
  • Damper – Your resistance setting on your rowing machine.
  • Paddle – Implies you row easily without stopping as a way of recovering.
  • Split – The amount of time it takes to row 500 meters.

Now that you know all the lingo, you are basically a rowing professional.

Proper Rowing Form

Like any exercise, proper form while rowing prevents injuries and maximizes your workout. Most people think of rowing as a pulling sport, but it’s more about the push with the power coming from your legs. There are four parts to a rowing stroke, so let’s discuss them and how to perform them correctly.

The Catch

The catch begins the rowing stroke, where your arms extend to grip the handlebars. Ensure you lean forward from your hips, which puts you in the correct position to row, powering through your legs.

The Drive

The second portion of rowing is the drive. Think of the movement in three parts with power starting from your legs, then your body, and finally your arms. Following this pattern gives you the drive to push the boat forward. As you drive through your legs, fully extend them and keep your torso upright. Your arms pull into your body at the end of the rowing stroke.


The finish is your position after you perform the drive. Your legs are fully extended, and your arms are pulled into your body above your abdomen. Ensure your shoulders are down and your wrists are straight.


This position is the opposite of the drive. The power extends opposite, starting with the arms, working through the body, and finishing with the legs. Extend your arms and lean forward as your legs bend to catch you. Of course, all of this happens with fluidity.

Common Rowing Mistakes

It’s essential to understand the proper rowing form, but it’s also helpful to know some common mistakes. Avoiding these mistakes helps you bring more power to your rowing and increases muscle strength and endurance.

Pulling Arms Too Early or Too Late

This mistake goes back to the common misconception that rowing is about pulling. It’s more about pushing with your legs, and using your arms too early or too late affects the power in your rowing stroke. Make sure the legs start the row and arms do not begin to bend until they have passed your knees. The primary source of power should come from your legs.

Incorrect Form to Start

If you’re not in the correct position to start, your form will be compromised throughout the stroke. Keep your core tight, back straight, shoulders back, and lean from the hips. Resist the urge to let your body pull your forward as you push with your legs.

Shrugging Your Shoulders in the Finish

None of us need to add extra tension to our shoulders and upper back. By shrugging the shoulders during the finish, you create unnecessary stress in your shoulders and risk injury. Keep your shoulders down and elbows in tight.

Pulling the Handle Too High

When you pull the handle back, it should be just below your chest. Pulling it higher towards your neck or face creates a round in your back during the catch, leading to injury.

Leaning Too Much

Remember, the force is coming from your legs. There is no need to lean forward too much. It is from the hips and only about 20 degrees when you bend. If you lean too much, you put unwanted strain on your back and hips.

Bending the Legs Too Early in Recovery

It’s all about fluidity as you recover. Drive oppositely with your arms, body, and legs in one fluid motion. Don’t bend the legs too early.

Rowing Workouts for Beginners

Warm Up

A rowing machine as a warm-up is an excellent idea since it ignites so much of the body. Use the rower for 10-15 minutes at a moderate pace to get those muscles working.

Basic Workout

The basic workout helps you understand the fundamentals of the machine to get you started on your rowing journey. At moderate speed, row 300 meters, about 20 meters per minute. Rest with a simple paddle for two minutes and then row another 300 meters at 22-25 meters per minute. Finish with a paddle rest for two minutes.

Interval Training

Interval training is known for torching calories as you take your heart rate up and down throughout your workout. It’s challenging and fun and gives you variety in your exercises.

Start with one minute at 25-30 SPM (strokes per minute) and rest with a paddle for one minute.

Follow that with 25-30 SPM for two minutes and a two-minute paddle rest at the end. Then go for three minutes at 20-25 SPM with a three-minute paddle rest. Next, we’re at the top of the curve with four minutes at 20-25 SPM with a four-minute paddle break.

Now it’s time to come back down the curve for three minutes at 20-25 SPM with three minutes of paddle rest. Then, a two-minute row at 18-20 SPM with a two-minute paddle rest. Finish with a one-minute row at 18-20 SPM with a one-minute paddle break. Whew! That was hard!

Circuit Training

This type of training involves some rowing followed by some bodyweight exercises. Start with a 300-500 meter row. Hop off the rowing machine and perform 15 bodyweight squats, followed by 15 push-ups. Repeat the entire sequence two to three times.

How to Maximize Your Rowing Results

To get the best results, always complete your warm-up. It gets blood flowing throughout the body and warms your body. This process reduces the risk of injury.

When you can video yourself during your workouts as it will help your form because you may be doing something wrong inadvertently. Fixing it will build results and lower the risk of injury. If you exercise with a friend or coach, they can video for you.

It’s essential to practice your breathing and pacing. We mean that you need to control your breaths through your rowing. Inhale as you grab the handles and lean forward. Breathe out as you pull the handle towards your chest during the drive phase. Breathe in again during the recovery phase. This practiced breathing technique will help you keep a steady pace without overdoing it. It gives your heart time to acclimate to rowing.

As you get stronger, gradually increase your resistance to build lean muscle. Make sure you don’t overload too early. Listen to your body.

Make Rowing Fun

There are plenty of rowing machines like Hydrow that offer online workouts for both rowing and other exercises. The pivoting screen allows you to train both on and off the rower.

Adding music to your workout helps keep the entertainment going as you row. There’s nothing like belting out your favorite song as you pull and push.

Use the different workouts we suggested, like interval and circuit training to keep things interesting. Not only will it help build muscle mass, but it will keep the boredom at bay.

Joining a rowing class helps keep you motivated as you feel like you are part of a team. Virtual and in-person workouts give you that option.


How much rowing should a beginner do?

While there is no set protocol for how much rowing a beginner should do, we recommend consistently starting three or four times a week. Row for 10-20 minutes at a moderate pace to get used to the rowing machine.

What’s the best beginner rowing machine workout?

Don’t overthink your workout in the beginning. Start with five to ten minutes on the rower at a leisurely pace. Try to hit 20-25 SPM at the beginning.

When should I add a rowing machine to my workout?

Rowing is excellent at the beginning or end of your workout. As we described, you can also use it with interval or circuit workouts. It’s possible just to perform a rowing workout at a steady pace too.

Is rowing better than other cardio machines?

Rowing is better than treadmills because it is a low-impact, high-intensity exercise that works over 80% of the body. We highly recommend it for your cardio training sessions.

Ready to Row?

It’s time to get on that rowing machine you’ve been eyeing at the gym or buy one for yourself right at home. We’ve convinced you of the endless benefits of rowing machines and it’s muscle-building time. Go row, row, row your way to epic cardiovascular health!

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Kristen holds a bachelors in English from Louisianna university. With a longstanding passion for fitness, she owns and operate her own gym and is a certified jazzercise instructor.

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