Rowing – CrossFit Exercise Guide with Photos and Instructions


Muscles Targeted: Rowing is a very prominent exercise used in CrossFit WODs (workout of the day) and it involves a lot of coordination with the larger muscle groups in the body. It is an excellent total body exercise that also provides a great cardiovascular workout that burns lots of calories. The primary muscles involved are:

  • Back: Rowing targets the back muscles extremely well. The latissimus dorsi muscles are highly engaged during the range of motion and the trapezius muscles are assisted by the rhomboid muscles as well.
  • Arms: The biceps and forearms are used when executing the pulling motion and the triceps are used when releasing and extending the arms.
  • Shoulders: The deltoids are engaged when performing the pulling motion.
  • Core: When bending and straightening the back, the erector spinae muscles are involved. The obliques are used when stabilizing the body. The abdominals play a major role when moving the body backward and forward.
  • Legs: The rowing motion targets the gluteus maximus (butt muscles). When extending the legs to straighten the body, the quadriceps muscles are involved. The hamstrings are also used during the beginning of the rowing motion.

Exercise Instructions: It’s very important to follow the proper technique when rowing to avoid injury and get the most out of the exercise. Here are some tips to follow:

  • Ensure that your feet are securely placed into the straps before starting the exercise.
  • Get yourself in the starting position and firmly grasp the handles of the rowing machine.
  • Firmly press your feet against the foot plate on the rowing machine.
  • Begin the rowing motion by extending your legs and simultaneously pulling the handlebars.
  • Make sure to pull with the large muscles of your back and push off with your quadriceps.
  • Extend your legs and row the handlebars all the way back until they touch your lower chest.
  • When returning to the starting position, make sure your knees are slightly bent and repeat.

Things To Avoid:

  • Don’t start rowing without warming up first. This is a demanding exercise that involves several different muscles in the body and you need to make sure you are fully warmed up before starting. Doing 5-10 minutes of jump rope or stationary bike will get your body primed for this exercise.
  • Avoid using improper technique since it may result in injury. Make sure you pull with your back primarily and avoid using just your biceps. Remember, the biceps are the secondary muscle and the back is the primary muscle group.
  • Do not use too much resistance. Most rowing machines have a dial to increase or decrease the tension. Start with a very light amount of tension and work your way up from there.
  • Do not row with just your arms. As mentioned earlier, this exercise involves several large muscles like your back and legs, so focus on using them as the primary movers.
  • Do not hunch over when rowing and make sure your shoulders and back are balanced.

Reps and Sets: Most rowing machine have a screen that monitors your workout and provides feedback. It shows the stroke rate and watts (workout intensity) among other things. The normal rowing workout is based on time versus repetitions. Beginners can start with a light 2-3 minute workout in order to get the technique down first before extending the length of their workout. Typical rowing workouts are anywhere from 5-30 minutes depending on your fitness level and the design of your CrossFit WOD.

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