Basics of Indoor Rowing (Including Two Sample Workouts!)

Indoor rowing has gained significant popularity as a low-impact, full-body workout that provides cardiovascular benefits and builds muscular strength. However, to fully harness the benefits of indoor rowing, it’s crucial to understand and master proper rowing technique. In this review, we’ll dive into the basics of proper indoor rowing technique, highlighting key aspects such as posture, stroke mechanics, and common mistakes. Additionally, we’ll provide two basic workouts suitable for individuals of all fitness levels to try.


Understanding Proper Indoor Rowing Technique and Parts of the Stroke

Proper posture is essential for maximizing the effectiveness of indoor rowing while minimizing the risk of injury. Start by sitting tall on the seat, with your feet securely strapped into the foot stretcher. Keep your knees bent and your shins vertical. Your core should be engaged, and your back should maintain a slight forward lean, avoiding excessive rounding or arching.

Grip and Hand Placement: Grip the handle always with an overhand grip, making sure your thumbs are wrapped around the handle. Your hands should be shoulder-width apart, allowing for a comfortable and natural grip with pinky fingers at the edge of the handle. 

The Catch: The catch is the starting position of the rowing stroke. From the starting position, extend your arms fully, reaching forward while maintaining a relaxed grip on the handle. Your shoulders should be relaxed, and your upper body should lean slightly forward from the hips.

The Drive: The drive is the power phase of the rowing stroke. Initiate the drive by pushing through your legs, driving them explosively against the foot stretcher while maintaining a firm connection with the seat. As your legs extend, lean back slightly from the hips, engaging your core and initiating the pull with your arms.

The Finish: At the finish of the stroke, your legs should be fully extended, your core engaged, and your upper body leaning back slightly. Your hands should be pulled towards your lower ribs, with your elbows pointing out to the sides. Avoid overextending your arms or leaning too far back, as this can strain your lower back.

The Recovery: The recovery phase is the return to the starting position. Reverse the sequence of movements by first bending your arms, followed by leaning forward from the hips, and finally bending your knees to slide forward on the seat. Maintain a controlled and fluid motion throughout the recovery, allowing yourself to reset for the next stroke.


Common Mistakes to Avoid

Rounded Back: Maintaining a rounded back puts excessive strain on the spine and reduces the effectiveness of the rowing stroke. Focus on keeping your back straight and your core engaged throughout the entire stroke.

Excessive Lean Back: While it’s essential to lean back slightly at the finish of the stroke, avoid overextending your spine, as this can lead to lower back discomfort or injury. Aim for a controlled lean back that engages your core muscles without straining your back.

Lack of Leg Drive: The power of the rowing stroke comes primarily from the legs. Ensure you’re initiating the drive with a powerful push through your legs, rather than relying solely on your upper body strength.

Gripping Too Tightly: Holding onto the handle with a death grip can lead to unnecessary tension in your arms and shoulders, reducing efficiency and increasing the risk of fatigue or injury. Maintain a relaxed grip on the handle, focusing on generating power through fluid movements rather than brute force.

Incomplete Recovery: Rushing through the recovery phase or failing to fully extend your arms and legs before starting the next stroke can compromise your technique and limit your performance. Take your time to complete each stroke fully before transitioning into the next one.


Basic Indoor Rowing Workouts

Interval Workout:

  • Warm-up: Row at a moderate pace for 5 minutes, focusing on establishing proper technique and gradually increasing your heart rate.
  • Intervals: Alternate between periods of high-intensity rowing and active recovery.
    • High-intensity intervals: Row at maximum effort for 1 minute, focusing on powerful leg drive and strong pulls.
    • Active recovery intervals: Row at a relaxed pace for 2 minutes, allowing your heart rate to recover while maintaining a steady rhythm.
  • Repeat the interval cycle for a total of 4 rounds.
  • Cool-down: Row at a light pace for 5 minutes, focusing on gradually reducing your heart rate and stretching any tight muscles.


Endurance Workout:

  • Warm-up: Row at a moderate pace for 10 minutes, focusing on establishing a steady rhythm and loosening up your muscles.
  • Endurance Row: Row continuously at a moderate intensity for 30 minutes, maintaining a consistent pace and focusing on efficient technique throughout.
  • Cool-down: Row at a light pace for 5-10 minutes, allowing your heart rate to gradually return to normal and performing gentle stretches to aid in recovery.


Mastering proper indoor rowing technique is essential for maximizing the benefits of this full-body workout while minimizing the risk of injury. By focusing on key aspects such as posture, stroke mechanics, and common mistakes to avoid, you can absolutely improve performance and overall experience with indoor rowing. Additionally, incorporating basic rowing workouts into your fitness routine can help improve cardiovascular health, build muscular strength, and enhance endurance levels. Whether you’re a beginner or an experienced rower, mastering the basics of indoor rowing technique lays the foundation for a rewarding and effective workout experience.


Resources to learn more:

YouTube channels: Dark Horse Rowing, YouCanRow2, Training Tall

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