For many years I went to the gym and would begin and finish my workouts on the rowing machine. Typically I would jump on a rowing machine and hit the quick start button and row for about 5 minutes or until I began to fatigue.
It was not until years later after reading about the UK Olympic teams training regimes that I figured out that if I put a bit more structure on my rowing workout I could get a lot more out of them. By making some small changes and implementing the correct technique I quickly saw significant improvements. Within a short period of time I found that I had reached new levels in my endurance, strength/power, and overall fitness.
Like any sport, perfecting the technique to a high level can be very difficult and can take many years. However it is relatively easy to get a handle on the 4 primary movements of Rowing and once you have a good understanding of each step you can work on slowly improving your technique over time.
This video from the guys at Concept2 is an excellent place to start:
Part 1: The catch
This is the part of the row where you first meet the resistance. Your arms are straight but not rigid and should be reaching in front of you with your shoulders relaxed and in front of your hips.
At the catch your shins should be vertical, and the chest should come to meet the thighs. You should be light on your feet with weight balanced between both left and right.
Part 2: The Drive
The drive begins in the legs and moves through the body and then the arms. These three body parts work together to create the force that propels you backwards and provides maximum power against the resistance.
As the legs are straightening you should be opening up your back while at the same time using your arms to pull the handle towards your solar plexus. At the end of the drive you should find yourself with your torso leaning back, hands drawn into to the body, and legs fully extended
Part 3: The Recovery
The recovery is the part of the rowing action where you get your body back into position and ready to go again. It is important to ensure that the transition between the drive and the recovery causes as little disturbance to your momentum as possible.
Once your hands have cleared your knees, allow your knees to bend and gradually slide the seat forward again. At the end of the recovery you should find yourself returned to the catch position with shoulders relaxed and shins vertical.