Written by Vilita Cruz

As a former collegiate rower, I may be biased, but I find rowing to be an amazing staple for your fitness program. The rower is probably one of the most underutilized machines at the gym.  Most gyms have the Concept 2 rower or a water rower – the feel is slightly different, but both achieve results. And for you nature lovers, rowing is a great outdoor activity on the river and can be a social one should you choose to row in a pair, four, or eight boat.

Most folks are under the impression that the rower is all upper body, but that is false! The rower works your abs with every stroke and works both lower and upper body. Most of us have difficulty making time to exercise, but since you are using your entire body on the rower, you are burning more calories in less time than on the treadmill. In addition to strengthening your heart and lungs on a cardiovascular level, rowing provides resistance training, helping define muscles in your upper back, gluteus, arms, legs and abs. 

concept 2 row machine display screen

If you are a rowing novice, I realize the screen display can be a bit daunting. Let me be your decoder ring for the basics. 

The button you will play with most is ‘change units,’ found at the bottom left under the screen. In addition to seeing time and calories per hour burned like most gym machines, the rower allows you to measure your intensity in watts, calculate your stroke rate, and even provide you with an average stroke rate per 500m, as well as your actual stroke rate in real time. 

My recommendation to newbies would be to hit the top right hand button ‘just row’ and stick to this screen setting so you can get comfortable and orient yourself with the numbers and units in terms of how they translate in terms of your workout. A good place to start is to row at 60% of your effort for 5-10 minutes, or complete a series of 3x 200 meter rows at 60% of your effort with a 1 minute break in between.

concept 2 time row screen

As in anything, technique is vital! Foot pedals should be adjusted so the foot straps are over your instep (shoelace area). Maintain a nice tall posture. The order of your drive should start with pushing off with legs, then abs and arms, and then reversing the order: arms, abs, legs, to return to the front of the rower, aka “the catch.” I recommend keeping a tempo of 1:2, meaning 1 count of a powerful explosion driving back and 2 counts forward to the catch. Good form on the rower includes looking straight ahead, keeping an erect spine, shoulders packed down, and knees shoulder distance apart. 

Below are examples of ‘TO DO’ and most common ‘NOT TO DO.’ If you find yourself guilty of improper form, it doesn’t mean you have to give up on rowing. A fitness professional can guide you by addressing any imbalances in your body and/or correcting your technique. 


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Do Not: round your shoulders and use your backDo Not Look Around   Do Not Turn in Your Knees


Do: Sit tall, active core, shoulders down.    Do: keep knees should width apart, look straight ahead       Use your core and hinge at your hips as you drive back