Rowing incorrectly can be bad for your back—but with the right form, it actually strengthens your core and back, says Bryan Volpenhein, three-time Olympian and 2004 gold medalist in the men’s eight. It’s also an insanely effective full-body workout: If you weigh 185, you’ll burn about 622 calories an hour rowing at a moderate pace, and about 754 an hour at a strenuous intensity.
As for form, “Start at the catch—where the handle is closest to the monitor,” Volpenhein says. “Keeping your body angled forward so your shoulders are in front of your hips and your arms are straight out in front of you, push your legs. When your legs are almost flat, swing your body open while still keeping your arms straight. When your body is just past perpendicular, you can pull your arms into the body to finish the stroke.” Just be sure to let your arms and body reset properly before you start the slide and bend your knees.
As you learn, Volpenhein recommends 30–45 minutes of intervals of 4 minutes of rowing and 1–2 minutes of stretching off the machine. Keep strokes per minute to 22 or below.