Top 15 Indoor Rowing Techniques & Tips

If you are unaware of all the benefits of rowing, you are missing out on one of the most beneficial workouts you could take advantage of. This is a full body exercise with low impact and a consistent and easy learning curve. You can easily change your resistance or speed in order to change what you’re trying to improve, whether it’s cardio or strength building. Many of us have sensitive joints, low flexibility, or mobility issues that can interfere with keeping a regular exercise routine, and many just starting out lack the fortitude or endurance for other types of workouts.

Rowing offers an option that you can easily do at home or the gym and doesn’t require jumping around or going through multiple motions in order to work all the muscle groups. It has it all in one fluid motion. It can seem like a dream come true or too good to be real. An exercise that is both low impact and full body, while still being easy. However, just because it is all those things, doesn’t mean you can only get a light workout. With rowing, you are able to alter what you’re doing just slightly in order to accomplish your fitness goals. There are some challenges that can come along with rowing as well. Here we will discuss some of the ways you can get the best rowing workout possible and how to improve your results.

1. Take it easy at first

take it easy when rowing

In the same way you would for any new exercise, don’t go into it expecting to get great workout stats immediately, even if you are already an active person. You need to take your time to figure out the machine you’re using. Feel the different resistance levels and learn the motions of the rowing machine to help your body figure out how to get the most out of your rowing exercise. As mentioned above, rowing exercises offer a full body workout with unique and fluid motions. It may take a bit to get those motions down and to get your muscles ready for a more intense workout. Also, if you want to get a great workout, you’ll need to understand what your machine is capable of. There are different types of resistance and each one will feel a bit different. It’s important to know what to expect before you throw yourself all in and start an intense training session. No one is perfect at rowing right away. It’s a sport in itself, so just like any sport you need to practice to get it right.

2. Remember to breathe

breath when rowing

Whenever you’re doing an exercise that requires steady and constant motion, it can take a lot of focus. Many will find themselves breathing inconsistently, which is a mistake anytime your physical activity is increased. Breathing is necessary for your muscles to perform at their best and keep you performing at your best. During high intensity workouts, your body may need more than double the level of oxygen that you usually do. Erratic breathing will not only make it harder to keep a good rhythm of motions, but will also keep you from obtaining your goals and reaching your potential. When going through the rowing motions on a lighter workout, you should be inhaling during the Recovery phase and exhaling during the Drive phase. If you’re doing more intense training there should be two breaths each stroke. Inhaling on the Recovery and the Catch, and exhaling through the Drive and Finish. If you’re new to rowing, you probably have no idea what the Recovery, Drive, Catch, and Finish are. We’ll discuss those more next.

3. It’s a full body workout, not just arms

do full body workout with rower, not just arm

Many people will start off using their arms to do most of the work. It may seem like that’s the right way to go as your arms and shoulders move the most, but in reality your legs should be working more than your arms are and your core needs to be engaged as well. There’s a specific order when rowing to which part of your body you should be putting the most strain on. You should start with what’s called the Catch. Place your feet on the footpads and grab the handle. Your knees should be bent so that your shins are close to vertical, keeping your core braced and your shoulders relaxed. Using your legs to push yourself back, keep your torso slightly forward until your legs are fully extended to complete the Drive phase. Begin to lean back and once your torso is almost vertical, you’ll start to pull the handle with your arms. This is the Finish. The Recovery is essentially relaxing your body in the opposite order until you’re back in the beginning position. The motion should never stop as you go back into the Catch and follow the same pattern.

4. Keep your movements fluid

Keep your movements fluid

Rowing is a water sport, even if you’re doing it inside and the only water nearby is in your bottle. It requires repetitive and smooth motions in order to be as beneficial as possible. Keeping your movements from becoming jerky and harsh is a must. Rowing is a low impact exercise, which makes it great for those with joint problems and keeps all rowers from developing stiff or sore joints. It will also increase your workout experience by helping you maintain a constant and positive workout, getting you to your goals and making your time rowing worthwhile. It’s helpful to try and think of your motions as though they were waves rolling up your body, starting with your legs, then up and back down your arms, returning to your legs again.

5. Don’t hunch

Don’t hunch during exercise

We have a habit to hunch our shoulders when we’re moving our arms a lot, and rowing requires a lot of arms movement. It can be especially difficult while you lean forward and for people who sit at a desk all day. Also, through part of rowing, your shoulders are relaxed. It’s easy to see why some have a difficult time with this, but if you hunch while exercising you’ll only end up with a sore back and a less than ideal workout. It can also lead to lower back pain and feeling stiffer. While all workouts can make your muscles sore, there’s a difference between the good sore that comes from pushing yourself toward a healthier life and the soreness that comes from bad posture. This goes back to taking the time to get your form right. You don’t want to start intense rowing training until you know your motions are where they need to be.

6. Pull to your ribs, not up

Pull to your ribs

While you’re pulling the handle back with your arms, you may be tempted to pull up. Afterall, if your form is off a little bit, it will make it so your knees keep hitting your arms. Your arms and shoulders should be engaged after your legs are extended, so that will help with that issue, but it’s also important to pull the handle towards the bottom of your ribcage in order to work your shoulders and back appropriately. If you’re pulling up, you’ll end up with a sore back and probably having some issues with your hold on the handle.

7. Pay attention to your lines (straight arms or legs when needed)

Pay attention to your lines

One of the most important things to do with a rowing machine is to adjust it to accommodate your size. Some people have longer legs and some a longer torso. Some are taller while others are on the shorter side. Anyone can do rowing as exercises, making it one of the best exercises out there. There is a large variety of machine options that can accommodate just about everyone, but if you’re using a machine you need to set the spacing to be right for you. It’s important for proper rowing form to be able to stretch your legs and arms straight some of the time. If your machine measurements are off, it will lead to a more difficult workout that may lead to unnecessarily sore muscles after or even possible injuries.

8. Let your feet wiggle, don’t strap down the whole foot

Let your feet wiggle

Rowing moves almost your entire body, and that includes your feet. It may seem like a good idea to strap your feet in so tightly they can’t move, but you should have some movement in your feet as well. When you go into the Catch phase of your stroke, You should be lifting your heels, otherwise you’re not going to be about to get your legs as compressed as you should. Remember, your shins should almost be vertical. A good way to strap your feet in is to place the strap at the base of your big toe. This gives you some anchorage without restricting too much movement. However, if you find that you need those straps to keep your feet from coming off the footpads, you may want to reevaluate your form. There is even some who think you should start without the straps as an easier way to know if your form is off. It’s important to follow the correct order of muscles being worked in order to avoid backaches or inefficient results.

9. When in doubt, pinky out

When in doubt ask

Gripping the handle too tightly will eventually make your hands go numb and ruin your rowing experience, but for many people it’s difficult to keep themselves from holding that handle with vice like strength. One of the best ways to retrain your habits and stop grabbing on too tightly is to keep your pinky extended. It’s difficult to squeeze the life out of the handle when your little finger is out and encourages you to lightly hold on to the bar. You want to be working your arms and shoulders when the time comes to pull back on the handle, not your hands.

10. Power posing while rowing

Power posing while rowing

A good way to keep your form correct is to think of yourself as power posing while working out. If you don’t know what power posing is, it’s where you stand tall with squared shoulders, looking powerful. People will use those poses when they need a confidence boost or want to make a point of appearing in charge. It’s used in the business world all the time, and you should use it too on the rowing machine. Not only will it make you feel more powerful because of the psychological impact it has, but it will help you to keep your back straight and your arms, legs, and core engaged, improving your workout.

11. Don’t bounce in your seat

Don’t bounce on your rower seat

Some people will notice themselves ‘bouncing’ as they row. Their seat will lift a bit, and it may even be a bit jarring. Just like if your feet start to come off the footpads, this is a clear sign that you need to adjust your rowing flow. It can also be an indicator that your machine needs adjusting. A poorly adjusted machine can ruin a workout and result in a poor experience. It can also lead to injuries if you’re not careful. When you’re using a new machine or one that is used by other people, it’s vital that you take the time to adjust it to your size.

12. Pay attention to how you feel after your workout

Pay attention to how you feel after rowing workout

One of the most telling ways to know if something is off with your workout habits or your form is in how you feel after. Many who need to improve their form will experience lower back pain. If your motions are too jerky or harsh, it can lead to joint pain. One of the biggest benefits of a rowing machine is the fact that it’s low impact, so you don’t want to remove that benefit. If your machine is set on the wrong size adjustments, it can also throw off your indoor rowing routine and make it so you can’t stretch your arms or your legs out straight enough, or your feet slide off the footpads. It can also make you bounce in your seat. Take the time to get your motions right and adjust the machine to fit you. It will improve your indoor rowing exercise and help to keep you moving toward your physical fitness goals.

13. Try new things

Try new things with rowing machine

Rowing offers a complete body workout with little impact. The standard rowing motion is an unparalleled exercise, but there is more to do with a rowing machine than just row. There are various workouts that can focus on different parts of your body, including a deadlift and a seated tricep extension. Shaking things up and learning new forms and ways to make the most out of your indoor rowing machine will allow you to keep your rowing exercise routine interesting and will give you the chance to focus on the different muscle groups in your body.

14. Don’t be a chicken (elbows sticking out)

dont stick elbows out

One thing to remember is that this is rowing, not the chicken dance. If you find yourself flapping those elbows, try to tuck them in. Your back will thank you and you’ll notice a difference in your results. Often, if you notice your elbows sticking out or if they hit your knees during your rowing machine stroke, it can be a sign that you need to adjust the sizing on your indoor rowing machine or that you’re not letting your legs finish their part of the workout. Your legs should be fully extended before your arms begin to pull back, and your arms should be extended before your knees come up. Keeping your elbows tucked will help your hold on the handle stay comfortable as well, and prevent a sore or stiff back after.

15. Don’t become a sitting duck (keep moving)

keep moving

As mentioned above, rowing requires fluid motions in order to be at its most effective. This means that you don’t stop moving. Your rowing exercises should be constant motion, outside of resting periods. There shouldn’t be any time where you stop moving, and you should have any resting moments planned. If you begin to tire out and notice your form is starting to suffer, renew your focus on your motions. It would be better to slow down a little than to keep rowing with poor form or stop completely. While you should be pushing yourself toward improvement, you also don’t want to ruin your rowing machine experience completely and hurt yourself with bad form. That could mean reduced time on your indoor rowing machine and maybe even needing to take a break.


How do I get good at rowing?

Practice is the key to most things, and it is with rowing as well. You want the proper form to come naturally and make it almost like muscle memory in order to utilize the muscles you want to exercise and to keep your workout a great experience.

How can I be good at rowing indoors?

Rowing on an indoor machine rather than taking to a large body of water and doing the real thing is actually very similar. While you lose the scenic surroundings and the sound of water lapping, you will gain a workout you can do more consistently. Being indoors means the weather or season won’t affect your routine and will give you more control. Once you have the right form and know what you’re doing, what you really need to focus on is making sure your machine is set up to fit you and keeping up with any adjustments you need to make.

How do I row indoors comfortably?

Taking the time to make sure your machine is adjusted to fit your height is vital to a comfortable indoor rowing workout. Everyone is shaped differently, so if your machine is off it will throw off your whole indoor rowing machine exercise.

How do I use a rowing machine properly?

As talked about above, there are four phases to rowing which are the Catch, Drive, Finish, and Recovery. You should start with the Catch by placing your feet on the footpads and grabbing the handle. Your knees should be bent, your shoulders relaxed, and your core engaged. Using your legs to push yourself back, keep your torso slightly forward until your legs are fully extended to complete the Drive phase. Begin to lean back and once your torso is almost vertical, you’ll start to pull the handle with your arms. This is the Finish. The Recovery is essentially relaxing your body in the opposite order until you’re back in the beginning position. The motion should never stop as you go back into the Catch and follow the same pattern. There are some variations in how you can use a rowing machine that will put more focus on different parts of your body, but following those four phases is the best for an all over workout.

How do I set up a rowing machine?

You should always follow the instructions that are specific to your indoor rowing machine. The different forms of resistance will each require a unique setup. For example, water resistance rowers will need their tanks filled and probably need the water treated to reduce any mildew buildup during inactivity. When assembling your indoor rowing machine, whether it’s a water rowing machine, air rowing machine, or magnetic rowing machine, you will want to take the time to learn how to adjust the measurements until you get it just right for you. Some people have longer legs and arms, some people are on the shorter side. You will want to make sure your legs can be straight and that the handle it long enough to comfortably fit in your hands.

How good is a rowing machine for weight loss?

Rowing machines are great for cardio. Indoor rowing machines rely partly on your own workout speed instead of manually adjustable resistance levels, so you set the pace for the workout you want. Cardio is usually the best type of exercise, so while you can adjust resistance levels to require more strength for strength training, you can also simply pick up the pace or lengthen your workout time when you need to increase your weight loss workout. The fact that it’s a full body exercise with less reliance on arm strength and more on all over body motion also means you’re less likely to bulk up if your main focus is trimming down. Of course, bulking up is still possible with resistance adjustment.


Indoor rowing machines come in such a variety of resistance options, exercise forms, and adjustable sizing that there is no doubt it’s one of the most versatile types of indoor exercises anyone can do. The ability to work the entire body, but also the forms that will work specific muscle groups, and the range of strength and cardio to fit every workout and fitness goal program is beneficial to anyone wanting to improve their health. There’s no doubt that you will notice the difference when using an indoor rowing machine in your routine. It will improve your lung health, heart health, and joint health, all while helping you keep a healthy weight and building strength all over your body. It can help with flexibility and energy levels and even improve your mood over time. There’s a variety of machine costs and styles to choose from, with different features and capabilities to give you the perfect exercise routine for your schedule and lifestyle. Everyone should utilize an indoor rowing machine in their life.

Sayed Hamed Hosseiny
Sayed Hamed Hosseiny

Hi, my name is Sayed Hamed Hosseiny. I am a professional health and fitness trainer with nearly 20 years of experience using ellipticals, rowing machines, and spin bikes. I also have my own EU-based Rock Fitness Pro fitness brand where I design, import and sell exercise equipment such as rowing machines and spin bikes. I and writers on my team also often receive fitness equipment to review and evaluate their functionalities and performance from tens of different exercise machines manufacturers. Fitness equipment tips, guides, reviews, and comparisons on this website are my opinion (and opinions of my fitness expert colleagues) based on tens of criteria. I never accept payment to write reviews of products or say positive things about fitness equipment products. If brands are interested to have me review their rowers, ellipticals, or spin bikes, they can get in touch with me via email provided on the contact page and send a sample of their product.