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How to Use a Rowing Machine (Beginner’s Workout)

Personal trainer teaching someone how to use the rowing machine

Gyms can be intimidating. There are rows of different equipment, and people expect you to “know what you are doing.” This can make newcomers feel like they are on the wrong side of a secret handshake.

We’ve created this beginners guide so you no longer need to be intimidated by the gym and you can get started on a full-body workout routine with a rowing machine.

Why the Rowing Machine Belongs in Your Workout

The rowing machine is suitable for everyone, regardless of their fitness level. It’s a low-impact exercise that engages 86% of your muscles! Here’s a look at the benefits:

  • Cardio Champion: Rowing machine workouts gets your heart rate up efficiently, burning serious calories and improving cardiovascular health.
  • Full-Body Fitness: From your legs and core to your back, arms, and shoulders, rowing provides a well-rounded workout for most of your muscles.
  • Low-Impact Power: Unlike running or jumping jacks, using a rowing machine is gentle on your joints, making it ideal for people with impact-related injuries.
  • Mental Toughness: The rowing motion requires focus and coordination, building mental strength alongside your physical fitness.

Mastering the Rowing Machine Basics

Let’s break down the rowing machine itself. Most rowing machines will have a seat that slides back and forth, a foot plate with straps, a handle, and a monitor that displays workout stats like distance, time, and stroke rate (strokes per minute).

Setting Up for Success:

  1. Adjust the Footplate: Sit on the seat and extend your legs. The straps should comfortably hold your feet with your heels flat on the foot plate.
  2. Engage Your Core: Sit tall with a slight arch in your lower back and your shoulders relaxed. Brace your core by finding your centre, achieved by drawing your belly button towards your spine.

The Perfect Row: A Four-Part Symphony

Here’s where the magic happens! Finding the right technique for your workout will help you avoid making any common rowing machine mistakes. Avoiding improper form from the outset will enable you to get into the right starting position and get the most out of your rowing workout.

Imagine the rowing stroke as a four-part sequence:

  1. The Catch: Start with your legs extended and arms straight. This is the “catch” position, where you’re ready to initiate the arm pull.
  2. The Drive: Push with your legs first, driving forcefully through your heels as if pushing the floor away. As your legs extend, engage your core and pull the handle towards your chest, keeping your elbows close to your upper body.
  3. The Finish: Lean back slightly at the end of the pull, keeping your core engaged and back straight. Imagine squeezing your shoulder blades together.
  4. The Recovery: Relax your arms and legs, allowing the slide to return you to the “catch” position. Focus on controlled movements, not yanking the handle.

Finding Your Rowing Machine Workout Rhythm:

Rowing workouts require you to start slow and focus on a smooth, controlled stroke rate. Aim for a moderate pace where you can hold a conversation. As you get comfortable, you can gradually increase your rowing stroke or the intensity of your pull. To track your progress, refer to the monitor on the machine.

Beginner's Rowing Machine Workout

Now that you’re familiar with the benefits of rowing machines and how to best do body movements, let’s put it all together with a beginner-friendly workout! This total-body workout routine focuses on building endurance and proper technique.

Warm-Up (5 minutes):

Use a light rowing stroke at a moderate pace to get your blood flowing and loosen up your muscles.

Main Workout (10 minutes):

Interval training: Alternate between periods of moderate-intensity rowing (around a 20-24 stroke rate) and rest periods. Here are two options:

Option 1: 30 seconds work, 30 seconds rest (repeat 10 times)

Option 2: 1 minute work, 1 minute rest (repeat 5 times)

Cool-Down (5 minutes):

Finish with a low pace to bring your heart rate down and stretch your muscles and upper body.

This is just a starting point on how to use a rowing machine. You can adjust the work and rest intervals, stroke rate, and total workout time as you get stronger and more comfortable using a rower machine.

Bonus Tips for Rowing Success:

  • Don’t Slouch: Keep your back straight and core engaged when you use a rowing machine.
  • Breathe Easy: Inhale as you catch and exhale as you drive.
  • Hydrate: Especially during longer workouts, stay hydrated to avoid fatigue.
  • Listen to Your Body: Don’t push yourself too hard, especially when you begin rowing. Take breaks when needed and gradually increase intensity.

Have Fun! Rowing can be a challenging yet rewarding full-body workout. Take up the challenge, focus on proper form so you get the most out of your exercise, and celebrate your way to fitness.

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