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Benefits of Rowing Machine Workouts

If a health enthusiast is looking for an exercise that includes most muscles, rowing is certainly worth considering. One doesn’t have to be a competitive rower so as to get the benefits of rowing. One can use a rowing machine in one’s home to get the amazing benefits of rowing machine workouts.

Rowing machines are also called ergometers or just ergs. They use up to 86% of one’s muscles and thus strengthen and tone muscles, and help endurance. They also provide some incredible benefits to the heart and lungs.

Updated: August 30, 2021.

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Rowing Machines Benefits

Here are a few prominent benefits of rowing machine workouts.

Good for All

Whatever one’s fitness level is, they can do rowing machine workouts. Even people with low vision or no vision at all can safely do these workouts.

A 2015 study conducted on 24 participants with low vision observed that rowing 5 days a week for 6 weeks resulted in a considerable reduction in fat mass and total body fat. Moreover, the cholesterol level of the participants was reduced and their back strength and trunk flexion remarkably improved.

Beginner-friendly Workouts

As mentioned above, the rowing machine workouts are extremely safe, and so, they are easy for beginners to try. As they show the results quite quickly, they are encouraging too, i.e. one feels like continuing these workouts without getting bored, due to the visible results.

Great Warm-Up

The importance of warming up has now been proven. A proper warm-up is very necessary for a successful workout. A warm-up prepares one’s muscles, heart, joints, and even mind for the hard work they will be going through. If one suddenly puts them into exercise, it can damage them and might be harmful rather than good.

Rowing can be an excellent warm-up and can prep one’s body for a safe and effective training session.

Great Finisher

Just as it is a great warm-up, rowing is a great finisher too. After a hard training session, the body needs to cool down slowly and not suddenly, just as it needs to warm up while starting the session. For this, it’s best to end up one’s session with a rowing workout.

Total Body Workout

It’s wrongly believed that rowing only uses up only arm muscles. The fact is that rowing provides a workout to the full body and up to 86% of muscles are used up in rowing workouts.

The American Fitness Professionals Association (AFPA) says that a rowing stroke comprises of 65% to 75% of leg work and 25% to 35% of upper bodywork.

It mainly targets arms, abdominals, upper back, obliques, and pecs. It also strengthens leg muscles like glutes, calves, and quadriceps.

Leg muscles are primarily used in the drive part of the stroke or while pushing off the foot stretcher.

When it comes to the upper body, rowing works the rhomboids in the shoulders, trapezii in the upper back, and lats in the lower back. A stronger back means a reduction in back pain and improved posture. Along with the backside, rowing also works one’s biceps, abs, and pecs, which help build a stronger core. What’s more, maintaining a strong grip on the oars develop stronger hands and wrists.

When it comes to the lower body, rowing mainly works the quads in the upper front of the thighs, along with giving a burn-in calves and glutes (buttocks). Not only building strong glutes and legs helps one look amazing, but also working out the lower body burns calories more quickly.

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Unlike the exercise of running or jogging, rowing doesn’t put any strain on joints yet burns calories in a true sense. The user can control its movement and pace, and it’s a great exercise for the injured or ill for recovery training.

It’s even considered a great exercise for people in the early stages of osteoarthritis. 24 osteoarthritic people in a 2014 8-week study were found to get improved in joint torques or rotations, in the shoulder, elbow, lumbar, and knee, by 30%. This type of improvement has not yet been found with high-impact workouts like running or plyometrics.

Great for Heart and Lungs

Rowing is also known to strengthen the cardiovascular system which includes the heart, blood, and blood vessels, and transports oxygen and nutrients all through the body.

Due to the intensity of the rowing workout, the heart has to put in some hard work to transport more blood to the body and because of this, the heart strength is improved. This can benefit those who already have or are at the risk of getting heart problems.

Interesting Variation

If one’s training session consists of various types of workouts or is monotonous, including rowing can be an interesting variation. Since rowing is a low-impact activity, one can do a high-intensity rowing workout without exerting a lot of stress on their body.

For example, one’s body won’t endure the same level of impact rowing 10 400-meter sprints at 85 maximum intensity as it would while running 10 400-meter sprints at the same intensity. Also, the risk of injury while completing rowing sprints will be much less than running sprints.

Since one’s body will undergo less stress, it will also take less time to recover between hard rowing exercises than equally tough running exercises.

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Establishes Mind-Body Connection

Rowing workouts can help establish a mind-body connection and can be meditative. Although one can get most of the calming benefits of rowing outside on real waters, one can still get them to some extent even indoors with the rowing machine workouts.

The smooth, gliding motion one creates on the rowing machine can bring this effect and the repetitive actions allow the mind to go on autopilot. Once one achieves a comfortable rhythm, they can close their eyes, connect their breath to their body, and just enjoy the movement.

A row stroke consists of 4 phases: catch, drive, finish, and recovery. All these are involved in the meditative effect.

Rowing is also known to release endorphins, the feel-good hormones that reduce stress.

Improves Aerobic Fitness

Rowing machine has a great benefit of giving a lot of serious workout in a short time. Thus rowing even for just 15 minutes can give a great aerobic workout. A regular aerobic workout can increase one’s stamina and endurance.

Improves Posture

Since the rowing machine workouts mainly use one’s legs, core, and back, they offer a lot of postural benefits and are great for engaging the posterior chain of the body. Engaging one’s posterior chain is extremely important for balancing muscle strength, lessening injury risk, and helping rectify incorrect posture which is spreading fast in today’s sedentary society.

Great Alternative to Treadmill or Elliptical

If one compares the rowing machine to other exercise machines like a treadmill or elliptical, one can find that the rowing machine is superior to other machines.

This is obvious from certain factors. Firstly, the treadmill mainly focuses on the lower body, whereas the rowing machine focuses on full body. Regarding the ellipticals, ellipticals and ergometers both work the upper and lower halves of the body; however, the ergometer works also on abs with each stroke.

Best for the Injured or Newbie

The best thing about rowing is that people of all ages with all types of fitness levels can do it. Some examples are:
If one is new.

Even if one is new to exercise, rowing can be a good start. However, one should make sure they stick to it for longer in order to get its amazing benefits.

In case of extremity injury

The exercise of rowing is considered to be quite safe for those who are recovering from an injury or are new to exercise because it has virtually zero impact. Thus it’s the best exercise option for those recovering from injury or having joint pain or other discomfort or aiming at building strength without any extra strain.

This is the reason why most athletes use rowing as an important part of their cross-training or return from injury. However, those who have an injury should make sure they talk to their doctor first before starting any exercise, even rowing.

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In case of back pain

Although the rowing machine is safe for most people with proper form, as the intensity of the workout increases, people tend to use their lower back to achieve the movement. This means that when the workout gets more intense and starts fatiguing one’s body, one’s lower back may step in to compensate for one tired muscles and this can be bad.

For those who tend to lose their core strength when tired, the involvement of the lower back can result in a compromised lower back. However, when done slowly and carefully, rowing is safe for most conditions. But if one wants to practice rowing but have low back pain or injury, they should do it under proper supervision.

In case of pregnancy

Rowing is in general safe for pregnancy until the changes in the body shape get in the way of safe movements. And of course, one should consult their doctor about whether it’s safe for you.

Benefits of Different Types of Rowing Machines

Rowing machines come in various types depending on the resistance they offer. Resistance affects the intensity of workouts and also how smooth and comfortable the rowing movement is. Here are a few main types of rowing machines and their benefits.

Magnetic Rowing Machine

This is the most basic type of rowing machine and makes use of cheaper materials to keep costs low. Thus it’s not very durable like other types of rowing machines. It has a similar type of resistance as that of exercise bikes. There are magnets placed next to the flywheel and they create a drag on the spinning flywheel. To increase the resistance, one has to move the magnet closer to the flywheel.

The benefit of magnetic rowing machines is that one can set the resistance at a level suitable to their fitness level. The resistance will remain the same no matter how hard the user works out.

Air Rowing Machine

This is the main type of rowing machine used in commercial gyms and fitness clubs. It’s also preferred by Olympic rowers. When the users row, they pull a flywheel into a spinning movement. As the flywheel’s blades push against the surrounding air, resistance is created.

Rowing faster generates more resistance on the flywheel blades which in turn makes it more challenging to row. Thus it provides an excellent simulation of rowing on water.

With an air rowing machine, one can remain in control of their resistance all through the workout. Simply by rowing faster and harder, one can get more resistance, while rowing with less intensity creates less resistance.

Air and Magnetic Rowing Machines

This is a combination of air and magnetic rowing machines and is an affordable alternative to air rowing machines. It’s also called a mag-air rower. The user can change magnetic air resistance manually, depending on how tough they want their workout to be. Extra dynamic air resistance generates a smooth rowing action.

The addition of magnetic resistance to air resistance can help the user customize their workout as per their capability. Air resistance offers a dynamic element. The harder the user rows, the more air resistance they feel. However, the air resistance in mag-air rowers is less powerful than air rowers.

The main benefit of the mag-air rower is that it’s suitable to most home users, although it doesn’t give the most perfect rowing simulation. It offers a pleasant rowing experience customized to one’s ability.

Water Rowing Machine

As is clear from the name, water rowing machines provide resistance via water. The user has to pull paddles through a tank of water. This offers an exact rowing-on-water simulation.

One of the most sought-after features of water rowers is their aesthetic design. They are typically made from wood and are designed to look lovely in home settings.

Obviously, water rowing machines offer an exact rowing simulation along with dynamic resistance. The drawback is that to adjust the resistance as one would with the damper on an air rowing machine, one has to put more water into or remove water from the tank, and this can be tricky. Water rowers are also difficult to store as they rarely fold or can be dismantled.

Hydraulic Rowing Machine

This is considered to be a poor quality rowing machine. It’s cheap and the build quality is not very good. Thus if the user intends to row more than once a week or weigh more than 140 lbs., it’s better to avoid this machine.

Hydraulic rowers typically include an elastic cord, instead of a high-quality chain or belt. This elastic cord tends to generate various problems, such as losing elasticity over time and slipping and causing a jerky rowing motion.

There is also a piston mechanism to create resistance. This often becomes stiff and puts a lot of pressure on the welding.

Thus if one happens to buy a hydraulic rower, they should make sure to check its warranty.

Supplemental Workouts

Rowing is a full-body workout, but it tends to favor push movements with legs and pull movements with arms and back.

In order to supplement rowing workouts, some trainees include few more exercises either after the rowing sessions or as standalone workouts.

Some of these exercises include:


Pushups are excellent bodyweight exercises that directly involve pecks and triceps, with the rest of the body working out, too. Many people underestimate pushups, but they can be a very challenging exercise, especially after rowing.


Various crunches can help stress abs under different angles, allowing the trainee to stress lower, mid, and upper abs as required.plank

Ordinary planks are often underestimated exercise, but doing them properly after rowing increases energy burn and both the strength and stamina.

Of course, there are other bodyweight exercises that can be done in order to supplement rowing workouts, but they should be all tailored according to the individual needs and preferences.

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Bottom Line

Most rowing machines offer incredible health benefits and a health enthusiast of any fitness level can start with rowing machine workouts.

Rowing machines are easy to use, don’t put stress on joints, burn calories faster and thus bring about weight loss more quickly than other exercise machines, build and tone muscles all over the body, increase cardiac and overall body strength, and improve immunity. Hence whether one is new to exercise or experienced, they should involve rowing machine workouts in their exercise routine.

Of course, it’s recommended to talk to one’s healthcare provider before starting the rowing machine workouts, especially if one already has a pre-existing injury like lower back or knee injury, or a condition like heart disease or pregnancy.

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