What Muscles Do Rowing Machines Work? Why You Should Know

  • Rowing machines offer a low-impact, total-body workout by simulating the motion of rowing a boat.
  • Rowing is low-impact and it is kind to your joints compared to running or other high-impact exercises.
  • A 155-pound person can burn about 260 calories in 30 minutes of moderate-intensity rowing.

What muscles do rowing machines work?

Do you want to work out your entire body while simultaneously targeting different muscle groups? You only need to use the rowing machine! When it comes to developing strength and endurance, rowing machines, which are frequently overlooked in the sea of fitness equipment, are a force to be reckoned with. Rowing machines work different muscle groups all over your body in addition to giving you a great cardiovascular workout. The rowing machine works every muscle in your body, from your back and arms to your legs and core. Why is it crucial to understand which muscles are being worked, though? You can maximize your results, avoid injuries, and modify your workout to achieve specific fitness goals by being aware of the muscles involved. This article will go over the specific muscles that rowing machines target, emphasizing the advantages of including this adaptable machine in your fitness regimen. Prepare to row your way to a more powerful, fit you!

How Rowing Machines Work

What muscles do rowing machines work?

Let's take a moment to understand how rowing machines operate before we delve into the muscles they work. Rowing machines offer a low-impact, total-body workout by simulating the motion of rowing a boat. The handle, seat, and footrests are the three main parts of a rowing machine. Rowing involves pushing and pulling against resistance that can be changed to suit your level of fitness.

The drive and the recovery phases make up the rowing stroke. You push off with your legs during the drive phase, contract your abs, and pull the handle towards your chest with your arms. This motion resembles the force used to row a boat. When the drive phase is over, you slide the seat back to the starting position, extend your arms, and lean forward from your hips to enter the recovery phase. The multiple muscle groups are worked while maintaining a steady rhythm thanks to this fluid and continuous motion.

Air, magnetic, and water resistance are common options for resistance on rowing machines. You can tailor your workout experience by choosing different types of resistance, each of which offers a unique feel and degree of difficulty. Let's examine the specific muscles targeted by rowing machines now that we have a basic understanding of how they operate.

The Muscles Targeted by Rowing Machines

Getting on a rowing machine causes a variety of different muscles in your body to contract. Here are the primary muscle groups that rowing machines work:

1. Legs

Leg muscle strength and toning are well known benefits of rowing machines. As you push against the footrests during the drive phase, your legs do the majority of the work. The quadriceps (located in the front of your thighs), hamstrings (located at the back of your thighs), and glutes (your buttocks) are the main muscles targeted in your legs. You can build stronger, better-defined legs by frequently using these muscles.

2. Core

During the rowing stroke, your core is essential for maintaining your body's balance. Your abdominal muscles, including the rectus abdominis (the six-pack muscles) and the obliques (located on the sides of your waist), contract as you lean forward and back to keep your posture correct. Additionally, your lower back muscles, like the erector spinae, support and align your spine as you exercise.

3. Back

Using a rowing machine is a great way to strengthen your back muscles, which are frequently ignored during conventional cardio exercises. The latissimus dorsi (commonly known as the lats), the largest muscles in your back and the ones responsible for the recognizable "V" shape, as well as the rhomboids and trapezius muscles, are the main muscles targeted in your back. You can develop a strong, balanced upper body and better your posture by using these muscles during the rowing stroke.

4. Arms

Rowing machines also work your arms and shoulders, but the majority of the work is done by your legs and core. You pull the handle toward your chest during the drive phase to engage your upper body muscles. The biceps, which are in the front of your upper arms, the triceps, which are in the back of your upper arms, and the deltoids, which are shoulder muscles, are the main muscles targeted. Your arms can become more toned and defined with regular rowing machine workouts.

5. Cardiovascular System

Rowing machines not only target specific muscles but also offer a great cardiovascular workout. Your heart rate increases as you row continuously, gradually enhancing your cardiovascular endurance. Regular rowing machine workouts can improve oxygen delivery to your muscles and your cardiovascular health overall. They can also increase lung capacity.

Benefits of Rowing Machine Workouts

Now that we are clear on the muscles that rowing machines work, let's examine the advantages of including this adaptable machine in your fitness regimen:

1. Full-Body Workout

The fact that rowing machine exercises work the entire body is one of their main advantages. You can make the most of your time and effort in the gym by simultaneously working several muscle groups. Rowing machines provide a thorough workout that targets both major and minor muscle groups, making them ideal for anyone looking to increase strength, improve endurance, or lose weight.

2. Low-Impact Exercise

Rowing machines provide a low-impact workout that is kind to your joints as opposed to running or other high-impact exercises. Rowing is a good exercise choice for people with joint problems or those who are recovering from injuries because of the fluid motion's ability to reduce stress on your knees, hips, and ankles. Rowing is a fantastic activity for cross-training or active recovery days due to its low impact nature.

3. Improved Posture and Core Strength

In order to row effectively, your core must be engaged the entire stroke. Rowing machine exercises can help you posture and strengthen your core muscles if you consistently practice good form. In addition to improving athletic performance, a strong core lowers the risk of back pain and injuries from everyday activities.

4. Increased Cardiovascular Endurance

As was already mentioned, rowing machines offer a great cardiovascular workout. Regular rowing machine workouts can increase your cardiovascular stamina, enabling you to complete other tasks more easily. Whether you like to go on hikes, bike rides, or play sports, having a stronger cardiovascular system will improve your performance all around.

5. Weight Loss and Calorie Burn

For burning calories and losing weight, rowing machines are very effective. A lot of calories are burned during rowing workouts due to the cardiovascular exercise and muscle use. A 155-pound person can burn about 260 calories in 30 minutes of moderate-intensity rowing, according to Harvard Health Publishing. You can reduce your calorie intake and lose weight by including rowing machine workouts in your fitness regimen.

Rowing Machine vs. Other Cardio Exercises

Rowing machines have a number of advantages over other common cardio workouts like running, cycling, or using an elliptical machine. Here is how rowing machines stack up against other cardio exercises:

1. Joint-Friendly

Rowing machines, as previously mentioned, offer a low-impact exercise that is easy on your joints. This makes them a great option for people who have joint problems or want to reduce the risk of injuries from impacts. On the other hand, running can put a lot of strain on your joints, especially your knees and ankles.

2. Full-Body Engagement

Rowing machines involve both your upper and lower body, unlike running or cycling which primarily target the lower body. You can work several muscle groups at once with this full-body engagement, giving you a more thorough workout.

3. Time Efficiency

Rowing machines provide a quick workout. Compared to exercises that isolate particular muscle groups, rowing allows you to work out your entire body in a shorter amount of time. Those who have hectic schedules or want to make the most of their gym time will find this to be especially helpful.

4. Versatility

Individuals of all fitness levels can use rowing machines because of their extreme versatility. You can modify the resistance on rowing machines to suit your strength and fitness level, which enables you to gradually increase the intensity as you advance. Rowing machines also provide a variety of workout programs and features that can keep you motivated and keep tabs on your development.

Although rowing machines have special benefits, it's crucial to pick a cardio workout that fits your objectives, preferences, and any physical restrictions you might have. If you want to keep up a regular exercise schedule, variety is key. Feel free to switch up your cardio routine to keep things fresh.

Understanding the Importance of Muscle Balance

While rowing machines offer a comprehensive workout, it's important to keep your muscles balanced to avoid imbalances and potential injuries. When some muscles overdevelop while others remain underdeveloped, imbalances can result. Poor posture, diminished performance, and a higher risk of injuries can result from this.

It's crucial to include exercises that focus on the opposing muscle groups if you want to keep your muscles balanced. It's important to include exercises that target the muscles on the back of your body, such as your hamstrings and upper back, since rowing primarily targets the muscles on the front of your body, such as your quadriceps and chest. Exercises like deadlifts, pull-ups, and reverse flies can help with this.

You can improve your overall performance, lower your risk of injuries, and develop a well-balanced physique by maintaining proper muscle balance. A fitness expert should always be consulted to develop a comprehensive exercise plan that takes into account your unique requirements and objectives.

Common Rowing Machine Mistakes to Avoid

It's critical to steer clear of common blunders that can impede your progress or cause injuries if you want to get the most out of your rowing machine workouts. Following are some errors to avoid:

1. Poor Technique

For this exercise to be most beneficial and to reduce the risk of injuries, proper rowing technique is crucial. Many beginners frequently neglect to use their legs and core while focusing only on their arms. Remember to start the drive phase with a strong leg push, then engage your core, and finally pull your arm. Keep your motion controlled and fluid throughout the entire stroke.

2. Excessive Leaning

Your lower back may become sore and your form may be compromised if you lean too far back during the drive phase or too far forward during the recovery phase. Throughout the entire stroke, try to maintain a slight forward lean from your hips while keeping your back straight and in alignment.

3. Gripping Too Tightly

While it's crucial to keep a tight hold on the handle, try not to squeeze it. Unnecessary forearm and hand fatigue can result from grip tension that is too tight. Instead, concentrate on a loose grip that enables a quick and effective stroke.

4. Ignoring Warm-up and Cool-down

It's important to warm up your muscles before getting on the rowing machine, just like with any other exercise. Your body can be better prepared for the rowing motion by engaging in a dynamic warm-up that incorporates actions like leg swings, arm circles, and trunk rotations. In a similar vein, remember to stretch and cool down after working out to promote muscle recovery and prevent muscle tightness.

You can ensure a secure and beneficial rowing machine workout by staying away from these common blunders and exercising with the right form.

Tips for an Effective Rowing Machine Workout

Consider implementing the following advice to get the most out of your rowing machine workouts:

1. Start with Proper Form

Prior to stepping up the resistance or intensity, concentrate on perfecting the correct rowing technique. Starting with good form will increase the exercise's advantages while lowering the risk of injuries. Consider working with a certified rowing instructor or fitness expert who can offer direction and feedback if you're unsure of your form.

2. Gradually Increase Resistance and Intensity

You can start gradually upping the resistance and intensity of your workouts once you feel confident with your rowing form. This can be accomplished by changing the rowing machine's resistance level or by implementing interval training, which involves alternating between periods of greater intensity and recovery. You can gradually increase your strength and endurance without tiring out your body.

3. Mix Up Your Workouts

Consider varying your rowing machine workouts to keep things interesting and challenge your muscles in new ways. Use a variety of training methods, such as steady-state rowing, interval training, or pyramid exercises. In order to avoid plateauing and keep your motivation high, you can also change the length and intensity of your workouts.

4. Track Your Progress

Monitoring your advancement over time and maintaining motivation can both be achieved by tracking your progress. The majority of rowing machines have built-in monitors that show data like time, distance, stroke rate, and calories burned. Use these tools to set goals, keep track of your workouts, and recognize your accomplishments.

5. Listen to Your Body

Just like with any exercise, it's crucial to pay attention to your body and modify your workouts as necessary. Consult a medical expert if you experience pain or discomfort, especially in your joints or lower back, to rule out any underlying conditions. Moreover, pay attention to how much energy you have and how much rest you require. For muscle development and injury prevention, rest and recovery are essential.

You can maximize your rowing machine workouts and reach your fitness objectives by using the advice in this article.

Incorporating Rowing Machines into Your Fitness Routine

It's time to incorporate this adaptable machine into your workout regimen now that you are aware of the numerous advantages of rowing machine workouts and how to avoid common mistakes. Here are some pointers to get you going:

  • Warm up: Do some dynamic stretches or light cardio to get your body ready before getting on the rowing machine. By doing this, you'll lower your risk of injury and help your muscles get ready for the workout ahead.
  • Proper form: Focus on maintaining proper form as you work out on the rowing machine. For maximum power, sit tall with a straight spine, engage your core, and drive through your legs.
  • Variety: To keep things interesting, don't be afraid to switch up your rowing workouts. Try interval training, where you switch between high-intensity and low-intensity periods, or alternate sets of rowing with other exercises like pushups or planks.
  • Listen to your body: Pay attention to how your body feels both during and after a rowing machine workout by keeping a close eye on it. You should correct your form or seek advice from a fitness expert if you feel any pain or discomfort.
  • Progressive overload: It's important to gradually increase the length and intensity of your rowing machine workouts, just like with any other exercise. You can keep pushing your muscles and improving over time with the aid of progressive overload.

Conclusion and Final Thoughts

When used properly, rowing machines provide a full-body workout that targets your legs, core, back, shoulders, and arms. They also provide a novel and efficient way to work multiple muscle groups at once. Knowing which muscles are being worked on will help you maximize your workouts, avoid injuries, and modify your exercises to meet particular fitness objectives.

Numerous advantages can result from including rowing machines in your fitness regimen, including improved cardiovascular health, increased muscle strength and endurance, and improved overall body tone. To ensure a safe and effective workout, keep in mind to maintain proper form, avoid common mistakes, and listen to your body.

So, get on a rowing machine and start rowing your way to success if you're looking for a flexible and effective way to develop a stronger, fitter physique.


  1. Shin, K.-Y., Choi, E.-H., Lim, J.-Y., Cho, A.-R., & Lim, Y.-H. (2015). Effects of Indoor Rowing Exercise on the Body Composition and the Scoliosis of Visually Impaired People: A Preliminary Study. Annals of Rehabilitation Medicine, 39(4), 592–598. https://doi.org/10.5535/arm.2015.39.4.592 ‌https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4564707/


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