How to use the Rowing Machine (i.e. Erg)

rowing machine

The Erg, or rowing machine, can be a great way to add cardio and strength training into your regular exercise routine. But how on earth do you use this crazy contraption? While I won’t try to turn you into Olympic rowers, or even get your out onto the water for that matter, this blog will show you basic rowing technique. Keep reading to learn how you can make the most of your workout by creating long, powerful, and efficient strokes while, of course, keeping your back in a safe position from injury.

The basic sequence of rowing is legs, back, arms. Then you reverse the order: arms, back, legs. On the drive part of the stroke, your legs should completely extend before your back and arms start to move. As you return to the start position (the catch), keep your legs still until your arms are already extended out, and your back angle is set. The most common error I see in the sequence happens on the return to the catch – the knees bend first, forcing your arms to lift up and over your knees. It’s a waste of energy to have a vertical translation of the handle, and can set you up for poor trunk and back positioning. Not to mention if you were actually in a boat, you’d probably have flipped your boat over!  

Making long, powerful strokes and using as many muscle groups as possible:

Shooting the slide: miss the drive from your legs

Arms should pull to mid-chest: If they pull to your lap you are losing stroke length and using your trunk and arms for power at the end of the stroke.

Keeping your back in a safe position: It’s common knowledge that when lifting an object from the ground, you want to use the power from your legs and avoid rounding your back to mitigate the risk of low back injuries – namely disc-related ones. Rowing is no exception. Your back and torso should look like a 2×4, changing angle at the hips/pelvis and not rounding at the lower back. 

I hope this was helpful to all you who have been curious about this crazy contraption, and for those of you who have already been using it, a good opportunity to check in with your technique.

Happy Rowing!!


  1. Is a rowing machine a good workout? YES! Rowing is an effective cardiovascular and total body workout. It engages arms, legs and core muscles when done correctly.
  2. Is a rowing machine better than a bike? Both machines will burn the same number of calories and improve cardiovascular health. Try both and find the one you enjoy more!
  3. s rowing a good way to lose weight? Rowing will burn calories and can aid in losing weight.

Have questions about a particular injury or topic? Fill out our contact form or chat with us using the chat box in the bottom right hand corner of your screen.

Share this: