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  • Writer's pictureAmanda Painter Diver

Calluses From the Rowing Machine?

Updated: Nov 20, 2023

Do your fingers get beat up and have a ton of calluses when you use the rowing machine?


You aren't ALONE!

close up image of hand with callus that's open under finger

One of the first thing to consider is where are your calluses. Are your calluses on your fingertips, middle of your fingers, palm, or the inside of your knuckles? Where your calluses are located can actually give you a ton of information and the tips in this post will help you get a better understanding of why that matters.


Is it normal to get calluses from the rowing machine?


Absolutely! When you're rowing, your hands, feet, and butt are the only parts connecting you to the machine, which means friction can happen at any of these points. Depending on your hand position, how much you sweat, and some other things we will discuss in this article, calluses are very normal, however they can be minimized.


How do you stop calluses from the rowing machine?


Unfortunately there is no easy fix for this, but there are some things to consider and look at. I usually recommend people pay attention to these form components before going and buying gloves or something else because your calluses can actually tell you a lot about your form and also help you avoid injuries up into the elbows or shoulders. However, if you row on the water, getting calluses is just part of it and wait for them to heal and get a little hard. That's because you are constantly getting wet and it's just part of it, but on the rowing machine there is no moisture except your sweat so there are more things you can do.


These small form things below can be a great start. So let's look at where you're holding the handle, how you're gripping, and your handles.


Where are your hands on the handle?


One of the first things you do when you get on the rower and being rowing is grab the handle. Have you ever thoughts about where your grip is on the handle? Are your hands towards the ends of the handle, towards the insides of the handle, or somewhere in the middle?



Where you hold the handle can really effect the rest of your stroke. For instance, when you squat, try putting your feet close together and squatting. Then put your feet shoulder width or farther apart and try squatting. One of those was most likely easier than the other. It's a similar concept when it comes to the rowing machine handle. If you put your hands towards the edges of the handle, it is more likely closer to being in line with your shoulders than when you grip close to the middle or close of the chain or band. However, this does vary from machine to machine as different companies and machines have different handles. Some are ergonomic, some are longer, and so forth. For instance, the Concept2 model D and E have a standard handle that is 19" long with slight 10° ergonomic bend. This is usually closer to being shoulder width than the Water Rower. For example, the Water Rower home/studio series models come with a standard 17" handle, which is 2" shorter than the Concept2. However, on other models they have an even shorter length handle, and you can purchase the 17" upgrade and switch it out. If you can get your hands to be in line with your shoulders, you will end up putting less strain on your upper back, shoulders, and possible other areas as well depending on your rowing technique. Not only that, but it will effect your hands too because if you have your hands more inward, you will end up putting a slightly different angle and therefore force on the outside of your hand and can lead to more calluses on the ring or pinky finger area. If your hands are more in line with your shoulder, the calluses will more likely be on your ring, middle, or pointer finger.


When your hands are less than shoulder width apart, that little bit of extra inward angle you are putting on your arms can take a toll. For example, if you've ever tried to sit and hold your legs together beyond that "natural feeling" position they naturally go to, that's the same concept of what you are doing to your arms when you force them inwards when rowing. After a while, your legs get tired so you might cross your feet to keep your legs close together, well, for your arms, there isn't much you can do and you might not even realize it's happening because it's such a small thing and smaller muscles than in your legs.

So next time you jump on the rower, pay attention to where your hands are. Here's a YouTube video explaining it a little more and how it can impact your wrist or elbow pain with rowing too.


Are you over gripping "death-gripping" the handle and where are you pulling to?


Death gripping the rowing machine handle is really common, but what does it actually mean? It means that you are holding the handle tighter than you might realize when you are rowing. A lot of people also think that rowing is an upper body sport, so they hold the handle a little tighter than they might need to, which allows them to use their upper body more than might be needed for the rowing stroke. So when it comes to rowing, it's not the same as a bent over row, or a general weight-lifting row. Rowing on the rowing machine is more of a lower body activity, and if you want to learn more about that, check out this video on rowing technique.


To make sure you aren't death gripping, try just using your fingertips to make contact with the handle. This is going to feel awkward at first, and you might feel like you are going to lose the handle, but give it a shot.


If your grip is too tight, it can lead to more blisters, and blisters in places they ideally "shouldn't be", like in your palms or fingertips. Not only that, but when we death grip the handle, it makes it so our hands don't move much, so when you pull your arms closer to your body, you might be placing more stress on your wrists, forearms, elbows, or even you shoulders and might not notice it's all because of your grip.



Sometimes when we pull the handle up higher on our chest, this can also increase the stress at other joints in our arms and make us grip a little tighter at the finish, which can also increase the friction and calluses.


Thumb on top or bottom?


This is one of those things that people try to adjust to make them grip the handle less, however as you may know, my goal is to help you learn to adapt the rowing machine for you and your body. Because of that, my answer to this is...it depends. There really is no right or wrong way in terms of if your thumbs should be on top of the handle or on the bottom. This is because it depends on your body structure/anatomy, your possible injury history, and where you are pulling the handle to when rowing. So the biggest thing is to actually find what's comfortable for you and go with that. Some people, including myself, even switch it up on longer rows. If I'm rowing a half marathon, I might do a couple thousand meters in a different position just for variety and changing things up.


When you have your thumb on top, pay attention to what your wrist, elbow, and shoulder might be doing versus your thumb being on the bottom. For some people it makes them rotate at their shoulders because they might not have enough mobility in their thumbs or wrists. This can lead to more calluses on the thumb area or the palm near your thumb.


Checkout the small video showing how if you naturally want to move your thumb up and down, how your body might react. For me, you can see one hand is okay, the other wants to move more. Granted this isn't perfect as I'm not actually holding something, so the handle wouldn't actually allow some of that movement, but it gets the idea across and shows how someone might compensate in other ways during the rowing stroke because of such a small thing. So try your thumb in both and see what's more comfortable for you.


Ergonomic Rowing Machine Handles


So in the first point, I mentioned the length of the rowing machine handles and how it can impact where you might be gripping the handle. Well, I also included some links to the most common and easiest ways you might be able to upgrade your handle, so check that out first. But...some machines like the Concept2, come with an ergonomic handle, with a 10° bend in it. This is to put your wrists in a more neutral position. So that's the first step, point those handles so that bend points downward and it can help. Also feel free to upgrade if you want. If you still aren't happy with what's out there, you can actually make your own handle and make it the length you want and with the grip you want. It's on my "to do" list and if you do it, please feel free to share! I'd love to be able to spread the word. There are also different types of setups you could make for a rowing handle, so keep that in mind and feel free to reach out if you need some idea help.



Should you use gloves on the rowing machine?

This is a really common question that I get and once again...there really isn't a perfect answer. Sorry! However, for some people they work great and others not so much. Remember though that the blisters you are getting can actually tell you if you're over gripping or holding the handle in a less than optimal place. So look at that first. Second, calluses are just part of rowing. Usually they end up being pretty small and manageable once you get past the blister stage. So I usually recommend people pay attention to their blisters first so you can see if you need work on your rowing technique first. Then if it's still an issue for you, gloves can totally work. But I don't usually recommend people get gloves right away because you might be covering up a technique issue that you are better off addressing from the start. But again, even with great technique, calluses are part of the sport. Just like guitar places build calluses on their fingers, rowers are similar, just in a different spot. Wear it as a badge of honor. However, if you do want some gloves, there are some things to consider.

If you want to know a little more about managing the calluses and blisters and what to do, checkout this youtube video on calluses.


What Gloves to Get?

The most common type that people get are weightlifting gloves, and they work great. However, based on where you get your calluses, that will contribute to which type to get, which is another reason to pay attention to the spot the calluses form. The main two types are half finger and full finger.


If you get your calluses on the finger tips or the fingers, the half finger ones aren't going to do you much good and the full finger ones will be better. If your calluses are on the inside knuckle area or the palm, then the shorter ones will do just fine.


So taking that into account, these are some full finger gloves I recommend and these are some half finger gloves.


How do you protect your hands from rowing machine?


This comes down to a mix of everything mentioned above with gripping, handle position, where your calluses are on your hand, and using gloves as an option. Another option is to use chalk. Personally I don't like chalk on my machine, but it can help with moisture issues and might be a solid cheap option for you.


I hope that helps you out and found this information useful.

If you like this and want more information, follow me at:

Instagram: @the.rowing.doc

You can also join our community of rowers!

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