man on rowing machine showing correct rowing posture

Proper Posture and Technique for a Rowing Machine

Whether you're new to rowing or a seasoned pro, proper posture and technique are essential. Rowing on a rowing machine is one of the best full-body workouts you can get. Yet, if you're not 100% sure how to do it correctly, you're missing out on its true benefits—or worse, risking injury.

In this guide, we'll teach you everything you need to do about proper posture and technique when using a rowing machine. We'll cover:

  • Why posture and technique are so important

  • 5 common mistakes and how to avoid them

  • The 4 proper rowing positions

By the end, you'll know how to have perfect rowing workouts every single time!

What Is a Rowing Machine?

Rowing machines are exercise machines that simulate the act of propelling a boat over water. There are several different types, but all of them have a handle, a sliding seat, and foot braces.

Using a rowing machine is an effective way of giving yourself a full-body workout, improving core strengt and muscular endurance, and strengthening your cardiovascular system.

Although it may seem like rowing only works the upper body, it’s actually a lower and upper body workout. You can use the rowing machine to strengthen your quads and glutes, core, deltoids, and lats. 

Why Is Good Posture Important for Rowing?

Rowing is a low-impact activity, but it's still possible to injure yourself while doing it if you don’t use correct posture when working out.

Don't worry, getting the posture right is simple if you follow the steps below.

  • First, sit down on the rowing seat. Then, place your feet on the foot pedal supports.

  • Sit upright with your knees bent and secure your feet to the pedals with the straps.

  • Then, keeping your back straight, lean forward slightly and hold the handles.

  • Use your lower leg muscles to push yourself away, then use your core to lean back, and finally your arms to pull the handles to your sternum. Your legs should be doing about 70% of the work with your core and arms following.

  • Let your arms fall forward first, then use your core to lean forward, and finally bring your legs back to their starting position. 

  • Maintain a straight back throughout the movements. 

Avoid These 5 Rowing Mistakes

For inexperienced rowers, poor posture is the most common cause of injuries when rowing, along with the common mistakes listed below. 

Let's take a look at the 5 most common rowing mistakes and how to avoid them.

1) Letting your knees drop to the side

If your knees are flaring while you’re rowing, this may be a sign that you have tight hips or your feet aren't properly strapped in. Make sure the straps are firmly fastened at the base of your big toes. Use the foot length adjuster so that your feet fit snugly into the pedal braces, and be sure to do mobility exercises to open up your hips. 

The fix:

Your knees should be kept together at both the starting position and the finishing position. When rowing, push your knees together using your inner thighs. Make sure you keep them together as you push your legs away from you. Don't be tempted to let your legs flop open.

2) Raising your arms too much

If you're pulling the handle all the way up to your chin during your rowing stroke, don't. This isn't the correct rowing form, and it also means you're wasting energy. Trust us; rowing is already tiring enough.

The fix:

The solution to this problem is. You just need to make sure that you bring the handle back to your lower chest around your sternum area during your strokes.

You want your arms to be at a 90-degree angle after each stroke, and your forearms need to be aligned with your rib cage.

3) Hunching your back

When you're in your starting position, your back should be straight rather than hunched. If your back is hunched, your shoulders are taking the brunt of the work.

The fix:

For the ideal rowing position, your back and upper body need to be straight. Your shoulders should be pushed back and down. This opens up your chest and releases tension in your neck.

This rowing position allows you to breathe deeply and achieve the perfect rowing form.

4) Making a scooping movement

It's common for beginners to make a scooping motion when bringing the handle back towards themselves. This is not necessary as you’re not actually rowing a boat. Similarly, if you’re scooping the handle over your knees on your return, this means you’re bending your knees too early. 

The Fix:

When pulling back, just focus on pulling the handle in a straight line, not scooping down and up. On your return, extend your arms first in a straight line, then lean forward, then bend your legs. This should help you avoid scooping the handle over your knees.  

5) Holding the handle too tightly

We get it. You're excited about rowing and want to smash your workout session. Still, you don't need to grip the handle quite as tightly as you might think. Gripping it too tightly causes unnecessary tension in your forearms.

The Fix:

Try holding the handle with just three fingers of each hand. It sounds a bit weird, right? Well, it works!

Grip the handle with the first, middle, and ring fingers of each hand. Allow your pinkies to hang off the end, and place your thumbs on top of the handle.This will relax your grip and ease the tension in your forearms and force you to focus on using your leg power to propel yourself back.

woman pulling on handle of air rowing machine

What Are the 4 Proper Rowing Positions?

Now, let's take a look at the 4 rowing positions that you should be using on your rowing machine: the catch, the drive, the finish, and the recovery.

These allow you to achieve proper form and a more powerful rowing stroke.

The catch

  • This is your starting position. Keep your wrists flat and grip the handle.

  • Extend your arms towards the flywheel.

  • With your arms extended, keep your back straight and lean forward slightly.

  • Bend your knees, keep them together, and hold a forward body position.

The drive

  • With your arms extended, push your feet down on the foot pedals.

  • Keep your back and upper body straight with a tight core.

  • Lean back slightly using your core, and finally pull on the handle. 

The finish

  • Bring the handle back to your lower chest.

  • Lean back and extend your legs almost fully. Exhale while you do this.

The recovery

  • Fully extend your arms toward the flywheel.

  • Follow your arms to the front of the machine by leaning your torso forward.

  • Bend your knees and use your hips to bring the rowing seat back into the catch position.

  • Inhale deeply, and then get ready for your next perfect stroke.


Is a rowing machine good for posture?

If you use proper form when using your rowing machine, then it can be good for your posture. 

Rowing strengthens your core muscles and reduces stress on the muscular and spinal systems. This strengthens the bio-mechanics of your joints and your spine, which leads to improved posture over time.

Should your back be straight when rowing?

Keeping your back straight when you row is very important. The correct rowing position protects your back from injury and allows you to achieve powerful strokes. The best way to keep your back straight is to use the concept of a neutral pelvis.

This is where you align your pelvis with the lower vertebrae of your spine. You should keep your pelvis neutral as you row. This may be a bit difficult at first, but it gets much easier with practice.

How do you keep good posture when rowing?

The key to maintaining good posture when rowing is to keep your back straight and your knees bent and together. It's tempting to hunch your back and open your legs as you row, but concentrate on your form and go slowly at first until you perfect it. After you’re able to keep your posture while rowing, start adding more power to your strokes.

Is 20 minutes of rowing enough?

20 minutes of rowing everyday is enough  if you're new to rowing. It's enough time to get used to the posture and form you need for rowing and give you a full-body burn. For a 155lb person, this would mean 164 calories burned while rowing at a moderate intensity. 

Once you're used to rowing, your rowing sessions should last for at least 30 minutes. This is the best way to build your strength and increase your endurance levels.

Final Thoughts

The best way to maximize your rowing potential is to pay close attention to your posture and technique. By following the tips in this guide, you'll be able to master both of these in no time.

If you’re ready to get rowing, check out Montreal Weights’ selection of Air Rowers, Magnetic Rowers, and Water Rowers and start reaping the benefits of rowing. 

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Julien Méthot

Passionate about fitness from a young age, Julien co-founded Montreal Weights in 2020 with the vision of providing Canadians with all the necessary tools to workout & stay fit from home. 

Over the years, Julien has helped build a dynamic team that continuously strives to help create the best possible home gym setups for Montreal Weights customers across the nation. 

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