Tips for Using a Rowing Machine Row Like a Pro

We all have those machines in the gym that we avoid – not because we don’t like them – but because we don’t know how to use them.

One of the most avoided machines of all is the rowing machine. Or, if you want to wow friends that dabbled in college crew, this machine is technically called an “erg.” We know that a lot of you are wondering “What is this machine?” or “How do I use it?” and more importantly, “How can I get the most out of it?” We have decided to get to the bottom of how to utilize the rowing machine to your ‘erg’-vantage.

What is this machine?

rowing machine

Even though the rowing machine may seem new to you – it has actually been around for a long time – 145 years to be exact. The original purpose of the machine was to keep rowers and other athletes in shape. Not too uncommon for its use today! In the 1900s, the machine was perfected to include an ergometer (hence, the word ‘erg’), which allows athletes to keep track of how much energy they are exerting.

A hundred years later, the rowing machine is still the perfect opportunity to get the benefits of rowing without ever touching the water. It is, hands down, one of the best low-impact exercises that targets a variety of muscles while burning fat and increasing stamina.

Using a rowing machine is more than just an arm workout. It works muscle groups such as the shoulders, arms, back, core, legs, and glutes – when used correctly (don’t worry, we’ll get there). It is also the perfect opportunity to get a HIIT (high intensity interval training) workout in – all in one sitting!

While the rowing machine benefits are endless – they can only be achieved if you use the machine properly. Much like using any other machines at the gym, there are plenty of opportunities for injury if not used correctly. Read on for tips and tricks to get the best out of your next erg workout (or ‘erg-out’?).

How do I use it?

Setting Up

Before you can even start your workout – make sure you have the proper tools to conquer the rowing machine. Be sure you are wearing formfitting clothes (so they don’t caught in the machine!), running shoes, and some sick tunes to get you motivated – brownie points if you’re wearing our BTS Pro.


Putting the resistance at 10 will get you the best workout, right? Wrong. Professional rowers usually row between the 3 and 5 resistance settings, generally. It’s all about how much power you can create with your movements at a lower setting. Rowing at a higher resistance will still be a great workout, but you may find yourself unable to maintain a consistent speed at that level.


how to use rowing machine

how to use rowing machine

When holding the handle – be sure to keep your grip light – no death grips here! A tight hold will create unnecessary tension in your arms. Instead, keep your hands on the outside of the oar, float your pinky fingers off the end, and keep your thumb resting on top or below the handle. When pulling, be sure to engage your upper back, shoulders, and biceps – not just your arms.

Starting Position

how to use rowing machinehow to use rowing machine

Start by pulling the oar back. Be sure to keep it below your chest to ensure the most effective stroke. Remember to keep your back straight, core engaged, and balls of your feet firmly strapped in. Make sure your knees are slightly bent – not locked. This position is, coincidentally, your ending position as well.

The Catch

how to use rowing machine

how to use rowing machine

Next, move your arms out (towards the top of the machine) and let your upper body follow. Keep your back straight and your abs engaged. Your body will re-angle itself forward as you slide in and your legs bend. Be sure to keep your legs vertical as they bend. Don’t let them push out horizontally (as demonstrated in the top photo).

The Drive

how to use rowing machine

Next, push with your feet first, and your legs will straighten. Your body will still be leaning forward at this point (above) as the seat moves backwards. Lastly, as your pushing, lean back – and you’re back to the starting position!

How can I get the most out of it? 

how to use rowing machine

Now that you have the skills to row properly – how do you get the most out of your workout? Instead of rowing aimlessly for a half hour, figure out a training plan that is right for you.

One simple way to target certain parts of your body is to do isolations. You can isolate your leg muscles and lower body by keeping your arms extended and back straight while only pushing with your legs. Conversely, you can isolate your arms and upper body by keeping your legs straight and utilizing your arms and back as your main source of power as you row.

Looking for more of a challenge? Check out some other awesome rowing machine workouts you can work into your routine:

Shape‘s 20-Minute Total Body Rowing Workout is an easy to follow workout for beginners and also helps increase stamina.

Women’s Health‘s 30 Minute Rowing Workout will get your heartbeat going and burn those calories like no other!

Finally, Men’s Fitness‘s 5 Rowing Workouts provides a 5 ways you can integrate the rowing machine into a fun routine you can complete at your local gym (extra pushups, please!).


There you have it! Say good bye to those long waits for an elliptical and say hello to a unique, full-body workout. A huge thank you to iRow Studios for providing the erg! Have some tips you’d like to share about the rowing machine? We’d love to hear them. Tweet us at @66Audio!