5 common rowing mistakes that limit your fitness gains, and how to fix them

5 common rowing mistakes that limit your fitness gains, and how to fix them
Fixing common rowing mistakes can help you reach your fitness goals. Getty/Thomas Barwick
  • There are 5 common mistakes people make when rowing that limit their results.
  • Competitive rower and athlete Sera Moon Busse told Insider what they are, and how to fix them.
  • It's important not to pull the bar too high or try and lead the movement with your arms.

Rowing can be an effective way to improve both cardiovascular fitness and strength.

However, there are mistakes many people make that limit their results, competitive rower and Hydrow athlete Sera Moon Busse told Insider.

She explained five of the most common rowing errors, and what you should do instead.

1. Incorrectly sequencing your stroke

Moving parts of your body in the right sequence during the recovery part of the stroke (the relaxed movement up the slide towards the screen) is key - and should be simple, according to Busse.

"Remember, arms away from the body, then swing the shoulders and core forward, then let the knees come up as you slide toward the screen," she said. "The reason that sequence is so important is so that you end up in the strongest position possible once you reach the catch."


The catch is the active position at the top of the slide (near the screen) you reach before taking the stroke.

Think of every stroke you take like picking up something heavy off the floor.

"Improper sequencing leads to improper setup, which means you won't be able to lift as much, or as comfortably," Busse said.

2. Doing too much with the arms

One of the most common misconceptions about rowing is that it's an arm sport.

"Rowing is a full body workout, activating 86% of your body's muscles, and your arms are definitely involved, but they are not your engine muscles," Busse said. "The biggest muscles you have are the ones you want to do the most work with."


The strongest rowing stroke starts with legs and glutes.

"If you start your stroke off right, you'll feel your legs, glutes, core, and back muscles engage, and your arms will naturally flow into the body with your momentum," Busse said.

3. Setting your feet too high

If your rower has an adjustable footbed, change it to suit you.

"I often see the adjustment set too high, which will prevent you from getting into the strongest catch position," Busse said.

The strap should go across the ball of the foot and feel snug, but ultimately the setup position should be what feels comfortable to you.


"If you set your feet too high, you may feel like you're running into your knees, or find it difficult to get all the way up to the screen," Busse said.

4. Pulling the handle too high

If your shoulders feel exhausted after rowing, you're likely pulling the handle too high.

And if you don't feel it in your core, you might be pulling the handle too low.

"Both of these are common mistakes for new rowers: I see people pull the handle into their upper chest, or to their belly, but the sweet spot is right in the middle," Busse said.

Aim to pull the handle into your sternum, the soft spot below your chest right between your ribs.


"Pulling the handle to your sternum will keep you tall and supported in your core, without tiring your shoulders out," she said.

5. Setting your drag too high

It can be tempting to turn up the resistance, or drag setting, to make rowing feel harder before you're ready, but this is often a mistake.

"Turning up the drag to get a better workout is like a band-aid to cover up the technical problems that might be keeping you from engaging your biggest muscle groups, and you'll find your workouts much more rewarding if you take the time to get the technique down first," Busse said.