In your glutes, legs, and torso!
What you’re saying about rowing for 30 minutes and not experiencing any feeling other than an elevated heart rate is VERY common so know that you’re amongst friends.
One of the hardest things about learning to row on an indoor rowing machine is how to engage with the machine. Unlike a bike or elliptical machine which guide you through the movement, an indoor rowing machine makes you learn how to move yourself through space and time otherwise you experience that lack of feeling anything.
Getting the most out of the rowing machine means learning how to move. I’ve never seen ANYONE sit down on a rowing machine for the first time and do it correctly. It’s a learned movement, not a natural one. But the upside is that good movement will keep you safe and amplify your physiological results. So it’s worth it to take a step back and instead of starting with volume on the machine, spend time on the fundamentals of rowing movement because once you have those down you’ll notice a massive change in how rowing feels to you.
The stroke really comes down to four distinct phases that all work together in a fluid motion. The catch, drive, release, and recovery. If you practice each independently with good attention to detail you’ll be able to string them together over time.
The name of the game at the core of it all though, is “Push, Don’t Pull”
Rowing is a movement that when executed properly is a big PUSH. Essentially you’re trying to push the rowing machine away from you with your legs instead of trying to pull the handle to your body. This small paradigm shift can have a BIG impact on the way you interact with the machine.
Think of it in terms of how someone would squat and come out of a squat relative to the ground. Notice the descent and the ascent are perpendicular (90 degrees) to the ground.
Now let’s apply the same concept to the rowing machine. The only thing that changes when we change to a rowing movement on any rowing machine is the “floor” angle. Notice it changes to about 45 degrees from the original floor position and this is the angle you’ll find on any good rowing machine foot plate.
SOOOOO, what does this mean for you? To get the most out of the machine, you’ll push with your legs and drive your body in the same direction relative to the “floor” that you would on a squat.
Your body should be attempting to stand up off the seat (within reason of course). Your goal is to get as much of your body pressing into your legs and the foot plate as possible which will result in your body lifting out of the seat slightly and then settling back into the seat as you finish the stroke. As a side note, make sure you leave enough of your body in the seat so that you don’t jump out of the seat.
If you can master this feeling with the PUSH you’ll be just fine and you’ll “feel” much more during your workouts on the rowing machine.
If you want to feel this for yourself, check out this video with a drill I call.
Now go forth, and enjoy the machine!