You’ve just bought a rowing machine… what next?

First of all – congratulations on your purchase of what in my opinion is the greatest piece of cardio equipment a person can own!

Now you are wondering where to start.. In the early days I would advise concentrating on a couple of things:

  • Form/ Technique
  • Base endurance
  • Progress tracking
  • Flexibility


Rowing with correct technique is key for being able to put the most power possible into each stroke, being able to maintain this and ensuring you minimise risk of injury. The main thing that helps understand the stroke is to think of which muscles generate the power – an old coach of mine estimates it to be along the lines of:

  • Legs – 65%
  • Lower back – 20%
  • Upper back – 10%
  • Arms – 5%

I like this video for seeing a stroke broken down in visual form – he makes it sound simple, and that’s because it is! You just need to work on co-ordination. I’ll break the stroke down into two parts – the drive and the recovery.

The Drive

Starting at the front, from a side on view you want to imagine that your body is at about 1 o clock angle. Given this is where you will start the stroke, you need to be in a strong position – have a neutral spine, sit up, hold your core tight and have balance in your feet.

When you take the stroke, it is key that you don’t fire off your legs and move the seat without moving the handle – this is wasted energy. You want to imagine that the handle is only moving at the start when the seat is moving.

Opening the back – you want to wait until you have almost got the legs flat before you start opening out, at this point you still have your arms locked out, and then once the legs are flat and you are opening the back (to about 11 o clock angle) you can then bring the arms in to finish the stoke.

For the stoke, you want to imagine that you are accelerating the handle the whole time so don’t jab it too hard at the start and then slow down, you want to really work on building power throughout the stoke.

The Recovery

Now that you’ve taken the stoke, you want to use the recovery (moving back to the start) to again be done efficiently and with poise to allow you to take in oxygen and get ready for the next stroke.

The recovery is essentially done in reverse – from the back of the stroke you want to move the arms back to fully extended, lean from your 11 o clock back to 1 o clock and then start breaking the legs. On the body rock is it essential that you do this from the hips, not the back. You want a completely neutral spine and not to be hunched. It should feel like you are sitting on a different part of your glutes as you rock over.

As you are breaking your knees and coming back to the front, you want to ensure your body is already in the position you want it to be at the front – don’t leave it too late and lean forwards at the front, this is again wasted effort and that all adds up in tests or long sessions.

Putting it together

Once you have a good grasp of both aspects of the stroke you want to turn it into a fluent stroke that you can repeat over and over. If you imagine that a stroke takes 3 seconds (imagine rowing at 20 strokes a minute) then the drive should take 1 second and the recover should take 2 seconds. This will help you find your rhythm.

There are drills you can do to build a stronger stroke, but I will do a further post on advanced technique and drills you can do.

Base Endurance

Whilst it is always tempting to get on and smash it – you will be setting yourself up well by spending your first 6-8 weeks focussing on longer sessions where you really bed in correct technique. I am a strong believer in taking breaks during long sessions to stretch/ take on water/ regroup but it is important to get the miles in!

I would suggest breaking down all initial sessions by time intervals – and I think 20 minutes is best to do so. I personally like a session like the below but to start you can do 2 x 20 mins before moving to a longer session.


3 x 20 minutes @ 18-20 strokes per minute with 3 minute break between each.


Stroke rate – if you want to row for a long period of time, you need to keep the rate low and you still have the opportunity to take really powerful strokes and take time to recover before the next one.

Heart rate – I really advocate using a HR monitor and you want to try and keep yourself around 65% of your max to ensure that you are not doing to much

On long sessions on the rowing machine, hydration is paramount. Check my post Powerade vs Gatorade for some thoughts about best hydration strategies.

Building experience of powerful strokes at low rate will mean that when you step up to high rate the speed will really show!

Progress Tracking

Something I see a lot of is people trying to do a 2km row too often. Either they are trying to improve their time weekly, or they are doing it after a gym session. If you are doing a 2k test properly, you shouldn’t be able to do anything else in the gym afterwards!

There are 3 tests I advocate for doing to measure progress:

  1. 30 @ 20 test. This is 30 minutes at a max stroke rate of 20. In here you want to measure your total distance. I would advocate doing this every 2-3 weeks to test the progress of your power and endurance.
  2. 2km test. This is an ‘all out’ test of speed over the typical rowing distance. You should do this no more than once every 6 weeks to allow time to build enough progress to beat it the next time. Aim to keep your stroke rate at a minimum of 32.
  3. 5km test. This is similar to the 2k test but over a longer distance and with a greater need to pace yourself. I would aim to keep stroke rate around 28-32 depending how well you can do this.


So much of the stroke is influenced by the flexibility of your hips and hamstrings. Do not neglect this aspect and spend time afterwards stretching properly – I fully recommend a foam roller to help you with this. Check out this post for a few thoughts on foam rollers.

Hopefully this gives a good flavour of the technique to row with, and some sessions to start off with.

Happy rowing!

Rowing Machine Workout

Rowing Machine Workout

For years, an exercise bike has been the machine of choice for those wanting to workout at home and avoid running along the pavement on those dark, cold winter mornings and evenings. I am a firm believer that the rowing machine offers the best ability to meet your fitness goals, whether that be weight loss, endurance or raw power. The rowing machine targets all major muscle groups – legs, back, core and arms.

Choose a Rowing Machine for All Round Exercise:

I promise you that adding a modern rowing machine to your indoor gym will be the best decision you ever make! With the improvements in design and operation of rowing machines, they are fast taking over from the bike for those who want a machine which will provide maximum all round full-body activity which keeps the heart elevated.

Two approaches to Rowing Fitness

There are two main approaches I would suggest for working out on a rowing machine – HIIT (High Intensity Interval Training) or LISS (Low Intensity Steady State). Too many people spend time in the middle of these two, and are not optimising their training for long term results.

HIIT allows you to really push your cardio system, giving benefits of longer periods of fat burning post exercise and works to build muscle strength as well as offer a great way to fight that fat!

LISS is a much less intense method of training over a longer period and at a lower intensity, targeting huge levels of fat burn. During LISS you might not feel like you are training hard enough and may feel the urge to push harder but resist and the low intensity means recovery comes quicker and you can do this many times a week. This is a staple in any rowing regime, meaning we are able to train multiple times per day.

High Intensity Interval Training – Pyramid Power

Set your Concept 2 display to ‘time per 500 meters’ and warm up for ten minutes. Have one or two 30 second bursts of speed in this warm up. Then get off the machine and stretch. Now, get yourself prepared for the next 10-15 minutes, this is all the time you need – and it will take many sessions of this before you can go slightly longer. The key is working to your hardest from the start. Set the rowing machine up for intervals and try this: 20 seconds ON, 40 seconds LIGHT.

  • Warm up (10 minutes)
  • Stretch & Prepare
  • Intervals – 20 seconds ON, 40 seconds LIGHT (for min 10 rounds)
  • Warm down (10-15 minutes)


ON: For each 20 seconds of hard rowing, try to keep your stroke rate above 30 spm

LIGHT: Try to keep this to about 18-20 spm

Try to do a minimum of 10 rounds of this, ideally 14-16, before warming down for 5-10 minutes. For best results, try to do HIIT 2-3 times a week, equally separated throughout the week to allow for recovery.

Row Away those Unwanted Pounds:

While many use a rowing machine to improve overall fitness, it is also an excellent tool for those who wish to reduce the spread of middle-age, or even young middle-age. Improving your diet, which may just mean cutting down the size of it, will help. There is no magic formula, but by shedding just one or two pounds a week will make you more likely to be able to keep those extra pounds off. One or two pounds, doesn’t sound a lot does it? But over a year that adds up to an impressive weight loss of from 50 to over 100 lbs.

Low Intensity Steady State

For kicking up your exercise regime from general fitness to fat burning, the Steady State is a great rowing machine workout. To really maximise this form of training, you should be using a Heart Rate Monitor – this is my watch of choice. I am a big proponent of breaking long sessions down to allow you to stretch and take water breaks, this will have no detriment to your fitness gains but will allow you to overall workout for longer. Below is a training session I regularly do (3-4 mornings a week) and you can adjust timings to your own fitness levels.

  • Warm up (5 minutes)
  • Stretch & Prepare
  • Intervals (20 minutes ON, 2 minute BREAK) x three
  • Warm down (5 minutes)


ON: Try to keep your stroke rate at 18 strokes a minute, really emphasising the power of the stroke and aiming to make your recovery to the start of the stroke take longer than the stroke itself. Think of a 1:2 rhythm. Throughout this session, keep your heart rate at about 60% of your Max (general rule of thumb is 220 minus your age is your Max).

The beauty of LISS is that by ensuring you keep to the stated intensity, recovery is quick and you can do this very frequently. If you haven’t spent much time on the rowing machine you might want to build up by doing more intervals of shorter periods, but keep the HR the same for all. Do this 3-4 times a week and you will see very quick results!

Safety First:

If you’ve never been involved in rowing machine workouts, have your first couple of sessions at your local gym. Trained instructors are there to help ensure you set-up the machine correctly, will show you how the slider works, how to position yourself, and how the four main positions of catch, drive, finish, and recovery are approached.

Once you’ve mastered the rowing machine you’re set for your daily exercise at home. But don’t forget, visiting the gym on a regular basis can provide some great light hearted competition, competing against other rowers – with your feet firmly on dry land.

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