Learning how to use a rowing machine is a really smart move before you jump into your next workout. Rowing is renowned for being one of the best full-body exercises you could ever do, but getting it right is always the most important part. That's the case with every exercise after all, but when an exercise like rowing that uses your full body and your back, in particular, you can't afford to be making mistakes.

To help you nail it every single time, there are some things you should know. That's why you're here after all. This comprehensive guide walks you through every part of your row to make sure you're keeping yourself safe, maximising your progress, and getting the best out of each and every workout. Rowing machines are incredible machines, after all.



Person getting set up on a rowing machine


Like with all exercises, learning how to use a rowing machine in the best way possible starts with your setup. It’s not like other exercises where you need to set up your weights or find the best speed. This one is all about being comfortable in a way that will work for the full workout safely.


Warming up is always a vital part of any workout. You cannot afford to miss it with cardio, and with rowing in particular. There’s no single muscle being hit, so make sure you do a series of stretches to get the most out of your performance.

Back stretches are often a great place to start but remember to stretch your arms and legs in particular for a good rowing workout too. The last thing that you need is a pulled muscle.

Feet Strapped at the ball of your feet

Getting onto how to use the rowing machine itself, the first step you need to get in after sitting is strapping your feet. Believe it or not, even this is something that’s easy to get wrong. Tonnes of people do it without even realising. The best tip to remember is that these are not shoes.

When you are strapping your feet into the rowing machine, make sure that the heel is adjusted correctly first of all. That’s the best way to secure your positioning even when you’re moving and letting you use your legs properly. On top of that, make sure that the strap is set at the height of the ball of your feet. Any higher or lower and you are putting a range of different muscles and ligaments at risk. You shouldn’t be able to go on your tiptoes.

Mid grip on the handle

Next up in how to row is where to hold the handle. That's a huge part of the exercise, and it's another thing that you might think must be hard the get wrong. Sadly, it's quite the opposite, so get used to this. This does, of course, change if you are above or below average height, but generally speaking, you should be holding the bar with a mid-grip.

That means that if the bar were split in two and you had one in each hand, you'd have equal length either side of your grip. Try your best to remember that at all times, and you should be in the right place. Always keep an overhand grip too.

Resistance Set

To make sure that the guide is truly comprehensive of every stage of how to use a rowing machine, we need to look at the details of your workout too. There’s no right or wrong advice here, but you do need to ensure that your resistance is at the appropriate level for your workout to make sure that it’s going to do the job. The harder the resistance, the harder your muscles work, but chances are, for less time.

This is a little bit like looking at whether you should do weights or cardio first in your workout. The higher the resistance is, the more resistance training focussed your workout will be. If you’re looking for a higher calorie burn in say our 20-minute HIIT workout, you may wish to go for maybe half of your maximum resistance. For LISS, that could be 30% of your maximum. It's all dependent on how long your workout will be and what the goal is.

Computer Set-Up (If applicable)

Lastly, on the same kind of lines (but much less significantly), it's also great practice to make sure that you're set up how you need to be on your display too. The vast majority of rowing machines have computers on them. They are capable of measuring a tonne of progress (which is vital anyway). That’s everything from speed and distance to estimated calorie burn. It’s all essential info.

On top of that, the system can be set to help you with hat specific workout as well. Instead of telling you what you’re doing, it can often be set to help you find out what to do. Sometimes you may wish to see how long it takes for a 1000M sprint; other times it may be how many calories you can burn in 20m minutes. Make sure you have the right data.




Person using a rowing machine


The second part of how to use a rowing machine comes from you. Your technique is a huge part of any exercise; it's the make or break factor. Make sure you remember this above all else.

Step 1

The most important thing you need to remember when you're learning how to use a rowing machine properly is that your legs push first. You do not move everything all at the same time. From your starting position with all of the setup in place and good posture, push with your legs. Remember to lean slightly back as this happens.

Step 2

Once your legs are fully extended or thereabout, that's then you start using your arms and back (back mostly). This is when you pull the bar into your chest (Note that is your chest, not your neck like people seem to do for a 'better contraction'). Try to keep your elbows semi-close to your torso to stop all of the activation coming from your rear delts as your back is going to be stronger and keep going.

Step 3

This is when you get back to your starting point. Do all of that again but in reverse. Remember not to make a scooping motion like many people fall into the trap of. You should be pulling and returning in a horizontal line and not going up and down too. Don't hunch your back at the end and you're set!



  • Legs First

  • Top Second

  • Back straight

  • Gradual Lean Back

  • Arms in

  • Chest height (NOT NECK)

If you can nail all of that, then you're set for a solid workout. Rowing machines really are some of the best cardio you could ever find. Make sure you're using them to their fullest potential, and always exercise safely.



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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. Exercise.co.uk 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.