Common rowing overuse injuries and how to avoid them

Rowing is known as one of the best whole-body workouts around for good reason. The smooth non-load bearing full body motion of rowing provides a fantastic workout that can support a variety of fitness goals.

Like any workout, rowing can also be the source of overuse injuries.

To help you get the most from your rowing workouts we've collected some of the more common overuse complaints and ways to avoid them.

1. Shoulder pain

The rowing motion starts with the "catch" with your arms and shoulders extended and legs compressed. At this point it is easy to overload your shoulders - particularly if you aren't relaxed and if you overextend yourself in an effort to reach further.

To avoid shoulder pain:

Don't over-reach, and keep your shoulders and arms loose and relaxed

2. Hand - forearm

You deliver power into the rowing stroke through two primary contact points - your feet and hands. You walk on your feet every day - however your hands are not initially used to pulling on the rowing handle. For this reason it is common to have hand issues (sometimes including blisters and tendon strains in fingers wrists and forearms) when you are first starting out and if you row hard and often.

To lessen hand and forearm strains - don't over overexert yourself during the first week or two of starting rowing workouts and as you progress concentrate on not over-gripping the rowing machine handle.

Don't over-grip the handle; stretch and relax fingers, wrists, and forearms before and after rowing.

3. Back

Ask 100 rowers how many of them have back issues and you are likely to hear from many of them. The best way to avoid back issues on a rowing machine is by gradually building up to intense rowing workouts and by following the tips below:

Don't go too hard at the catch and pay attention to your body angle and form
At the end of the stroke pull, swing the body back over forwards from the hips, try keep the back as straight as possible in a nice strong relaxed position as you move forwards to take the next stroke.

  • Don't "lunge" at the catch to try overreach
  • Don't "shoot the slide"- initially drive with the legs maintaining the same upper body angle, then as the hands pass over the knees, open up the back and then follow through drawing with the arms.
  • Work on hamstring flexibility this will help you to develop the ability to swing the body back over forwards nice and relaxed relaxed at the end of the stroke pull whilst reducing lower back strain.
  • Use a lower resistance levels
  • Avoid rowing machines with a high catch 'shock load'

4. Knee pain

Many rowers are runners or former runners who have found rowing to be an ideal compliment or replacement to running (which is notoriously hard on knees and feet). While rowing is an excellent non-impact cardio workouts there are few things to keep in mind to avoid injuring or inflaming your knees.

  • Avoid over compression (of the seat position too close to the feet) as this would put higher strains on the joints of the ankles, knees, and hips
  • Stretch and strengthen after each workout
  • Build complementary muscle groups
  • Indoor rowing is one of the fastest growing forms of exercise and can be an awesome part of a healthy lifestyle and workout regimen. Start slow, build gradually, and work on your form as you go.

We are also fans of the smooth progressive resistance of fluid rowers (also known as water rowers). Unlike fan or blower rowing machines, fluid rowers offer a resistance profile that many rowers find more pleasant and easier on the body with lower peak stress whilst maintaining a more constant resistance throughout second half of the stroke pull; so the total amount of work done can be just the same but with a reduced perceived total effort.


Using a fluid resistance rowing machine that also offers adjustable resistance settings can also help by letting you turn down the resistance when first getting started.

Our most popular rowing machine features adjustable fluid resistance in an affordable and durable rower - making it the perfect rower for home use.