Rowing Machines Common Mistakes 

Updated April 2022

We understand the excitement of getting your own piece of fitness equipment, especially a rowing machine, and you simply want to get started. It is certainly the case when you open the box of your first rowing machine, and see it for the first time.

Most people simply want to get the box opened, get it assembled and get right into it. The enthusiasm and motivation at the start of a new fitness plan, will always be at its highest. Most people, myself included, are raring to go. The only thing standing in our way is just a few nuts and bolts.

However, despite this excitement, it really is worthwhile taking just a little time to master the technique of rowing. Yes we know it seems like a natural thing to do, but the reality is that it is not.

Top 5 Rowing Machine Mistakes To Avoid

  1. Avoid a poor starting position
  2. Using the wrong stroke and finish
  3. Having a poor return position
  4. Over using the rowing machine at the beginning
  5. Over stretching and causing injury
rowing mistakes to avoid

Like any home equipment, there is always going to be a learning curve. We have watched people make the same mistakes over and over again, and this happens even with people who have been using a rowing machine for years. That said, it is never too late to learn, and make the necessary changes.

There are certain skills you need to know about, certain techniques to be used for the best fitness results, and certain very habits to avoid. The improper use of a rowing machine, can actually cause lasting damage to your body.

Generally speaking, the main problems are associated with a single behaviour. That is being over aggressive when pulling on the rowing machine. It is a very easy thing to do, bust should be avoided.

Below we have pointed out the most common mistakes, made by those using a rowing machine, who have never had any professional guidance or training.

A Poor Starting Position

It all really begins right at the start. One thing that we constantly see, is people really hunched over at the beginning of the stroke. There is a natural tendency to over stretch, and this comes from the term, “get your back into it.”

It is simply one of the worst things that you can do. The reason for that is that the spine is strained and often twisted, and put under far too much pressure. On a long term basis, this can lead to considerable back pain, and even permanent back injury.

In addition to this, the arms are over extended or stretched, and that in turn makes the neck bend forwards.

The proper posture is important to set at the beginning, and then hold throughout your rowing machine stroke action. Ideally the head should be held upwards, and if you do that one simple adjustment, then the arms and back immediately fall into the right position.

You should not look like a hunched up cat when starting. Straight back and head up is the order of the day.

For the actual stroke, push back with the heels, making sure the straps around the feet have been properly positioned, and tightened. Have a look at the excellent video below, for more details.

The Stroke Itself & The Finish

This is the second most common rowing mistake that we see. There is a strong and again natural tendency, to really lean back at the completion of a stroke. It is almost like you are trying to get the full benefits of your efforts, with that last extra tug.

Just think about the position for a moment. Your legs are now fully extended, as are your arms with the handle of the rowing machine pulled back to touch your body. By leaning back any further than that, there is a risk of jerking or pulling a back muscle.

Once the arms and legs are extended, then pull back with the arms, keep the head high and looking directly forwards, and only lean back a little to conclude the stroke.

As mentioned in the video below, keep the elbows tucked in, and the rowing machine handle should come to about the mid-section of the body. Do not pull the handles upwards or downwards, simply keep the arms straight and the elbows tucked in.

Over time, if you follow the above instruction, you will develop a very smooth and powerful stroke.

Poor Return Position

On what is known as the return stroke, there is a certain technique, that works really well. That technique is to release the arms, and when the handle passes your knees, then allow you knees to bend and slide back to the starting position.

This will take just a little practise. Always remember though, to keep the chest out and the head up, and the stroke will happen naturally.

Here is another very good video on mastering the very best rowing technique.

Over Exercising

Now this mistake, can quite literally be applied to any type of exercise. There is, as I have mentioned earlier, a lot of motivation at the beginning of a new exercise regime. Add to that motivation a shiny new rowing machine, and you are certainly set to go.

There is a tendency then to really get stuck in. That is good and it is something that we would encourage. However, there is also a large risk of overdoing the use of the machine. That can happen in one of two ways:

  1. You can simply spend too long exercising and rowing at any one time
  2. You can use the machine two many times in any given period

For most people, this could be their first time on a rowing machine, or it could have been a few years since you used one. This machine will use muscles, that may not have been used for a very long time. More often than not, that will be the thighs, legs and your back.

By making a workout session too long, or trying to pack in too many sessions, you can overdo it. That can lead to very sore muscles, and even cramping of the muscles. If that happens, then you may not be able to exercise, or the very thought of exercising becomes a distant thought.

It is always better to start slowly, and build up the muscles and the strength. That way you can do longer and tougher sessions over time, without being demotivated. Go slow at the start and slowly increase the sessions.

Over Stretching

The last big mistake that we see is the location of your rowing machine. Not everyone plans where they are going to be doing their workout. They also don’t consider how the presence of a rowing machine may impact on other members of the family, or others who also occupy the home.

Rowing machines do take up a fair bit of room. Some of them can also be rather noisy. So although you may be quite comfortable rowing away in your living room, what about your partner who wants to chill out and watch some TV?

Likewise some people decide to put these out in a garage or a shed. The downside of that is retaining the motivation to get out there, and get on with it.

Most outdoor buildings like this do not have heating. It can be difficult on a cold January winter’s evening to leave a warm sofa, to head out to a machine in a freezing cold and damp garage.

One way around this is to opt for a folding rowing machine, that can be quickly and easily stored away, when not in use. Now not all types can be folded away, but many can. We would recommend giving this some thought. Finding a good location is important, for both the end user, but also for those who the machine may have an impact on.

Videos of Safe Rowing and How to avoid Mistakes

Below we have included two very helpful videos to help you avoid the most common indoor rowing mistakes.

Summary of Rowing Machine Mistakes

If you are thinking about buying a rowing machine, or already own one, then think first of which type that you want. That will largely be driven by how much you are willing to spend on one.

There are the cheap and cheerful ones, those that fold away when not in use, and the more sophisticated ones packed with features.

However at this early stage you should consider where you are going to be using it, and which area works best for you. Do also consider those who may be impacted by your desire to exercise.

Check out our list of the best indoor rowing machines.

Once you have decided on that, then it is about getting into the routine, of mastering the correct stroke. Now we are not saying here that you are going to be an Olympic class rower, but getting the right technique, will give you the best fitness workout for your body.

It will also help you avoid either short term or longer term injuries. Let’s face it none of us want to do that to our bodies.

We shall end by advising you to learn the important posture, that will protect your back and neck, while at the same time, allowing you to get the very best exercise benefit from your rowing machine.

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Enda MclArnon