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6 Steps to Proper Rowing Form & Technique

Proper rowing form and technique is essential when using a Concept2 rowing machine. The Concept2 is one of the most popular and widely used rowing machines, and it provides a low-impact and full-body workout that can improve cardiovascular health, build strength and endurance, and burn calories efficiently. However, without proper rowing form and technique, you can end up sacrificing the efficiency of your workout, increasing your risk of injury, and ultimately forming a poor relationship with the exercise.

In addition to proper rowing form, it is also essential to maintain good rowing technique. Good rowing technique involves using your legs, core, and back muscles effectively, and minimizing the use of your arm muscles. This will allow you to maximize your muscular recruitment, (working 86% of your muscles) which will result in more benefits from your time on the machine. Good rowing technique involves maintaining a smooth and steady rhythm, which can help you conserve energy and increase your intensity thresholds for a longer period of time.

At Row House, our coaches prioritize proper rowing form and technique to make sure you’re maximizing your rowing workout, and having fun doing it! Below are 6 key steps to making sure that you’re set up for success before and during your next Row House class. 


Proper rowing form and technique starts with the foot stretcher set up. When you put your feet into the holsters, the strap should lay across the widest part of your foot.  Be sure to secure your foot by pulling on the straps until snug.  After your feet are set, it’s time to sit up straight and make sure you’re sitting on your ‘sits’ bones.

The next step is good posture. When you sit on the Concept2 rowing machine, you should maintain a straight back, engage your core muscles, and keep your shoulders relaxed. Your knees should be bent at a 90-degree angle, and your feet should be securely fastened in the footrests. This position will provide you with a stable base to start your rowing motion.


The next step is to properly initiate the rowing motion, which starts with the catch. The catch is the starting position of the rowing motion where you will ‘catch’ the power (or water) as you begin your stroke. Your hands will be at the end of the handlebar, gripping lightly with your thumbs wrapped underneath.  Knees are bent, shins are vertical and arms are long out in front of you.  Your upper body is hinged forward from the hip joint with a straight spine.  The angle of your upper body is about 11 o’clock.  There should be about 6-8 inches from your seat to your heels. This position will allow you to engage your legs, core, and back muscles to begin the drive portion of the stroke. Now you’re ready to generate power.


Once you are in the catch position, you are ready to start generating power, starting with the drive phase, which is the ‘work’ portion of the rowing motion. During the drive phase, you should push off with your legs, then swing open your upper body to 1 o’clock, and finally pull your handle bar into the body.  The handle should tap right between the belly button and the sternum.

It's also important to note that proper rowing form involves maintaining connection through the body as you drive. This means that your seat and handle should move back at the same time, moving as one, explosive (yet controlled) unit. By maintaining connection through the core and muscles, you will be able to maximize the amount of force you’re able to put into the machine.  This is when you’ll start to hear the air whooshing from the fan!


Once you’ve generated power to pull yourself back, you’ll find yourself in the finish position. The finish position marks the end of the drive and you are now halfway through one completed stroke. Your legs should be straight and your quadriceps engaged, while your upper body is leaning slightly back and you are in the 1 o’clock position.  Your elbows should be bent while your handlebar is just touching the area between your belly button and sternum. Don’t forget to relax your shoulders to ensure your lats are engaged. Pressing your toes against the footplate (not pulling on the straps) will ensure that your core is activated fully. 

When you find yourself in this position, it’s great to take a moment and acknowledge each muscle that you feel in your body. A pro tip is to exhale as you hit the finish.  This will activate the transverse abdominis!


From the finish position, it’s time to complete the stroke by moving back into The Catch position. The recovery is the most important part of the stroke and is also the part of the stroke that is most commonly performed incorrectly.  The Recovery sets up your next stroke.  The sequence is arms extending forward, then the upper body hinges forward over the hip joint, and lastly the legs bend in back to the catch.  The drive:recovery ratio is most often rowed at a 1:2 ratio, so the recovery is always 2-3 seconds slower than the drive.  It’s important that the body stays tall as you hinge forward and the spine stays as straight as possible.  We want to load the hamstrings and glutes as much as possible as we set ourselves up for the next stroke.   Think about the recovery as the lowering (or eccentric) phase of a deadlift.  You wound hinge the body to lower the weight, then bend the knees.


After understanding the rhythm of the rowing movement, it's important to warm up properly before using the Concept2 rowing machine. A proper warm-up will help you prepare your muscles for the workout, and reduce the risk of injury. This can involve a light cardio warm-up, some dynamic stretching, and a few practice strokes on the rowing machine to get a feel for the motion.  At Row House, we’ll take you through a pick drill at the beginning of each class to warm up the body and reinforce proper rowing technique.  A Pick drill in rowing is a drill that ‘picks’ apart the stroke piece by piece.  At Row House, our Pick Drill begins with the arms moving out and in only, then we add the upper body hinge so it’s arms and body.  From there we add the legs for a half stroke and then we lengthen into full stroke.


At Row House, our coaches are professionally trained to set up each new rower before their first class.  We want all of our crew to stay safe, maximize the benefit from the workout, and of course, have fun!  If you’re nervous about getting your rowing from and technique down, just make sure to arrive 15-20 minutes early and we’ll set you up for success.  

In conclusion, proper rowing form and technique is essential for maximizing the benefit and results you get from your workout on the Concept2 rowing machine. By maintaining good posture, properly executing the rowing sequence, and keeping your core braced, you can get the most out of your rowing workout, and reduce the risk of injury.  Rowing can be an amazing exercise to improve not only your cardiovascular health, but also build your core and posture.  It’s also non weight bearing and low impact, so it will build your joints up instead of breaking them down.


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