One of the best overall aerobic and strengthening machines, the rowing machine — sometimes called an ergometer — seems quite simple to use: Sit on the seat, grab the handle and bend your knees to slide up; then reverse. But the subtleties are what get you.

“Rowing is actually a unique stroke, [but it] does seem deceptively simple,” says Anthea Barnett, UCLA women’s rowing assistant coach. “The drive is intuitive: If you can put on pants, you can do the drive. For the return, or recovery, to be both effective and powerful, you need guidance.” She explains that “the biggest mistake comes after the rower has finished the active ‘drive’ motion, which is driving or straightening the legs while pushing with the feet, then pulling in the arms. It’s when the rower is going back up the slide to take another stroke and their knees come up, while their arms and hands are moving toward the ‘catch.’ The knees get in the way of the arms, the hands have to make an arc to get over the knees and the butt hits the heels.”

Rowing on an ergometer for 30 minutes burns about 210 calories for a 125-pound rower. For workout ideas, visit

Below: Anna Thomson, UCLA’s women’s rowing assistant coach, demonstrates the right way to use an ergometer.

Quick Take Rowing 1
Jeremy Jackson
1. Start from a seated position, legs down and straight. Make sure your feet are strapped in comfortably. Place your hands on your hips and practice tilting forward from the hips with your back straight.
Quick Take Rowing 2
Jeremy Jackson
2. Hold the handle (palms on top), keep your legs straight and lean back, body angled so your shoulders are behind your hips and arms are bent close to your body, elbows up. This is called the “finish.”
Quick Take Rowing 3
Jeremy Jackson
3. Keeping your eyes up, push your hands away so that your arms are straight, then angle your body forward while keeping your knees down and straight, until your hands clear your knees.
Quick Take Rowing 4
Jeremy Jackson
4. That’s when — keeping your arms straight and body angled forward — you bend your knees and start to slide the seat toward the catch.
Quick Take Rowing 5
Jeremy Jackson
5. At the catch, engage your core, quads and glutes, and drive your knees down, pushing with your legs. Keeping your arms straight, work your torso off your legs, and swing your torso back.
Quick Take Rowing 6
Jeremy Jackson
6. Keep your arms straight until your legs are straight, lean back with a slight push off the footboard, then pull your arms in. This is the finish, where you began.