I have had knee pain for years…no DECADES! That’s because I used to run, do intense yoga and lots of walking and climbing. But lately I have been wondering if low impact rowing machines help with knee pain.

How I First Hurt My Knee

I wrenched my knee sitting Indian style on a bus. The bus lurched, I felt a ‘snap’ and ended up tearing my meniscus in my right knee. That was 1984.

Well, the doc took out a quarter of my meniscus (the little pillow shaped tissue that cushions the two bones that make up your knee). But I basically recovered and continued pretty rigorous exercise. Then in 2014, I hurt my knee again. An MRI showed that both my meniscus was shredded further, and the actual cartilage that covers each knee bone, upper and lower, were frayed and rough. So a second operation removed damaged tissue, but that also reduced the cushioning in my knee.

So, yeah, I got knee pain, quite often, especially if I do anything which impacts the knee, such as jumping, running or even walking some distance.

Do you have it?  Knee pain can be a debilitating condition that affects many individuals, hindering your daily activities and exercise routines. When searching for ways to manage knee pain, you may wonder if rowing machines can provide any relief. In this article, we will explore the connection between rowing machines and knee pain and determine whether they can be a helpful tool in alleviating discomfort. We will also discuss precautions, tips, and additional strategies to support knee health during rowing exercises.

Understanding the Link Between Rowing Machines and Knee Pain

Rowing machines, also known as ergometers or ergs, are popular pieces of  fitness equipment used for cardiovascular workouts. These machines simulate the motion of rowing a boat, engaging multiple muscle groups while providing a low-impact workout. But can rowing machines actually assist in managing knee pain?

The answer lies in the nature of rowing exercises. Unlike high-impact activities such as running or jumping, rowing machines offer a smooth, controlled motion that minimizes stress on the joints, including the knees. This low-impact nature makes rowing machines an appealing option for individuals with knee pain or those looking to prevent knee-related injuries.

How Rowing Machines Benefit Knee Health

  1. Low-impact workout: Rowing machines are designed to be gentle on the joints, including the knees. The gliding motion involved in rowing puts minimal stress on the knee joints, making it an excellent choice for individuals with knee pain or conditions such as arthritis.
  2. Strengthening surrounding muscles: Regular use of rowing machines helps strengthen the muscles surrounding the knees, such as the quadriceps, hamstrings, and calves. Strengthening these muscles can provide additional support to the knees, reducing the risk of pain and injury.
  3. Increased flexibility: Rowing exercises involve a wide range of motion that helps improve flexibility in the lower body. By improving flexibility, rowing machines can contribute to better knee joint mobility and function, potentially reducing discomfort.
  4. Weight management: Maintaining a healthy weight is crucial for knee health. Rowing machines offer an effective way to burn calories and manage weight, reducing the load on the knees and minimizing pain caused by excess weight.

Precautions and Tips for Using Rowing Machines with Knee Pain

While rowing machines can be beneficial for knee pain, it is essential to approach their usage with caution. Here are some recommendations to keep in mind:

  1. Consult a healthcare professional: Before starting any exercise regimen, especially if you have knee pain or a pre-existing knee condition, consult with a healthcare professional or physical therapist. They can provide personalized advice and guidance based on your specific needs.
  2. Proper form and technique: Using correct form while rowing is crucial to prevent unnecessary strain on the knees. Maintain a straight posture, engage your core, and focus on a smooth, controlled motion throughout the exercise.
  3. Gradual progression: Start slowly and gradually increase the intensity and duration of your rowing sessions. Pushing too hard or progressing too quickly can put undue stress on your knees and exacerbate the pain.
  4. Warm-up and cool-down: Always warm up before rowing to prepare your muscles and joints for the exercise. Stretching and performing light aerobic activities can help increase blood flow and reduce the risk of injury. Similarly, cool down and stretch after your workout to promote muscle recovery.


Recommendations for Rowing Machine Usage with Knee Pain

  1. Adjust the resistance: When using a rowing machine with knee pain, it’s essential to find the right level of resistance. Start with a low resistance setting and gradually increase it as your strength and comfort levels improve. Avoid excessive resistance that may strain your knees.
  2. Monitor your technique: Pay close attention to your rowing technique to ensure proper alignment and minimize stress on the knees. Maintain a straight back, engage your core muscles, and avoid hyperextending your knees during the rowing motion.
  3. Limit session duration: Initially, limit your rowing sessions to shorter durations to allow your knees to adapt gradually. As you build strength and endurance, you can gradually increase the duration of your workouts. Listen to your body and avoid overexertion.
  4. Incorporate rest days: Giving your knees time to rest and recover is crucial for managing knee pain. Alternate rowing workouts with rest days or engage in low-impact exercises on those days to reduce stress on the knees.

Additional Strategies to Support Knee Health

  1. Strengthening exercises: In addition to using rowing machines, incorporating exercises that specifically target the muscles around the knees can provide further support. Consult with a physical therapist or fitness professional to learn exercises such as squats, lunges, and leg presses that can help strengthen the quadriceps and hamstrings.
  2. Stretching and flexibility exercises: Regular stretching can improve flexibility and range of motion in the knees, reducing stiffness and discomfort. Include stretches for the calves, quadriceps, hamstrings, and hip flexors in your exercise routine.
  3. Low-impact cross-training: While rowing machines offer low-impact exercise, incorporating other low-impact activities such as swimming, cycling, or using an elliptical machine can provide variety and further reduce stress on the knees.
  4. Proper footwear: Wearing appropriate footwear with good cushioning and support is essential for protecting your knees during rowing workouts. Invest in well-fitting athletic shoes that provide shock absorption and stability.
  5. Weight management and a balanced diet: Maintaining a healthy weight can significantly reduce the strain on your knees. Combine regular exercise, including rowing, with a balanced diet to support weight management and overall joint health.


Rowing machines can indeed be a valuable tool in managing knee pain. The low-impact nature of rowing exercises, along with the benefits of strengthening surrounding muscles and increasing flexibility, make them an attractive option for individuals with knee pain or those looking to prevent knee-related issues. However, it’s important to approach rowing workouts with caution, consult a healthcare professional, use proper form, and gradually progress. Incorporating additional strategies such as strength training, stretching, low-impact cross-training, and maintaining a healthy weight can further support knee health. By taking these precautions and following expert recommendations, rowing machines can become a beneficial component of your knee pain management and overall fitness routine.