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No longer just the weird machine collecting dust in the corner of your gym, rowing is becoming increasingly popular. But unlike jumping on the treadmill or spinning away on a stationary bike, it takes a little extra knowledge to use a rowing machine.

Julie Mazziotta
April 21, 2015

No longer just the weird machine collecting dust in the corner of your gym, rowing is becoming increasingly popular thanks to CrossFit and workout studios that either include or are entirely dedicated to the simple rowing machine, or ergometer. And for a good reason—an hour on the machine can burn up to a whopping 800 calories.

Plus: “It requires almost all the muscles in our body, so it really is one of the most effective workouts,” according to Annie Mulgrew, program director at CityRow, a rowing studio in New York City.

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But unlike jumping on the treadmill or spinning away on a stationary bike, it takes a little extra knowledge to use a rowing machine. So Mulgrew broke down the rowing stroke to help you become the expert of your gym—and maybe even get you out on the water.

“At CityRow, we have this great hashtag, #legscorearms. Keep that in mind as we go through the stroke step-by-step," she says.

Get your feet locked in

Start by strapping your feet into the pads. The strap should sit across your foot bed, making sure it’s tight enough that your feet won’t slide around.

Grab hold

This is the starting point for your stroke, called the catch (because when you’re rowing in a boat, it’s the moment when your blade enters the water). Bring your knees up and reach for the handlebar at the front of the machine. Your torso should be just slightly tilted forward over your legs, but focus on keeping your spine straight with good posture.

Tip: Imagine there’s a steel bar extending from your butt up straight through the top of your head. Your spine does actually bend at any point in the stroke; you’re just hinging forward at your hips.

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Start with your legs

Here’s where #legscorearms comes into play. Beginning with your leg muscles, push off the footplate, really using your hamstrings.

Tip: Most people think rowing mostly uses your arm muscles, but that’s a total misnomer! It’s actually about 60% legs, 20% core, and 20% follow through with the arms and shoulders, she says. So concentrate on your legs when you push off from the catch.

Engage your core

Focusing on your core muscles, start to lean backward into a 45-degree angle. When you’re almost to that angle, pull the handlebar back toward you, hitting your chest (lightly!) with it right around the bottom of your sports bra.

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Keep your shoulders working

Now you’re in what’s called the finish. Keep your shoulder blades together here, and really think about how your core muscles are holding your body up into that slight angle.

Reverse the movement

Then you basically reverse that movement back up to the catch. Extend your arms out first, and start pulling your torso forward as you bend your knees, bringing your legs up to the top of the machine. And that’s one full stroke!

Tip: Try not to shift around on the seat—you’ll starting twisting in the wrong way—think of your butt as glued to that plastic.

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