Rowing machines are one of my favourite pieces of equipment, people who like a full-body cardio-style exercise workout love using a rowing machine because they build endurance, strength and power. However even with these health benefits, if used wrong people can sustain injuries. Keep your risk for injury low with these tips.

Mistake #1 – Using just your arms

Because it is supposed to be a full-body workout, many beginners make the mistake of rowing primarily with their arms. If used correctly about 60 to 70 percent of the power should come from your legs. Proper form is explained later in this article.

Mistake #2 – Not keeping erect

Just as with other types of exercise routines that use a machine or not, keeping your back straight and erect is important to build up your core muscles. But with a rowing machine, it is easy to lose proper form and bend over when rowing. Using a clock for reference and with 12 o’clock being in the upright position, when using a rowing machine correctly, your back should be at 11 o’clock, or slightly back of center, when the handlebar is furthest from the machine, and at about 1 o’clock, or slightly forward of center, when it is closest to the machine.

Mistake #3 – Improper form

Properly rowing form involves using several movements sequentially. If you are pulling back your arms at the same time you are pushing away with your legs (which is the normal way most people do it), you are doing it wrong.

Proper form is to push away with your legs and when your back is slightly backwards over center (11 o’clock), pull back with your arms into your chest. Keep the same sequence on the return stroke but in the opposite order: arms away to the outstretched position, lean forward to about the 1 o’clock position and then bend your legs, sliding the seat forward.

Mistake #4 – Using too much resistance

Some people not experienced with exercise machines think more is better, so they crank up the resistance higher than what it should be. Consequentially, they wear out quicker and cannot complete their rowing routine. You should use as much resistance as you need to replicate rowing a rowboat with oars through the water. As a reference, most Olympic-style rowers only use a resistance setting of 3 to 5 out of a possible 10.

Mistake #5 – Going too fast

As with many things, slow and steady wins every time, and rowing is no different. An indication you are trying to row faster than you should is if your seat is banging the machine on each forward stroke. Rowing should be rhythmic using a ratio of 1:2 with respect to the pull/recovery parts of the stroke. Turn your leg muscles on during the pull part of the stroke, turn your arm muscles on towards the end of the stroke and turn all muscles off during the forward part of the stroke.

Once you practice rowing this way, you’ll see how a rhythm pattern establishes itself. When coupled with the proper speed and resistance, you will get the biggest benefit from your rowing workout.

Rowing is both a strength building and cardio workout, and can be a welcome change to your normal routine. By implementing these 5 tips, not only will you get the best workout for your time invested, but one that is safely done.