The perfect rowing technique

Rowing – we love to hate it. Just 5 minutes on the rowing machine proves to be a struggle. It is a form of cardio and resistance training packed into one movement! This means it’s a great workout, but is also very intense. It’s no surprise, then, that rowing sprints are often included in HIIT workouts. While using the rowing machine is an obvious way to improve your fitness, it can be dangerous if your technique isn’t on point. Bad rowing teckers can put strain on your lower back and neck – two areas which if damaged, can put you out of training for weeks. So what’s the right way to row?

Starting out

To begin with, concentrate on one stroke at a time. Rowing is a repetitive movement so you will pick it up quickly and it will become ingrained into your muscle memory! However, this means it’s really important to make sure you’re rowing correctly from the start. The good news? It’s not complicated.

Take a seat… 

…and strap your feet in. Make sure that the strap sits just above the middle of your foot. This will give you range of movement but also some resistance so you can push harder.

Taking hold of the handle push back and extend your legs so they are straight.

The handle

Now it’s time to set up your technique. Establishing it here will make it easier to maintain for the rest of the rowing ‘stroke’. At the end of the stroke, you’ll end up in this same position.

Hold the handle with your hands at the end of each side. If it’s comfortable, place your little finger over each end. This will help keep your shoulders broad, chest open and stop you hunching. (When you pull the handle back it should be coming up to your ribs. For us women, a good place to aim for is the bottom of your sports bra, but everyone’s different!)

Moving your upper body

Sitting up straight lean ever so slightly back, making sure to engage your core.

Put your arms out straight in front of you and then rock over, roughly through a 45 degree angle. Once rocked over your body should not vary in position until it comes to the rock back. Keep your core engaged at all times.

Next, keeping that back straight (!) pull those knees to your chest. Your heels will lift slightly. You’ll be in the correct position when your shins are at a 90° angle to the slide (i.e. the big metal pole that your seat slides up and down on).

N.B. As you get more tired, you are likely to start hunching at this point. Watch out for that straight back and keep your chest open! This will also mean there is space for your lungs to get that crucial oxygen.

And reverse…

Now you just reverse what you have already done.

First you push through your legs.

Then as the handle passes over your knees you rock your body back.

Then to finish the stroke you pull the handle into your chest and you’re ready to go again: Arms, body, slide. Legs, rock back, finish.

When putting it into practice try and create a contrast between your time taking the stroke, and gently moving up the slide in the recovery. Going slowly down the slide to the starting position, will give you slightly more rest time. Use this to then push harder with your legs and explode off the foot plate!

What workout to do?

In a HIIT workout, you’d usually sprint as fast as you can for 30 seconds (or whatever your interval time is). If you want to add it into your gym session, try doing 4 x 500m, with 30 second intervals in between!

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