Rowing Machine Technique: Avoiding Back Injury

Rowing Machine Technique: Avoiding Back Injury

The indoor rowing machine (not-so-affectionately known as the ergo) is one of the best all-over machines you can use. You get a leg, core, arms and back workout all at once – but if used incorrectly there is a serious risk of back injury.┬áRowers the world over often watch people in gyms (myself included) and feel a pang of annoyance as they watch people slam up and down the machine, using improper technique – meaning they are not only missing out on the overall benefits of the workout, but they look stupid in the process.


Let’s start with the basics! There are 2 main positions on an ergo/in a rowing boat:

The Catch:

The Catch

The Finish:

The Finish


To get the most out of you rowing workout, you should always start at the catch, pushing back with your legs (that’s called the drive) and finishing at well….the finish! This will get the wheel spinning and help to get the much needed momentum for a solid workout. The sequence below starts at the finish, and finishes at the catch…confusing but the best way to explain the sequence!

At the finish, you should be leaning slightly back so your shoulders are just passed your hips. This sequence is known as the recovery. From here, the sequence is simple;
1. ARMS: Push your arms forward until completely straight, not moving your body or legs at all
2. BODY: Rock your body forward (the rock over), keeping your arms and legs straight. Make sure you keep your back straight/flat. Imagine you’re rocking forward from your hips, not from your waist. You should feel a stretch in your hamstrings. To avoid the awkward entanglement of legs and arms, your hands should be further than your knees
3. LEGS: SLOWLY bend your knees, bringing them up to your chest until you’re as far forward down the slide (the bit the seat moves forward and back on) as you can be. Make sure your arms and body maintain the same strong, straight posture and angle.

This is where you reach the catch, from the catch to the finish is called ‘the drive’, just do the reverse of the above with a few speed alterations!
1. LEGS: Push down hard and fast with your legs, the harder you push the faster that fan will whiz around.
2. BODY: Once your legs are down flat rock your body back (from the hips again!) until it’s just past your hips – but make sure to keep your arms straight!
3. ARMS: Finish the stroke off with a nice firm pull in with the arms, pulling your shoulder blades together for extra oomph!

The rowing stroke sequence

Congratulations! You’ve finished 1 beautiful, correct rowing stroke!

Finally, a few hints to make sure you get the best out of your rowing workout;
* Always keep your back straight, never rounded or hyper-extended. Keeping your core activated will help achieve this.
* When moving down the recovery, make sure your hands are past your knees before activating your legs to avoid the awkward entanglement of arms and legs.
* Keep your arm muscles engaged to avoid your arms flailing around with the resistance of the chain (the part that feeds into the wheel).

Technique Images via Row Perfect UK