Skip to content Skip to footer
Are rowing machines bad for you back

Share Us

Daniel Mesa

Are Rowing Machines Bad For Your Back? Pros and Cons

One of the most common injuries for athletes or everyday Americans is back pain. Since s back injury is so common, many people are on the constant lookout for solutions or workarounds to their back pain.

Are rowing machines bad for you back

A popular solution nowadays is the indoor rowing machine. The machine offers the advantage of working your cardiovascular system while strengthening your back muscles at the same time.

In this guide, we will break down all the benefits of rowing and give some crucial tips for injury prevention on the rowing machine.

Are Rowing Machines Bad For Your Back?

The short answer is no. If done with proper form, the rowing machine actually has the opposite effect.

Here is how a rowing machine will actually prevent back pain:

Strengthens Your Back Muscles

When you row, you are heavily engaging all the muscles in your back when you pull back. Over time, these muscles will have no choice but to adapt and strengthen to your fitness routine.

It may seem counterintuitive, but the answer to back pain or prevention can actually be to work and strengthen your back muscles. Oftentimes, we experience pain because the muscles are simply not strong enough to handle the load we place on them. With enough training, your back muscles will be better equipped to handle your day-to-day activities.

Improved Core Strength

Aside from your back, your core muscles are also heavily engaged during the rowing movement. Your abs have to work to keep your body stable as you move back and forth on the machine.

When we think about back pain, the root cause is often muscular imbalances. Your lower back may be compensating for your lack of core strength leading to pain.

Not only will this help to prevent back pain, but the presence of toned abs helps with virtually every other exercise and contributed to an impressive physique.

Helps Lose Body Fat

The number one purpose of a rowing machine is to burn calories and lose fat. As you continue your training and get leaner and meaner, you may find that your back pain had faded away.

Without any excess body weight, your muscles are much less likely to fall victim to strains from everyday activities.

Proper Rowing Machine Form

As we have already mentioned, rowing machines are great tools for injury prevention. However, it is crucial that you perform the movement with the proper technique.

Video Guide

To use a rowing machine correctly for cardio exercise, follow these steps:

  1. Start by sitting on the rowing machine with your feet securely fastened to the footrests. Your knees should be bent, and your shins should be vertical.

  2. Grasp the handlebar with an overhand grip, keeping your arms straight and your shoulders relaxed.

  3. Lean back slightly, engaging your core and keeping your back straight. This is the starting or catch position.

  4. To begin the stroke, push off with your legs and straighten them as you simultaneously pull the handlebar towards your chest.

  5. At the end of the stroke, your arms should be fully extended and your body leaning slightly forward. This is known as the drive position.

  6. To return to the starting position, bend your knees and lean back slightly as you release the handlebar. This is known as the return position. By the end you should be back to the start or catch position.

  7. Repeat the stroke for a continuous, steady pace, maintaining a consistent rhythm and keeping your movements smooth and controlled.

Throughout the entire movement, you should try to keep your core as tight as possible for maximum stability.

Common Rowing Machine Injuries

Like with any exercise, if you fail to follow the proper form there is a risk of getting injured. While the risk for injury on a rowing machine is minimal due to the light load, you should still be aware of some of the most common injuries:

Muscle Soreness

Muscle soreness from the rowing machine is perfectly normal. Many people mistake this for an injury when it is really the sign of a good workout.

As you get more and more conditioned, the muscle soreness should fade over time and not be as severe. If you find that you experience extreme soreness after every session, consider lowering the resistance or shortening your sessions.

Lower Back Pain While Rowing

Lower back pain or lumbago is perhaps the most common injury from rowing. It is often seen in even the highest levels of professional rowers. This pain is most often felt at the end of the rowing stroke when the legs are being extended.

Lumbago will often be accompanied by radiation of pain through your buttocks and up your spine. Usually, the culprits for this type of pain are chronic overuse or a previous injury that was improperly treated for.

Upper Back Pain While Rowing

Upper and middle back pain or thoracic back pain is mostly seen among beginners due to improper form. There tends to be a weakness in the core and back muscles leading to poor posture during the movement.

This type of back pain is usually felt from the base of the neck down but it can also be linked to shoulder and neck pain.

Common Rowing Machine Pain Causes

If you are experiencing back pain during a rowing workout, don’t worry. More often than not all it takes is some minor tweaks to your rowing form to row pain-free.

Here are the most common causes of rowing back that you will need to address:


Even if you use perfect form every time, your body will eventually to begin to break down if you do not take the time to allow it to recover.

If you are new to rowing, do not rush things. Start out a with few sessions per week and slowly work your way up. If you want to be extra careful, consider getting a personal trainer.

It is also important to consider how rowing ties into your overall fitness program. For example, I would not advise rowing after some heavy squats or deadlifts. These are movements that heavily tax your lower back and require time to recover from.

Just use your common sense and listen to your body and you should be fine in this regard.

Hunching Forward

One of the worst sights to see in a gym is someone rowing with a hunched back as this is a sure way to injure yourself. When you hunch yourself forward, you are putting your body in a very weak position. Your back often pays the prices as it has to bear all the excess load.

Many people mess up in this regard because they let their entire body lean forward when they should really just be letting their shoulders and arms come forward.

To overcome this, just focus on keeping your core tight and back straight. There should be little to no arch in your back.

Leaning Back Too Much

Towards the end of the movement, you will often see inexperienced rowers lean all the way back as much as they can. Again, this is a weak position where you are compromising your back.

When you lean back at the end of your stroke, it should feel natural and not forced. Anything more than 30-45 degrees is just overdoing it.

Tips To Bulletproof Your Back

All of these tips will work great for preventing future injuries during rowing training or any type of physical activity

Adopt A Mobility Routine

Due to modern sedentary lifestyles, most people lack basic mobility. These limitations lead to injuries and muscular imbalances all across your body. There are many 5 minutes routines on YouTube that can drastically improve your flexibility over the course of a few months.

Combine Your Cardio With Strength Training

As we have already discussed, a stronger back is a healthier back. The rowing machine help strengthens your back muscles, but its true purpose is to work your cardiovascular system.

If you are serious about taking your back to the next level, consider taking up strength training to further strengthen your back.

Take Things Slow

I cannot emphasize this enough, it is much better to slowly make progress the rush things and risk injuring yourself for months. All aspects of your training should be focused on this principle.

Whether it be your overall program or warming up, just be sure to listen to your body and not rush into anything. It is great to want to make quick progress but it should not come at the cost of your overall health.

Should I Use A Rowing Machine If I Have A Bad Back?

If you have a bad back due to previous injuries, I would recommend trying the rowing machine to see how it feels. Over time, you may find that it provides some relief.

If your pain is more severe, there are a number of alternatives that still allow you to get a good workout in:

  • Recumbent Bike: The recumbent bike puts your back in a supported position and limits any type of strain

  • Treadmill: If you prefer to walk than engage your upper body, the treadmill is a great, adjustable option

  • Elliptical: If you find that sitting down is what triggers your back pain, the elliptical can be a viable alternative. This machine is very low-impact and easy to recover from.

Final Thoughts

The rowing machine can be a great tool for back pain relief. The combination of back strengthening and cardio is hard to beat. As long as you use proper form and are mindful of your own limitations, the rowing machine can become part of your everyday fitness routine.

If you are new to rowing, just take things slow and fall in love with the process. You will see results soon after!

Can a rowing machine hurt your back?

Yes, if used with improper form. As long as make sure to keep your core engaged and avoid rounding your back, you should be fine to use this with no risk of injury.

Do rowing machines strengthen your back?

Yes, rowing machines will strengthen your back muscles. The motion of pulling involved in rowing heavily works your entire back and will lead to strength and muscle gains.

How do I protect my back with a rowing machine?

Start off slow and listen to your body to avoid any type of overuse. Always be sure to engage your core to keep your body nice and tight during the stroke during the row.

Are 20 minutes of rowing enough?

This all depends on your goals. For basic health standards and cardio needs, this should be enough if you do it a few times per week. For more serious athletes, they should try to push for longer sessions.