Muscles Worked Rowing – Introduction
What Muscles Do Rowing Machines Work?
While strength training is crucial for building the body of your dreams, cardio is equally important.
While you can burn calories and get lean with strength training, cardio makes improving your body composition far easier as fat is the primary fuel used.
But, more importantly, cardio is ESSENTIAL for your health.
Cardio is short for cardiovascular and refers to your heart, lungs, and circulatory system, including your blood vessels and the blood itself.
Cardio workouts improve your cardiovascular fitness, but that fitness is also inextricably linked to your cardiovascular health.
As such, regular cardio workouts can help reduce your risk of several life-threatening illnesses and could even prolong your life!
When it comes to cardio, you’ve got plenty of options to choose from, such as:
- 20-rep squat program
- Army PRT Exercises
- Assault bike/air bike
- High rep deadlifts
- Jumping jacks
- Jumping rope
- Rock climbing
- Roller skating
However, most cardio workouts are lower body dominant, and that can be a problem.
Going for a run or bike ride after a lower body strength workout is neither advisable nor appealing.
Similarly, running or cycling before lifting weights could negatively impact your strength workout.
All the while, these lower-body cardio workouts neglect your arms and torso, which surely deserve a cardio workout, too.
The good news is that there are a few cardio workouts that work your lower and upper body simultaneously, such as air bikes, and the subject of this article:
Today, we explain what muscles are trained during rowing and reveal the many benefits of doing rowing for cardio.
What Muscles Do Rowing Machines Work?
In simple terms, rowing is a total body activity that involves muscles in your upper and lower body.
However, the basic rowing action combines a lower-body push with an upper-body pull, and force is only really generated in one direction.
As such, the main muscles worked during rowing are:
List of Muscles Worked Rowing
- Gluteus maximus
- Hip flexors
- Erector spinae
- Core muscles
- Latissimus dorsi
- Trapezius muscles
- Posterior deltoids
- Biceps brachii
- Forearm flexors
Rowing is indeed an exercise that can be done by people of all fitness levels, and it is an excellent way to burn calories and improve cardiovascular health.
Also, rowing is a weight-bearing activity, which means it helps strengthen your bones and reduces the risk of osteoporosis.
Working out on a rowing machine is a fantastic way to exercise because it provides a terrific full-body workout as the descriptions for muscles worked by rowing explain.
So, if you are an absolute beginner in fitness, no problem!
Muscles Used Rowing Descriptions
Located on the front of your thighs, the quadriceps are responsible for the extension of your knee joints.
There are four quadriceps muscles:
- the rectus femoris,
- vastus lateralis,
- vastus intermedius, and
- vastus medialis.
The rectus femoris is also a hip flexor, so it works to pull you forward and into your next stroke.
There are three hamstring muscles: the semimembranosus, semitendinosus, and biceps femoris.
The hamstrings contract to extend your hips as you initiate each rowing stroke but also work as knee flexors to pull you back in for your next effort.
Known as the glutes for short, this large and powerful muscle works with your hamstrings to extend your hips.
It’s also the muscle you sit on when you row.
Along with the rectus femoris, the hip flexors bend your hip and pull you forward into your next stroke.
The other hip flexor muscles are the iliacus and psoas major, collectively called the iliopsoas.
hip flexor complex image credit apolo performance therapy
These are the muscles of the lower back.
During rowing, they help keep your spine straight and generate force as you push back into each stroke.
This is the collective term for the muscles of your midsection.
The core muscles include the rectus abdominis, obliques, the transverse abdominis muscles.
Together, these muscles draw inward like a weightlifting belt to stabilize your lumbar spine.
Known as your lats for short, these are your main upper back muscles.
Located on either side of your torso, the lats extend your arms backward as you row.
Another large back muscle, the trapezius is diamond-shaped and lies over and between your shoulder blades.
This muscle helps pull your shoulders down and back during rowing to maintain good upper-body posture.
Located between your shoulder blades, the rhomboids work with your trapezius to pull your shoulder blades together.
Also known as the rear deltoids, these are the small but important muscles on the backs of your shoulders.
They work with your lats to extend your shoulder joints as you row.
Known simply as the biceps for short, this muscle is located on the front of your upper arm.
It’s responsible for flexion of the elbow joint and bends your arm as you pull the rowing handle into your midsection.
The forearm flexors are responsible for maintaining your grip on the rowing handle.
However, you must take care not to overuse these muscles by flexing your wrists.
Instead, your wrists should stay straight when you row.
Of course, rowing involves two movements:
- pushing away from the console with your legs while pulling the handle into your abdomen, and
- bending your legs as you straighten your arms to return to the starting position.
However, most of the work is done at the beginning of each rowing stroke, and there is very little load on your muscles as you return to the starting position.
As such, things like your pecs (chest muscles), anterior deltoids, and triceps get very little work during rowing, which is why they didn’t make it onto our list of main rowing muscles.
The easiest way to work these muscles is to do a few sets of push-ups after you’ve finished a rowing machine workout.
That way, you really will work all the major muscle groups in your body!
The Benefits of a Rowing Machine
Now you know what muscles the rowing machine works, let’s take a look at the main fitness benefits of rowing.
A low-impact workout
Rowing is a very joint-friendly fitness activity.
When you run, your feet hit the ground with force roughly equal to eight times your body weight.
That’s a lot of impact if you weigh 190 lbs and will be a whole lot more if you are on the heftier side.
High-impact activities put a lot of stress on your joints and can cause foot, ankle, knee, hip, and lower back pain.
On the other hand, Rowing is a low-impact activity that puts very little stress on your joints.
As such, it’s ideal for anyone with joint issues, who is overweight, or who simply finds high-impact exercises uncomfortable.
It’s also suitable for beginners.
An excellent calorie burner
While the number of calories you burn by rowing will depend on your speed and power and the duration of your workout, there is the potential to use 600 or more per hour.
A pound of fat contains roughly 3,500 calories, so it’s easy to see how rowing daily can help you lose or maintain weight.
Surprisingly to some, cardio is not the only way to burn big calories.
Weightlifting is a fantastic calorie furnace as well – see this article:
Build fitness and get healthy
Depending on how you use your rower, you can build aerobic or anaerobic fitness.
Aerobic means with oxygen, i.e., low intensity, long duration.
Anaerobic fitness is without oxygen, i.e., high-intensity, short duration.
Improved fitness is linked to better health and could reduce your risk of suffering:
- High blood pressure
- Coronary heart disease
- Type 2 diabetes
- High cholesterol
Fitter people tend to be healthier than unfit people, and there is a strong link between fitness, health, and longevity, so rowing could even help you live longer.
A versatile workout
There are lots of different ways to use a rower.
As such, there is no reason to do the same workout every day.
Good rowing workouts include:
LISS Low-Intensity Steady-State Rowing
Low-intensity steady-state rowing, for example, 20 minutes at a comfortable pace.
High-Intensity Interval Training
For example, fast rowing for 20 seconds, slow for 40 seconds and repeat 10-15 times.
Races and Time Trials
Races and time trials, e.g., row 10 minutes or 2,000 meters (1.2 miles) as fast as possible.
Integrated Circuit Training
Integrated circuit training, e.g., row 500 meters (.3 miles), 10 push-ups, 20 squats, 30-second planks for five rounds.
Tabatas, e.g., 20 seconds sprint, 10 seconds rest, repeated eight times to total four minutes.
Pyramids, for example:
- row 2,000 meters (1.2 miles),
- rest two minutes,
- row 1,500 meters (.9 miles),
- rest 1.5 minutes,
- row 1,000 meters (.6miles),
- rest one minute,
- row 500 meters (.3 miles), and finish.
- Calorie challenges, e.g., row 100 calories as fast as possible.
You can also apply these workout variations to other cardio machines such as Air Bikes which are popular in CrossFit gyms around the world.
Best 20-Minute Rowing Workout Ever
A full-body workout
With the exception of assault air bikes, ellipticals, and swimming, cardio workouts are mostly lower-body dominant.
Rowing is an effective and efficient total-body workout for fitness and body transformation.
Full-body exercises train your body as it works in nature and make the best use of your training time.
Rowing is also the perfect partner for strength training.
Whether you’re a weightlifter, powerlifter, CrossFitter, or bodybuilder, rowing machine workouts are a great way to help you improve your lifting strength and endurance.
With proper technique, you initiate the rowing motion with your legs, just as you begin a deadlift by pushing against the floor.
A repetitive rowing workout will help you build a monster leg drive as if you’re doing a horizontal high-rep deadlift workout, without having to hold a loaded barbell!
As such, a rowing machine can improve your performance in the big lifts, and there are also plenty of strength training exercises you can do to make you a better rower.
No wonder the World’s Strongest Man Brian Shaw could waltz into a gym and break the 100M Rowing Record without training for it, as he did back in 2016.
Rowing machines are widely available.
Most gyms have rowing machines, and there are lots of affordable home rowing machines, so you can put one in your garage or spare room.
Because rowing is a low-impact activity, rowers are especially good for home workouts, and you don’t need a reinforced floor to have a rower at home.
Most home rowers are also portable and may even fold for easy storage between workouts.
See 7 Best Rowing Machines Under 500 Review; 2023 Buying Guide for the best options on the market today.
Lack of time is one of the biggest barriers to exercising regularly.
But, if you have a rower at home, all you really need to find is 20-30 minutes 3-5 days a week.
Rowing combines the benefits of cardio and strength training in one time-efficient workout.
And, as an added benefit, rowing is good for your posture, and will help flatten your abs and burn fat, too.
It doesn’t matter how busy you are – everyone can find 20-30 minutes a day for exercise, even if it means getting up a little earlier or watching less TV.
As the old saying goes, find time to exercise or find time to be ill!
Having a rowing machine at home means you have one less excuse for now working out regularly.
What Muscles Do Rowing Machines Work – Wrapping Up
The benefits of rowing have to be experienced to be believed.
Rowing works virtually every muscle in your body and, depending on the type of workout you do, will develop your aerobic and anaerobic fitness.
Rowing is easy on your joints and ideal for every fitness level: beginner, intermediate, and advanced exercisers.
And rowing machines are perfect for home use which comes in really handy if you live in a cold-weather climate.
Of course, if you’ve tried rowing, you already know all this.
But, if you are undecided about buying an indoor rowing machine or are unsure about using the rower at your gym, it’s time to get off the fence and try it.
Whatever your fitness goals, rowing can help. You won’t regret it!
There are many ways to achieve a remarkable body transformation.
However, while deadlifting for body transformation is hard to beat, deadlifts are not the only game in town.
One of the most effective activities you can do for your cardiovascular health, total-body conditioning, and transforming your physique is rowing.
This next article: 13 Remarkable Ways How Rowing Changes Your Body & Life explains the fantastic ways that consistent rowing workouts can change your body