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How to use a rowing machine

Siski Green / 05 February 2016

Want to know how to use a rowing machine to burn calories and get stronger? Here’s how.

using a rowing machine
Give your whole body a workout with a rowing machine

You can burn nearly 300 calories in just 30 minutes and give your whole body a workout with a rowing machine… if you know how. Find out how to use a rowing machine and the ways you can get more out of it. 

Related: Discover the best ways to get fit

Before you start, check your clothing

If your rowing machine is at home it’s tempting to get on it with normal clothes on but if your trousers aren’t snug, for example, it’s actually quite easy to get them caught in the machinery.

Not only could that wreck your clothing, it could cause you an injury. And, if you blister easily you might want to wear fingerless gloves to prevent blisters and rough patches forming. 

Now, get comfortable in the rowing machine. Set it to the easiest setting while you do this.

Put your feet on the pads and adjust the straps. Your feet don’t need to be strapped tight, just enough that they’re not sliding around on the pad as that can make it difficult for you to push and pull.

Bring your knees up so that you can reach and grab the handle. Hold it with an overhand grip with your thumbs underneath. 

Begin your workout

Now get into the starting position. Keep holding the handle as you use your legs to slide back to the other end of the machine (your head end). You should be able to reach the end with your legs straight but without locking your knees. Lean back slightly bringing the handle up to your chest as you do so, your elbows bent and by your sides. You’re ready!

Move your arms forward (straightening them) as you also move your upper body forward, keeping a straight back throughout. At the point where your hands are nearing your feet, slide your seat forward by bending your legs.

You have reached the end of the move when your knees are in between your upper arms (or just below) and your lower legs are perpendicular to the floor. Your arms are fully extended in front of you, your back is straight, and your knees are bent and relatively close to your chest. This is called ‘the catch’. 

To slide back again, use your feet to push off, so your legs begin to straighten. But keep your arms extended at this point. Your body will also be leaning forward still. You’ll feel this part of the move really working your arm and leg muscles.

As your legs straighten more, let your body lean back again as it did at the start, then finally as your upper body reaches the back of the machine (where your head is), you can bring your arms in. Pull the handle towards your chest, keeping your elbows in, as you were at the start. 

If you’re just starting out with a rowing machine, you should keep practising the entire range of motion at a low, easy level for a week or so.

Achieving perfect form before you start to push your muscles harder is essential if you are to avoid strains and injuries, but also to make sure you get the most out of your machine. Once you’re sure that you can do it correctly with ease, gradually increase the intensity.

Interval training

It’s a good idea to try interval training with your rowing machine, which means varying the intensity during the workout.

So you might do two minutes of warm-up rowing at a low level, then up the level for five minutes and push yourself to go faster. Then take it easy again for two minutes, then do another five minutes of high-intensity rowing and so on.

This way you push your body harder than if you try to do one solid block of high-intensity training.

The end result? You burn more calories, build stronger muscles and enjoy better fitness. 

Related: Vary your exercise routine for fitness

Nb: If you aren't used to exercise, see your GP before you start. They'll be able to tell you the right type of exercise for you, and give advice on starting slowly and building up gently.


The opinions expressed are those of the author and are not held by Saga unless specifically stated. The material is for general information only and does not constitute investment, tax, legal, medical or other form of advice. You should not rely on this information to make (or refrain from making) any decisions. Always obtain independent, professional advice for your own particular situation.

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