using a rowing machine

Are you rowing properly?

One thing I noticed in the gym that is very common is poor rowing form.

While you should definitely have some rowing variations in your program, if not done properly you either won’t make progress, will get injured, or both–not to mention look silly.

What I see is a lot of jerking and rotation about the trunk–rocking instead of rowing. Yes, if you’re doing an aerobic workout on a real rowing machine where the seat glides along with you, it is ok–but not on seated cable rows, chest supported rows, or any other similar exercise–including pull downs.

Rowing is a back exercise–movement should come from retraction of the scapula with your arms acting only to connect your back to your hands. Your spine and core are there to stabilize you while you row–they should not move.

Things to think about when rowing:

1. Back flat–think of how your back would be aligned if you were sitting in a chair with perfect posture. Get a friend or trainer to confirm you’re on the right track here.

2. Chest out–like you’re showing off your pecs. Elevate the chest and ribcage (almost like you’re showing someone that you’re super-confident). The opposite would be rounding your shoulders, which would turn the exercise into an arm curl.

3. Don’t Rock–Again, movement is coming only through retraction of your scapula. This means that you’re moving the weight by pulling back and down and your scapulae are moving toward the middle of your back. If your head is moving at all, you’re doing it wrong.

4. Control the weight on the return–When lowering the weight, (also known as the eccentric phase) you should be steadily easing the weight down. You don’t have to lower it super slow, but make sure that you are controlling the weight; not visa versa.

If you’re consistently having trouble with 3 and/or 4 above, you’re using too much weight. Back down on the amount of weight until you can perform several reps with perfect form–then slowly up the weight as you get better.

Seated cable rows, one armed rows, T-bar rows, and corner rows all follow the exact same guidelines.

So happy rowing!