Short answer: No. We are bad for our backs.
Rowing machines are great for building strong backs and improving our posture as well as being an excellent form of cardiovascular exercise.
I'm sure that we all know people that do not use rowing machines, or ergs, because it hurts their back or their knees. However, the problem is not with the equipment, it is with the user. Poor technique, lack of flexibility, compromised posture and lack of muscular fitness all contribute to pain and discomfort in the joints and spine.
Taking the time to learn how to row properly will save you a whole lot of hurt. Classic technique flaws include:
- Extending too far forward at the beginning of the stroke
- Leaning too far back at the end of the stroke
- Not using the legs
- Going too fast on the back stroke
Rowing is a technical exercise and takes a bit of time to master but it is definitely worth it if you want to get fitter and stronger - especially through the back. Start off slow and build up your endurance over time, allowing your muscles and joints to adapt to the new movement patterns. You will soon find a new appreciation for exactly how fit and strong our amazing Olympic rowers really are!
On a technical note, make sure the rowing machine you purchase is the right length for you. A shortened stroke length means a reduced range of movement and increases your potential for injury.
If you are unsure, I recommend you consider a couple of technique sessions with a registered trainer to get you started so that you can get the most out of your investment.
Most of all - have fun! You never know, one day I might see you on the water.