How to perfect your rowing technique

Author: Grow Fitness
Date: 30/01/2018
Category: Row

Here at Grow, our strength classes are all centred around the water rower. Why? Because quite simply, no other piece of gym equipment offers such an effective full body workout. It works all of the muscles of the body together, increases flexibility and conditions the body without putting undue pressure on our joints. It’s low-impact, high-intensity exercise suitable for anyone and everyone.


We’ll dive deeper into the benefits of rowing at another time, because that’s a topic we could probably write a book about, so it at least deserves its own blog post! For now, let’s take a look at rowing technique.


First of all, don’t worry if you’ve never rowed before – our expertly trained instructors are equipped to teach a class with complete newbies as well as seasoned rowers at the same time. You’re safe in our hands!


If you’re new to rowing, your instructor will teach you the correct form in your first session and we guarantee that you’ll master it in no time. But if you want to learn more before you get started – or refresh your memory ahead of your next session – then check out our pointers below.


The key sequence to remember

Rowing is a continuous motion, but it can help to break it down into the separate movements below:

  • The Finish/The Release. The first position you need to get into is actually the same as the finish position. Sit on the rower with your legs straight and your shoulders back and down, keeping your core engaged. Lean back slightly, so that your torso forms slightly more than a right angle with your legs. Draw the handle into the bottom of your rib cage and try to tuck the elbows behind the body (avoid the temptation to flare out your elbows)
  • The Rock-over. From here, push your arms out ahead of you first, and then lean forwards slightly at the hips, keeping your back nice and tall. The handle should be at chest height – a good target for the arms is where you would bench press, or for ladies, the bottom of your sports bra
  • The Recovery. Maintain your body position, holding your core tight, but release your knees and allow the seat to roll forwards
  • The Catch. When your shins are vertical and the seat is close to your heels, you are ready for the drive – the hard part of the stroke
  • The Drive. The legs work first – push! The sequence is all the previous steps in reverse. So, after you push with your legs, your trunk will follow and then your arms will draw the handle back to the start position
  • And now, repeat!


This may look a bit complicated at first glance, but once you’re on the rower, it will quickly fall into place – it’s fairly intuitive, and you’ll find that you get into the rhythmic, repetitive motion pretty quickly.

Check out Grow’s Head of Strength Ben doing a quick demo in the photos below:


The Finish/Release

The Rock-over – push your arms out

The Rock-over – then tilt your torso forwards

The Recovery – release your knees and roll forwards

The Catch – from here, push back out into the Finish



Key tips to remember

  • Keep the key sequence in mind – push out with your legs, let your torso follow, then pull your arms back into the Finish. From here, push out with your arms first, lean your torso forwards and then release your legs
  • Don’t be tempted to go as fast as possible as soon as you hop on the rower. Give your body time to get used to the sequence of movements. Once you’ve mastered it, you can gradually increase the number of strokes per minute
  • An effective stroke on the rower machine is long and powerful, not short and quick
  • Allow your body to relax into the motion – good rowing technique requires loose and fluid movement, without any tension holding you back
  • Don’t rush your way through the movement. Think about the timing of your strokes – each stroke ratio should be a 1:2 count. Your body will use the most energy at the Drive, as your legs are pushing and your arms are pulling. As you move into Recovery and Release, the movement should become calm and collected rather than explosive


Common mistakes to avoid

  • Only using your arms – a common misconception is that rowing is primarily an upper body workout. In reality, only about 15% of the power used to drive your rowing should come from your arms. The bulk of your pushing power (60%) should come from your legs, with the rest made up in the effort it takes to brace your core throughout the workout
  • Mixing up the sequence of movements – as mentioned above, the key thing here is to give yourself the time to learn the sequence of movements, so that eventually you do it intuitively
  • Rounding your back – your spine needs to be neutral when rowing. Remember to keep your core tight throughout the movement, relaxing your shoulders without allowing them to hunch
  • Leaning too far back – you shouldn’t go further than just beyond a 90-degree angle. Try squeezing your glutes when you reach the top of release, making sure that your elbows are tucked in as far back as they can go by bringing the shoulder blades together


Hopefully, these tips will help you to feel prepared for your first strength class at Grow – look forward to seeing you in the studio soon!


Row with us, Grow with us – book here


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