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Healthy You

Rowing in the Winter? Absolutely! Meet the Erg.

Monday, January 24, 2022 9:20 AM

By: Angelina Campanile

Few workout machines can offer low-impact, high-intensity sprint intervals, low-intensity endurance development, full-body strength training, core training, heart health and posture control all at once.The rowing machine not only accomplishes all that, but gives you a full body workout while you’re sitting down.

Rowing Machine

Also known as the erg–short for ergometer–the rowing machine targets 85% of your body’s muscles to perform the full movement properly. One of the most common misconceptions about rowing is that it requires a strong upper body when it’s actually 60% legs, 30% core, and 10% arms. 

By requiring good posture and sitting upright as you push off the foot plates, the rowing stroke activates your legs, core, glutes, and arm and back muscles, offering a hybrid resistance training-cardio workout for people of all ages and fitness levels.

Dr. Kirsten Geary, Sport Medicine at NorthShore, says the rowing stroke can help reverse the negative effects on your body caused by extended sitting and poor posture commonly associated with desk jobs. Additionally, the erg’s low impact makes it a great physical therapy option for anyone trying to recover from an injury, experiencing joint pain, or who wants to build strength without excessive strain. 

What is the Rowing Machine?

The erg mimics what it feels like to be inside of a rowing shell on the water. Competitive rowers use the erg to maintain their fitness level and technique when the water freezes over in the winter. But you don’t have to be competitive to reap the benefits of rowing. All you need to know is how to properly complete the four steps of the stroke: catch, drive, finish and recovery. 

How do you use the Rowing Machine?

The stroke begins at the catch position. This is when your knees are bent, your shins are vertical, and your arms are extended as you hold out the handle in front of you (as pictured below). The seat should be 6 to 8 inches from the heels of your feet, which will be slightly lifted. 

Rowing Stroke

Now the drive. Push off of the foot plates using your leg muscles and extend the knees to drive the seat back. Keep your arms extended and back long. Then, engage your core and glutes to open your hips and slightly lean back. 

Pull in your handle to the lower part of the ribs by activating your lat and arm muscles. Now you’re at the finish position (as pictured below). You should feel the core burn here. 


Finally, to get back to the catch you’ll go through the recovery. Complete the steps of the drive but in reverse; instead of legs, core, arms, it’s arms, core, legs. While the drive is quick and forceful, the recovery should be slow and controlled. Extend your arms first, then hinge your hips so you’re leaning forward, and, finally, bend your knees so you’re back in a coiled position at the catch. 

The rowing stroke may seem a bit fragmented when you first try it. But once you get the hang of it, all you have to do is close your eyes and picture yourself gliding across the water. Competitive rowers may disagree, but the erg can also be a mindful and meditative experience.


Healthy You contributor Angelina Campanile (pictured above) rows for the Northwestern University Crew Team. Angelina has spent every winter on the erg in her six years of competitive rowing.