Rowing has been praised by professional athletes and exercise scientists alike. In terms of cardio workouts from a gym machine, it’s one of the best. It’s a high-intensity full-body workout that is gentle on the joints while working 85% of your muscles with every stroke- including lower body, core muscles, and upper body.

Proper form is crucial to avoiding injury and maximizing effectiveness. Proper rowing machine form includes sitting upright (no slouching!), keeping your head neutral, and keeping your shoulders relaxed. We’ll walk you through the proper form throughout each movement in the stroke below.

Interested in joining the rowing revolution? CITYROW classes offer alternating intervals on and off of the rowing machine to deliver a triple threat workout: high-intensity sweat, low-impact burn, total body results. 
Check out our locations to see if there is a CITYROW studio near you! If not, don’t worry- we have nearly 50 new locations opening soon across the U.S., and our franchise continues to grow to keep up with demand!

Some Pro Tips for Using the Rowing Machine

Indoor rowing machine

Keep in mind that, though we’ve broken down the rowing motion here, each stroke should be a continuous motion and your rowing rhythm should have a sense of fluidity and continuity.

If you are using an indoor rower with damper or resistance settings (air resistance rowing machines and magnetic rowing machines), start low while you become comfortable with the technique and form. Rowing at a higher setting increases your chances of injury and should be approached with caution.

Even though damper and resistance levels can be adjusted to customize your rowing workout, the primary source of resistance comes from the power in your legs as you take off! Focus on this and you are sure to get a great workout even at a low setting.

With a WaterRower, you won’t need to mess with damper settings or resistance- it uses natural water resistance to mimic the feel of rowing on a boat. The intensity of the workout is determined by how much YOU decide to push yourself. Simply grab a water bottle and towel, strap your feet in, bend your knees, grab the handlebar, and let’s get rowing!

Read on to learn how to operate a rowing machine in a few simple steps.

1. The Catch

The catch

The starting position for the full stroke is called the catch. Bend your legs, keep your shoulders down, and hinge slightly forward at the torso with your arms fully extended.

Tips: Your torso should be hinging at the hips slightly. Your shins should be close to vertical. Your heels may or may not be lifted at this point.

2. The Drive

The drive

This is where you produce power! Push to extend your legs fully, open your hips, then lean back to 1 o’clock. Pull the handlebar to your chest and release it. The power comes from the push of your legs; the pull of your arms is just the finish.

Think legs, core, arms. In that order.

Tips: Keep your hands in a straight line throughout the drive phase. Your shoulders should remain relaxed throughout the stroke. At the final moment of the drive, your legs should be straight and your hands should be holding the handle just below your ribs.

3. The Recovery


Hands quickly release from your body. Once your arms are straight and your body has returned to 12 o’clock, control your return back to the catch position at the front of the machine.

Tips: Extend your arms BEFORE bending your knees and sliding forward. When you return to the Catch position, reach your arms all the way to above the flywheel to get a full range of motion (your heels might lift in order to do so). The Recovery stage is usually slower than the Drive, but this depends on how many strokes per minute you are trying to achieve.

The Numbers, Explained

Rowing stroke rate

You might be thinking, “Wait, am I supposed to know what a stroke rate is?” Fortunately, it’s not any more complicated than it sounds. It is a term you will hear often if you attend a CITYROW class, along with “split time.” We’ve broken down the meanings of this terminology for you: 

Stroke Rate

Your row stroke rate is your speed. It indicates how quickly you’re moving back and forth on the rower. 

Tip: Faster is not necessarily better! The key to better rowing – and a better workout – is learning to control your speed so that you can row consistently at any given speed. Most of our classes are rowed at stroke rates between 24 and 30.

Split Time

Your split time or time per 500 meters shows your current pace- it is a reflection of how hard you are working. A lower split time equals higher intensity. 

Tip: Your split is impacted by both power behind your pushes and your stroke rate.

We’re Here to Help You!

Row with CITYROW

Our classes are ideal for experienced and novice rowers alike. When you come to a CITYROW class, our instructors will always take the time to ensure you feel comfortable with the indoor rowing machine technique. In fact, we have devoted your first three classes to help you master the art of rowing! Here’s what you can expect:

Class 1: Form First

Your first class is all about the basics. Learn the terms and perfect your rowing form. At this point, don’t worry too much about the numbers – just break a sweat and have some fun!

Class 2: Find Your Power

You’ve mastered the form, now it’s time to find your power. In your second class, you’ll begin to understand the numbers on the monitor and how to gauge your performance and intensity.

Class 3: Go Further

Learn the basics? Check. Understand how to read the monitor? Thank you, next. Time to challenge yourself, push your limits, and show us what you’ve got?

Row With Us!

Sign up for a class today to start making waves. We welcome people of all fitness levels, even if you’ve never rowed before! To learn more about our franchising opportunities, sign up for a free introductory call!

Franchise With Us!

Download our Franchise Lookbook for more information on the CITYROW franchise opportunity. Get in touch with us today to discuss the next steps in opening your own CITYROW Studio!

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