Rowing is a staple in my workout routine for two reasons. When done properly, it activates the entire posterior chain, which builds a strong and sturdy back. Secondly, it results in very little impact on the joints, which makes it a superior exercise choice to running. Next time you see someone running, take a moment to see if their head is bouncing up and down. If they are a novice runner, they will look like a bobble head. Over time, it wreaks havoc on the joints; specifically the knees. Rowing is an excellent exercise for steady state cardio because it activates more muscles, and likely won't cause you a knee replacement when you're 50 years old. Below, I have highlighted 4 surprisingly common rowing mistakes that I see almost every single day. Rowing properly is all about efficiency and posture. Rowing efficiently will yield better performance in the gym, and prevent injuries outside the gym.
Sinful Mistake #1- The rounded back
Need I say more. It is common knowledge that rounding your back should be prevented at all costs. You wouldn't do 100+ consecutive Power Cleans with a rounded back, so why the hell would you pull on a rower thousands of times without good posture? Sitting up tall, with good posture, also lengthens your bodies lever which allows you to apply more force (efficient). The easiest way to PR your row times is to SIT UP TALL.
Sinful Mistake #2- Leaning back too far
Leaning back to the point where your hips are almost closed (usually accompanied with pulling the handle to the chin) provides no mechanical advantage. Once your torso reaches the 11 o'clock position, it becomes much more demanding on your core; to the extent where you're wasting energy... It becomes more difficult to breath, strokes become longer, and force production declines dramatically. You're torso should bounce between the 11 o'clock and 1 o'clock position in relation to the floor. any extra movement starts to work against you.
Sinful Mistake #3- The early arm pull
Think of rowing as a cupcake. The leg drive would resemble the actual cake component, leaning back to the 11 o'clock position would resemble the icing. The arm pull is just the sprinkle on top. You should not begin to pull with your arms until you have leaned back to the 11 0'clock position. Your biceps will never be able to generate more force than you legs and back. If the pull is initiated with the arms, you are doing three things: 1) Subjecting yourself to elbow tendonitis down the road. 2) Wasting A LOT of energy to hold your arms in a flexed position. 3) Potentially, limiting your force production to how much isometric strength your elbow joint has. There is NO advantage to doing it.
Sinful Mistake #4- Leaning back too early
Leaning back before you drive into the foot pedals makes the exercise very quad dominant. I usually observe this in the hyper-mobile people that bring their butt all the way to their heels on every pull. By doing so, it deactivates a lot of the posterior chain (butt and back). Having your torso at the 1 o'clock position when you drive back will ensure that your recruit as many muscles as possible. More muscles recruitment, means more force generated, which means faster row times that are less taxing.