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If you’re searching for a form of cardio that’ll have you sucking wind without punishing your joints, then look no further than the rowing machine, aka the erg. Unlike running on a treadmill or jumping rope, with the erg, your knees are spared. Also, since you’re really working only during the concentric phase—or top portion of the movement—you won’t be as sore the next day, which means your future workouts won’t be hindered, either. Row incorrectly, though, and you’ll risk an achy back and an all-around inefficient cardio workout. So avoid the following five mistakes to get the most out of the erg.
Set the strap so it’s around the widest part of the foot. This lets you drive with the midpoint of your foot and not your heel or toes to produce optimal power.
Most gymgoers initiate the pull with their arms or torso. This is wrong. The main driver should be your legs—you’ll generate more force with each pull and move more efficiently. Think big muscles first, small ones last.
As with any movement in the gym (and in life, for that matter), you want to maintain good posture. While rowing, sit nice and tall, with your shoulders back and chest up. Slouching while you row can lead to back pain and negatively affect your efficiency with the movement.
The main difference between rowing on an erg and a cable machine is that the former is a full-body movement. Drive with your legs first and then row the handle, leading with your elbows. Your movement should be fluid and smooth, not a jerky, hard pull.
The most common mistake with the erg is rowing at too high a setting. This can lead to crappy form and even injury. Start between levels 4 and 7 for better core control and stability. How you perform the move trumps the load you’re moving.