A Beginner’s Guide To Rowing And Home Rowing Machines In 2023

Rowing For Beginners

Believe it or not, rowing is a sport that has been around for thousands of years.

In fact, there’s evidence of people rowing boats dating back to ancient Egypt, Greece, and Rome.

In ancient times, rowing was used as a way to get from one place to another, but it eventually evolved into a competitive sport. The first rowing competition in the record books was in ancient Greece.

Soon after this, the sport became popular among the wealthy and powerful people in ancient Rome. Today, millions of people around the world rely on rowing as a great form of exercise.

In this beginner’s guide, we will be covering everything you need to know about rowing and home rowing machines. 

Rowing As A Sport

Rowing is a popular competitive sport that involves propelling a boat through water using oars.

It is typically done in teams of rowers, who use coordinated movements to move the boat forward. Rowing is a physically demanding sport that requires strength, endurance, and coordination, and it is often considered one of the most challenging and demanding sports in the world.

Rowing Team

Rowing for sport typically involves teams of rowers who compete against each other in boats called shells. These shells are long and narrow, and they are propelled through the water by the coordinated efforts of the rowers, who use oars to move the boat forward.

In a typical rowing race, teams of rowers will start at a designated starting line and row a set distance to the finish line, with the goal of completing the course in the fastest time possible.

Basic Rowing Terminology

Rowing is a sport with its own unique terminology, and understanding these terms can be helpful for those who are new to the sport.

Even if you do not plan on rowing for sport, you’ll still encounter many of these terms using a rowing machine. So, we suggest you brush up on them now!

Some common rowing terms and their definitions are:

  • Stroke: The stroke is the basic unit of rowing, and it refers to the complete cycle of movements involved in propelling the boat through the water. The stroke begins with the catch, where the oar is placed in the water, and it ends with the recovery, where the oar is lifted out of the water and the rower prepares for the next stroke.
  • Catch: The catch is the first phase of the rowing stroke, where the oar is placed in the water. The catch should be done smoothly and with good technique to ensure efficient and effective propulsion of the boat.
  • Drive: The drive is the second phase of the rowing stroke, where the rower uses their legs, back, and arms to propel the boat through the water. The drive should be powerful and smooth, using the rower’s full body to generate maximum force.
  • Finish: The finish is the third phase of the rowing stroke, where the rower completes the drive and brings the oar out of the water. The finish should be done with good technique to ensure that the oar is lifted cleanly out of the water and the rower is ready for the next stroke.
  • Meters: The measure of distance used in rowing. (1 meter = 3.28 feet)
  • Recovery: The recovery is the fourth and final phase of the rowing stroke, where the rower prepares for the next stroke. The recovery should be smooth and controlled, with the rower’s body moving in unison to avoid any loss of momentum.
  • Rating: The rating is the number of strokes per minute that a rower or crew takes. The rating is an important factor in determining the speed of the boat, and rowers may aim for a specific rating depending on the conditions and their goals.
  • Slide: The slide is the mechanism on a rowing machine that allows the rower’s seat to move back and forth.
  • Split: The split is the speed you are rowing at. It refers to how long it takes to row 500 meters at the current pace.
  • Stroke Rate: The stroke rate is the number of strokes you take per minute (S/M).

Rowing Indoors vs Outdoors

Stationary rowing, also known as indoor rowing, can be a good way to simulate the experience of rowing on the water.

Stationary rowing machines, or ergometers, are designed to closely mimic the movement of a rowing boat, allowing you to work the same muscles and develop similar fitness benefits.

stationary rowing machine

However, there are some differences between stationary rowing and rowing on the water:

  • For example, stationary rowing does not provide the same level of resistance or feedback from the water, and does not allow for the same level of skill development.
  • Additionally, rowing on the water can provide a more immersive and enjoyable experience, with the added challenges and rewards of outdoor exercise.

Overall, both stationary rowing and rowing on the water can be valuable forms of exercise, and the best option will depend on your individual preferences and goals.

Many do both!

Stationary Rowing Machines

A rowing machine typically consists of a sliding seat, a set of foot pedals, and a handle or handles that are connected to a flywheel or resistance mechanism.

The user sits on the sliding seat and uses their legs and arms to move the handle back and forth, simulating the motion of rowing a boat. Rowing machines are often used by athletes and fitness enthusiasts as a way to improve their cardiovascular fitness and build strength in their upper and lower body.

The cost of a rowing machine can vary depending on the type and brand of machine, as well as the features and accessories it includes.

Rowing machines can range in price from less than $100 for a basic model to several thousand dollars for a high-end machine with advanced features.

In general, you can expect to pay about a grand for a decent rowing machine that is suitable for home use. It is important to consider your budget and fitness goals when deciding which rowing machine to purchase.

Concept2 Machine

Concept2 is a company that manufactures and sells rowing machines.

Concept2 Rowing Machine

Their rowing machines are popular among athletes and fitness enthusiasts for their high quality and durability. Concept2 rowing machines are known for their reliability, and they are often used in rowing competitions and other events.

You can find a used machine for under $1,000. If buying new, you will pay a little more than $1k.

However, you should consider a good rowing machine to be an investment.

Hydrow Machine

This is a new age company offering both a stationary rowing machine and ongoing live classes. 

This is accomplished through a 16 inch screen that allows you to tune in to thousands of workouts for rowing, strength training, yoga and more.


A key difference between the Concept2 and the Hydrow is how the resistance is generated:

  • Concept2 relies on wind resistance, using a damper to adjust this.
  • Hydrow uses electromagnetic resistance, which is quieter and more precise.

With Hydrow, there are two costs to consider:

  1. Machine cost: The unit itself costs around $2,000 for the base model.
  2. Membership cost: A monthly subscription of $38 USD is required to access classes.

To learn more, read our full review of the Hydrow Rower here!

Health Benefits From Rowing

Exercise in general has been shown to have numerous benefits for mental health, and rowing is no exception.

Regular exercise enables the body to release endorphins or “happy” hormones, which can help to improve mood and increase feelings of well-being.

Rowing, stationary or otherwise, can be a great way to reduce stress and anxiety by providing a sense of accomplishment and helping to clear the mind. The rhythmic nature of the workout can aid in calming the mind and the physical activity can help to reduce tension in the body.

Being on or near the water can also have a soothing effect on the mind. If you don’t have access to a body of water, stationary rowing machines can provide a similar experience in the comfort of your own home.

Rowing machines that offer a subscription service built around a community of like-minded rowers, like Hydrow Rower, can also provide a healthy social experience. The sense of community and support that comes with the subscription can have positive effects on mental health.

In addition to these benefits, rowing can also help to improve sleep, boost self-esteem, and increase feelings of well-being.

Be sure to check out my full article on the mental health benefits of rowing here!

Common Rowing Exercises

Some popular rowing exercises include the following:

  1. Basic rowing stroke: Involves sitting on the rowing machine’s sliding seat and using your legs, back, and arms to move the handle back and forth, simulating the motion of rowing a boat. This exercise can be done for a set number of repetitions or for a set amount of time.
  2. Leg press: This exercise involves pressing the foot pedals on the rowing machine to work the muscles in the legs and lower body. This exercise can be done with or without resistance, depending on the user’s fitness level and goals.
  3. Arm pull: Involves using the rowing machine’s handle or handles to work the muscles in the arms and upper body. This exercise can be done with or without resistance, and it can be a good way to improve upper body strength and endurance.
  4. The plank: Which involves using the rowing machine’s sliding seat to perform a plank position. This exercise can help to improve core stability and strengthen the muscles in the abdomen and back.
  5. The row and twist: This involves performing a basic rowing stroke while twisting the upper body to work the muscles in the torso. This exercise can be a good way to add variety to your workout and challenge your core stability.

Be sure to check out my full article on the best rowing exercises for complete beginners here!

Supplementary Exercises

In addition to rowing, there are several other exercises that can be beneficial as part of a comprehensive exercise routine.

Some examples include:

  • Strength training: Strength training exercises, such as lifting weights or using resistance bands, can help to improve muscle strength and endurance. This can support your rowing performance and reduce the risk of injury.
  • Cardio exercises: Cardio exercises, such as running, cycling, or swimming, can help to improve your cardiovascular fitness and endurance. This can support your rowing performance and improve your overall health.
  • Flexibility training: Flexibility training exercises, such as stretching or yoga, can help to improve your range of motion and reduce the risk of injury. This can be particularly important for rowing, as it requires a good range of motion in the shoulders and back.

By including a variety of different types of exercises in your routine, you can help to improve your overall fitness and health, and support your performance in rowing.

It is important to consult with a healthcare professional or fitness coach to design a personalized exercise plan that meets your individual needs and goals.

How Often Should You Row?

The ideal frequency for rowing as part of your exercise routine will depend on your individual fitness level and goals.

In general, however, most people will benefit from incorporating rowing into their routine 2-3 times per week.

This can provide a good balance between allowing the muscles to recover and maintaining a consistent exercise routine. It is important to listen to your body and adjust the frequency of your rowing workouts as needed.

If you are just starting out, you may want to begin with 1-2 rowing sessions per week and gradually increase the frequency as your fitness improves. If you are more advanced, you may be able to handle more frequent rowing sessions.

Best Rowing Accessories

There are a number of accessories that are commonly used by rowers, both for training and competition.

Some common rowing accessories include:

  • Oars: Rowers use oars to propel the boat through the water, and the type of oar used can vary depending on the type of rowing and the rower’s preference. Oars are typically made of lightweight materials such as carbon fiber or fiberglass, and they may have adjustable blades or other features to optimize their performance.
  • Rowing shoes: Rowing shoes are specialized shoes that are designed for use on a rowing machine or in a rowing boat. They typically have a flat, non-slip sole to provide good traction on the rowing machine’s foot pedals or the boat’s foot stretchers. Rowing shoes may also have a cleat or other mechanism to secure the foot in place during rowing
  • Rowing gloves: Rowing gloves are designed to protect the hands from the friction of the oar or the handle of the machine against the palms. They may have padding in the palms and fingers to provide cushioning and prevent blisters, and they may also have a gripping surface to improve the rower’s grip.
  • Rowing clothing: Rowers may choose to wear specialized clothing while rowing, such as lightweight, breathable tops and bottoms that allow for freedom of movement and wick moisture away from the skin. Rowers may also wear waterproof clothing for outdoor rowing in inclement weather.
  • Rowing equipment: Rowers may also need to use other types of equipment, such as life jackets, oar locks, and other safety gear, depending on the type of rowing they are doing and the conditions they are rowing in.

Common Rowing Injuries

As with all sports, going slow and taking your time is key. Knowing the common injuries can help you understand what to avoid yourself. 

Rowing is a physically demanding sport that carries a risk of injury. Some common rowing injuries include:

  • Back injuries: Rowing involves a lot of repetitive motion, and this can put strain on the muscles and ligaments in the back. This can lead to injuries such as strains, sprains, and muscle spasms.
  • Shoulder injuries: The repetitive nature of rowing can also put strain on the muscles and tendons in the shoulders, leading to injuries such as rotator cuff strains and impingement syndrome.
  • Wrist and hand injuries: The force of the oar on the water can cause injuries to the wrists and hands, such as sprains and strains.
  • Knee injuries: The repeated bending and straightening of your legs during rowing can put strain on the knees, leading to injuries.
  • Blisters: The friction of the oar/handle against the hands can cause blisters, which can be painful and disruptive to training.
  • Elbow injuries: The repetitive nature of rowing combined with improper technique can cause discomfort and swelling in the elbow and lead to tendonitis.

Check out our full article about “Rower’s Elbow” here for more information!

To reduce the risk of injury, it is important for rowers to follow proper rowing technique, warm up properly before rowing, and use good-quality rowing equipment. Rowers should also be aware of the signs and symptoms of rowing injuries and seek medical attention if they experience any pain or discomfort while rowing.

In most cases, rowing injuries are a result of pushing yourself too hard early on. Give your body time to rest as your learn the ins and outs.

Rowing Pros

There are many pros to rowing, both as a sport and as a form of exercise.

Some of the benefits of rowing include:

  1. Improved cardiovascular fitness: Rowing is a physically demanding activity that can raise the heart rate and improve overall cardiovascular fitness.
  2. Increased strength and endurance: Rowing uses a wide range of muscles in the upper and lower body, and it can help to build strength and endurance in these muscle groups.
  3. Improved coordination and balance: Rowing requires coordination and balance, and regularly practicing the sport can help to improve these skills.
  4. Low-impact exercise: Rowing is a low-impact exercise that is gentler on the joints than other forms of exercise, such as running or jumping.
  5. Social activity: Rowing can be a fun and social activity that can be enjoyed by individuals or teams. It can be a great way to connect with others and have fun while getting in shape.
  6. Versatility: Rowing can be done in a variety of settings, including on the water, on a rowing machine, or using other types of rowing equipment. This versatility makes it a convenient and accessible form of exercise.

Rowing Cons

There are also some potential drawbacks to the sport. Some of the downsides of rowing include:

  1. Risk of injury: Like any physically demanding activity, rowing carries a risk of injury. Rowers may be at risk for injuries to the back, shoulders, arms, and legs, and it is important to follow proper rowing technique and warm up properly to reduce the risk of injury.
  2. Cost: Participating in rowing can be expensive, especially if you are part of a team or club that requires you to purchase rowing equipment or pay for access to a rowing facility.
  3. Time commitment: Rowing can be a time-consuming activity, especially if you are part of a team or club that requires regular practices and competitions. This may not be practical for people with busy schedules or other time commitments.
  4. Weather: Rowing is typically done on the water, and it is weather dependent. If you are unable to row due to inclement weather, you may need to find alternative ways to get your workout.


Most people who start rowing never stop doing so. Instead, they make it a part of their daily or weekly routine.

The biggest hurdle for most is the upfront cost associated with a stationary rowing machine. However, you should consider the long-term cost. If the machine costs $1,000 but lasts you 20 years, that is a cost of just $50 a year.

An important consideration here is whether or not you actually use the machine. That is why some prefer the live classes, as this provides some built-in accountability.

Either way, we hope you decide to explore the sport or exercise more.