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Using A Rowing Machine-For Beginners

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Rockford St. Thomas 4+

As a rowing team coach, I have seen a lot of new rowers teeming with enthusiasm. Most of them cannot wait to start getting great shape and becoming an overall healthier individual. Yet, with the exception of just a few, the technique of these novice rowers is borderline dangerous. I will provide a few quick tips as well as break down the stroke into 3 parts, the catch, the drive, and the recovery. Whether you want to be an olyimpic rower or just burn some extra calories, starting with good technique can make all the difference.

Part 1-The Catch:

The catch starts with the rower's arms straight out from their body parallel to the floor. The next step is to create a forward body angle with the pivot point being the hips, making sure that the back is straight. Finally compress the legs until the shins are perpendicular to the floor. This is the catch. 

Part 2-The Drive:

This part of the stroke is the actual muscle exertion. First the rower pushes aggressively against the foot board of the machine with the legs, while maintaining straight arms and the upper body position described at the catch. After the legs have been fully extended, the rower should use their back to continue the stroke, stopping at the point that the abdominal muscles are engaged and holding the upper body weight of the rower. Finally, the arm squeeze, pulling the handle into the chest. It is important that through this entire part of the stroke to remember the progression of muscles used is legs first, back, arms.

Part 3-The Recovery:

The progression of the recovery is the exact opposite of the drive. It starts by extending the arms keeping them horizontal to the floor. Next the body pivots forward at the hips from the reclined position of the drive. It is important to remember to keep a straight back through this part of the recovery, as it sets the angle and body position for the catch. To finish the recovery the legs slowly bend as the rower approaches the catch.

Quick Tips:

  • The handle and chain of the rowing machine should stay flat at all times during the stroke. This is a quick check to make sure proper progression is being used. The hands should never have to move vertically to accommodate for the knees which are coming up in the last part of the recovery.

  • The legs should be doing the majority of the work through the drive. If the arms and back are more proportionally tired than the legs, adjust the power application.

  • When setting the foot boards, the ideal place for the straps is over the closest lace of your shoe to your toes.

  • The standard resistance for most rowers is between 3-5. There are only a few instances that this should be adjusted outside of this range. Increasing past this point will more likely lead to injury rather than better results long term. Don't be a hero, keep it between 3-5.

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