Being an ex-rower, I know only too well about split times on a rowing machine. Like with any cardio machine, distance and speed are two metrics that we tend to track for performance. However, the key to achieving a personal best on a rowing machine is through your technique.

One of the core benefits of exercising on a rowing machine is that it uses various muscle groups, and it’s an effective method to achieve your personal goals. So whether you’re looking to build muscle and strength, or lose a few pounds, a rowing machine is a cardio machine that will help you achieve it.

Other than your rowing technique, if you’re looking to improve your speed, distance and time on the rowing machine, you need to improve the drive through your legs as this is where the bulk of the power comes from. Once you’ve understood your strength and ability here, the rest of your body will follow suit. Your legs become your asset on the rowing machine and on the water.


To improve your time on the rowing machine, you need to have control over your pace. Your drive forward should be relatively slow (3 seconds), and your drive back should be quick and powerful. Your posture will play a significant role in your rowing ability.

Whilst many tend to lean over and have a hunched back, this is a bad technique as you could inherit an injury and overall performance will be poor. You need to sit tall but not in a fully upright position and lean back slightly when pulling your stroke. This will enhance the power during your row.

To gain distance and speed, you rowing strokes need to belong, as this will further release power and improve your technique. Gaining distance during your strokes will increase your speed and overall time.

To make your strokes longer, when pushing back on the rowing machine, you can lean back slightly at the end of the stroke. Slowing your drive down as mentioned before will also help improve the length of your stroke, which as a result will advance your distance and speed.

Avoid pulling the handle too high (where it reaches your head) or too low (where it’s hitting your stomach). The handle should come in nicely above the bottom of your rib cage (near your sternum).

During my rowing career, I saw the difference these simple changes made and the power when driving my legs on both the rowing machine and on the waters was noticeable. Plus, you want to avoid injuries via poor techniques – this will only slow you down.

Improving Strength for Your Stroke

person planking

Now, in addition to using the rowing machine, if you’re looking to improve your overall speed, you need to incorporate different exercises. This will benefit you massively both physically and for personal goals on the rowing machine.

These include:

Core exercises

  • Planks
  • Side Planks
  • Sit-ups – this can be done with weights
  • Press ups – to challenge yourself and really strengthen your core muscles, try press-ups on a swiss ball
  • Barbell roll-outs
  • Russian twist – using weights, a medicine ball is commonly used

Strength exercises

  • Squats – this can be done with a range of free weights such as dumbbells, kettlebells and barbells
  • Bench press
  • Olympic lifts – it’s a good exercise to help improve self-control, leg drive and hip movement
  • Deadlifts

If you enjoy cycling and running, this too can help improve your rowing speed and strength. Both endurance sports will contribute to your overall fitness level on the rowing machine and in general. It’s also a good way to mix-up your cardio machine usage! Take the running outside and if you own a bike, go on some cycle trips or cycle to work.

Improving Speed

person on the rowing machine

For those looking to improve their speed on a rowing machine, spend more time on the rowing machine rather than a quick 3-minute blast which focuses purely on you gaining a faster time.

If you spend a longer length of time on the rowing machine, it becomes a more efficient workout and you will improve your technique, which will enhance your speed, as well as your fitness. Your personal goals will become more noticeable and you will be able to really challenge yourself to the next level.

If time is your main goal, you need to think smart and avoid clock watching during your workout. This will affect your control and technique. To make your rowing goals more worthwhile, include other performance metrics such as distance or maintaining a certain speed for a set length of time. It will make your rowing machine workout more exciting and challenging.

Before beginning any exercise or nutrition program, consult your physician, doctor or other professional. This is especially important for individuals over the age of 35 or persons with pre-existing health problems. assumes no responsibility for personal injury or property damage sustained using our advice.

If you experience dizziness, nausea, chest pain, or any other abnormal symptoms, stop the workout at once and consult a physician or doctor immediately.