How to Use a Rowing Machine Correctly - Part 1

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An Introduction to Rowing

Rowing is a sport which can be enjoyed by people of all ages, sizes and abilities. It provides one of the most comprehensive workouts you can get from one activity, working all the major muscle groups. Rowing can be done in different types of boat on the water, or on an indoor rowing machine, which rowers call an ergometer (often just shortened to erg, or ergo), from the Greek ergo meaning work and meter meaning measure. It does literally measure an individual’s power output in watts, so there is no hiding from an erg, one of the reasons rowers love (hate?) them so much!


Basic Rowing Technique

We will look at rowing on a rowing machine, where the body movements can be considered without concern for the balance of the boat or the interaction of the oar with the water. Just like many other sports, such as running or swimming, rowing is ultimately just one sequence of movements repeated over and over again. There is therefore no single ‘start’ or ‘end’ to the rowing stroke. However, we will start in the position known as the catch.

The catch

In a boat, this is the moment of placing the blade into the water. The rower is fully compressed at the front of the slide. The rowers’ arms are totally straight. The heels are lifted slightly, and the shins are vertical. The trunk (body) is rocked forward slightly from the hip joint – not by bending the back. 

The rower is only momentarily in the catch position, before starting the drive phase


The drive

The legs are the first part of the body to move, with the arms and trunk remaining fixed. The heels press down on the footplate and the knees are straightened. The angle of the trunk should not change through the first part of the drive. 

When the legs are fully extended, the rower pivots over from the hips to open up the body.

The drive is completed with the arms by drawing the blade handle through to the chest, just below the pectoral muscle. The elbows should be in a comfortable position, not too far out to the sides, and not right by the body. The wrists should be flat. 


The finish

This position is known as the finish. In a boat, this is when the blade is extracted from the water by pressing down on the handle, although of course on an ergometer, this ‘tap down’ is unnecessary.  The finish position marks the end of the drive and the start of the recovery.


The recovery

The rower returns to the catch position for the next stroke in the reverse sequence of the drive. So now, the arms are the first part of the body to move, reaching out away from the body to fully straight. 

The trunk then pivots over from the hips again, to the same slight forward angle, keeping the back straight. 

The knees can now bend to bring the rower forward to the catch again. The slide forward should be at a steady speed, without abrupt acceleration into the catch. The rower now arrives at the catch position again ready to take the next stroke.