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Looking for a low-impact, easy, and effective workout to improve your fitness levels? Why not check out our guide on the many benefits of the rowing machine for a bit of inspiration?
Rowing is a great sport. It can be great fun yet it is also effective, and as a form of exercise, there are plenty of benefits that have led to it becoming increasingly popular in the US.
Despite the common assumption that rowing is a sport reserved for the super-strong or for those who already have impressive back and shoulder muscles, rowing is a great choice of exercise for all ages and all abilities due to the many health benefits that it can provide.
So, what are the numerous benefits of using a rowing machine to exercise? Luckily for you, that is what this article is going to take a look at. We have put together this guide to the benefits of the rowing machine to help you realize why you should give it a go the next time you are at your local gym or if you are considering buying a machine for your home gym.
Without further ado, let’s get into it!
Table of Contents
What Is A Rowing Machine?
Simply put, a rowing machine is a type of exercise equipment that mimics the movements of rowing.
These pieces of equipment are able to simulate the act of rowing by using a combination of air pressure and a flywheel, and the majority of machines will either use magnetic resistance which is quiet, or hydraulic resistance, which is cheaper, depending on the make and model.
Different Types of Rowing Machines
There are a lot of different kinds of rowing machines on the market, all with their own pros and cons. Rowing machines are categorized based on their type of resistance, and this resistance can change the overall user experience – for instance, it can influence the price, the amount of noise, and how the machine is stored. There are four main kinds of resistance – air, magnetic, water, and hydraulic piston.
If you would like to read more a great example comparing different rowers would be my article: Hydrow Vs Nordictrack
These rowing machines have a flywheel that emits air from a fan. As you move the handle to operate the machine, the flywheel begins to spin and wind comes out. You will get more wind if you pull the handle harder. Of course, if there’s more wind then it also means that it’s harder to use the machine, so you’re getting more of a workout thanks to the increased level of resistance.
This variable level of resistance can be quite useful since it means that the machine can grow with you as you get stronger. They are effective and can be a fantastic choice for HIIT workouts. The key problem lies in the fact that these rowers can make quite a lot of noise, which may not be ideal if you live with a number of people!
This machine is basically operated using a magnetic brake system. They work very similarly to air resistance machines in many respects, but the movements aren’t as seamless. They tend to have resistance level settings, so they don’t have quite the versatility of air resistance machines.
These machines don’t make a lot of noise, which already is a huge selling point in comparison with air rowers. They’re perfect for a range of different fitness levels too and can be stored without much trouble.
These rowing machines operate through the use of paddles that are suspended in the water tank (learn more), thus creating the resistance for the workout. If you pull the handle then the paddles begin to spin – in many respects, it feels like you’re actually rowing a boat. The resistance level is variable depending on how hard you work.
These rowers are a little noisy, but they don’t make nearly as much noise as air rowers do, which is always a plus side. These rowers are a good choice if you want to mimic rowing on the open water, and they work for people at any level of fitness.
Hydraulic piston rowing machines are operated by hydraulic pistons. Pretty simple, really! These have adjustable resistance, much like a lot of other gym equipment. They make very minimal noise and cost little money, making them a fantastic choice for people that are on a budget. They’re super compact too, ideal for apartments and small spaces (Learn More).
These machines aren’t a good choice if you are tall and heavy though, since they are rather compact. The machines are best for people that are at the beginning of their fitness journey and aren’t suitable for seasoned athletes looking for a challenging workout.
A Rowing Machine Is Also Known as ‘Ergometers’ or ‘Ergs’
Rowing machines, rowers, ergometers, or ergs – whatever you call them, There are a number of rowing machines that are perfect for home use, although you will typically also find these effective pieces of exercise equipment at your nearest local gym for you to use.
They were given this name due to the fact that these machines are able to measure the amount of work performed and carried out by the rower with a high degree of accuracy. In the majority of cases, indoor rowing machines will also show an estimate of the speed you are rowing at and the energy expended.
Different machines will work in different ways as each relies on different mechanisms in order to simulate the experience of rowing in an actual boat as if you were out on the water.
Rowing Is A Full Body Workout That Uses 86% of the Muscles
The fact that rowing is a full body workout means you will use a larger amount of your body’s muscles than you would do when completing certain other exercises. In fact, using a rowing machine actually uses around 86 percent of the muscles in your body, to be exact.
This has been proven to help your endurance levels, improve your overall strength, and it can also tone the muscles. In fact, you might be surprised to learn that rowing can even help provide some surprising benefits for your heart and lungs as well. So, what else?
The Health Benefits of Rowing
There are several health benefits that have been associated with rowing, so this section will walk you through some of the main benefits that you are likely to experience if you take it up.
Total Body Workout
Although a lot of people are guilty of assuming that rowing is a type of exercise that mainly focuses on working the muscles in your arms, it is actually considered a full-body workout.
In total, rowing uses around 86 percent of the muscles in your body. Despite the above assumption, the American Fitness Professionals Association (AFPA) claims that it is the lower half of your body that does the most of the work when you use a rowing machine.
Around 65 to 75 percent of rowing is leg work whilst the other 25 to 35 percent is upper bodywork. The major muscle groups that are targeted includes each of the following:
- Upper back
- Abdominal muscles
In addition to this, rowing has been known to help strengthen the muscles in your leg, especially thanks to your movements when pushing off the footing. This can include:
So, a little bit of rowing can actually go a long way in terms of working out your whole body. With that being said, it is always a good idea to incorporate a variety of different exercises into your workout routine if you are looking for a total body workout to improve your fitness.
Suitable For All Fitness Levels
Contrary to popular belief, you really do not have to be an expert rower in order for you to reap the benefits of this form of exercise. It is something that can be incorporated into any exercise routine, by pretty much anyone, provided you have a rowing machine you can use.
Some people find it daunting to try new machines out at the gym, but the rowing machine, at the least, should be one of the few machines in there that you can confidently walk up to knowing it is suitable for your fitness level, whatever your current fitness levels may look like.
Related Post: Click Here to See the Best Rowing Machine for Elderly
How It Works For Different Fitness Levels
Rowing machines are surprisingly very suitable for beginners and for rowers of all abilities.
Whether you are already a pro on the water and you are simply looking for a way to increase your training sessions during the winter months when it is too cold to be out on the water, or you have never been on a boat in your life and you are looking to get some practice in first.
If you are a beginner, the best way to start out on the rowing machine is to use it for practicing your form and to try and master the different strokes and movements you will use.
Once you have improved your technique and you are confident with your rowing ability, you can change up your training sessions on the rowing machine in order to start working on improving your strength and endurance levels. So, this machine has something to offer all.
The Rowing Machine Has Even Been Deemed Safe For Those With Impaired Vision
According to a study that was carried out in 2015 where 24 people with low vision participated in several rowing sessions, it was determined that rowing had a positive affect on their health without posing much risk due to the limited vision that they experienced.
The study showed that those who incorporated rowing into their exercise routines five days a week for six weeks experienced significant fat loss as well as a reduced overall body fat percentage. Lower cholesterol levels were recorded and their back strength also improved.
With that being said, it is important that you do not put yourself at risk by attempting to use a rowing machine if you do feel that it is beyond your capabilities. You should always listen to your body as it will tell you when you are pushing yourself too hard, which can lead to injury.
One of the main benefits of rowing is that it is an incredibly low impact type of exercise. This means that it does not include any physical contact with another person (making it a great option during the pandemic and in post-pandemic times) or put pressure on your joints.
Other low impact activities can include the following types of exercise:
- Elliptical machine workout
Just like rowing, each of these exercises is able to get your heart rate up and helps you burn calories without putting an excessive amount of pressure or strain on the joints in your body.
Due to it being incredibly low impact, rowing is a great form of exercise for anyone with early stage arthritis as well as being beneficial for seniors who are experiencing any knee pain.
A Rowing Machine Burns Calorie Without Adding Stress To Your Joints
Although it is considered a low impact form of exercise, rowing can still burn some serious calories if you can commit to incorporating it into your routine with some consistency.
The amount of calories that your body is able to burn will typically depend on a variety of unique factors, such as which type of machine you use, the intensity of your workout, your body weight and size, age, current health status, room temperature, and your metabolic rate.
However, as a general rule, here are a few approximations to give you a good idea:
- If you weigh around 135 lbs (61 kg) you could lose up to 53 calories in 15 minutes, or up to 214 calories by doing an hour of light rowing. For a vigorous rowing session, you could increase this to 130 cals per 15 minutes or 519 cals per hour.
- If you weigh around 225 lbs (102 kg) you could lose up to 89 calories in 15 minutes, or 357 calories by doing an hour of light rowing. For a vigorous rowing session, you could increase this to 217 cals per 15 minutes or 867 cals per hour.
By following some of the best ways to burn calories on the rowing machine, you can further increase the number of calories that you are able to burn from using this piece of equipment.
Works Your Core and Glutes
Many health and fitness experts will tell you that you cannot target fat, and while this is true in the sense of not being able to pinpoint exactly where you will lose weight, you can target specific muscle groups to improve your strength in these areas and in general.
Rowing can help you specifically target your core and your glutes in just one exercise. Just think of the washboard abs you could have or the buns of steel you could boast about!
As you glide up and down the machine, your core switches between tensing and relaxing. This effectively works your muscles in the same way as it would if you were doing crunches.
Think of it like “executing a continual mini sit-up”, as Carl van Heerdan puts it. Besides, as you push the seat backward whilst pulling the oar, you are also working your lower body too.
Related Post Read More On: Rowing Machines for Heavy People!
Helps Improve Your Posture
Hands up who is reading this article whilst hunching over a laptop, computer screen, or even a mobile or tablet device? If you are guilty of allowing your posture to slip, then rowing might be just the exercise for you as this can be a great way to help you improve your posture.
Experts claim that poor posture can do more than just make you look like you are a bit sloppy. In actual fact, it can be a leading cause of back issues that 80 percent of Americans are affected by at least once in their lifetime, according to the National Institutes of Health.
So, rowing can be a good way to help prevent these issues as you will naturally improve your posture if you follow the correct form. This means rowing without slouched shoulders and by maintaining an upright position throughout the entirety of your pulling movements.
Works the Larger Muscles of Your Body
As we have already mentioned, around 60 percent of your legs work on the rowing machine compared to just 20 to 30 percent of your upper body. When you are rowing, you can really feel this difference as the muscles in your lower legs can really start to burn after a while.
The rowing machine is therefore a good option for anyone who is hoping to tone their legs whilst improving their strength and endurance as well as working their arms, abs, back, and shoulders. With that being said, it is still worth adding some varied exercises to your routine.
Enables You To Develop New Skills
The more you use a rowing machine, the more your skills at rowing improve. This is pretty much common sense, but as we briefly touched on earlier, there are many people out there who are new to exercising who may be worried about their ability to use the rowing machine.
If this is you, then don’t worry! You will develop new skills the more you practice using them.
On the other hand, if you are already a pro at using the rowing machine and you are looking for new ways to challenge yourself, then the rowing machine can also allow you to develop completely new skills thanks to the versatility of this exercise machine and its workouts.
For example, why not try switching between covering many miles at a low level of intensity to build your aerobic ability and incorporating bursts of high-intensity rowing into your workout.
Allows You To See Quicker Results
Rowing machines challenge your body, meaning you will see quicker results. We are not just talking about being able to fit into your favorite pair of old jeans or dresses again, either.
For the gym bunnies who love tracking their results and use metrics to motivate themselves, rowing is the ideal choice as it provides you with real-time stats as you row that will show you how you are performing. You can then compare this information that you collect with some of your other previous workouts to see if there has been any improvement in your skill.
The reason you are able to see quicker results is also down to the fact that rowing is the all-over total body workout that we have explained it to be, so you will notice your fitness level improving much faster than you would if you were to spend all of your time on the bike.
It Can Be a Quick Workout
Another huge benefit of rowing machines is that you can hop on and get your exercise for the day done in a matter of minutes. In fact, even a daily 15-minute workout is all you need!
This is ideal for anyone who is short on time or who does not have a lot of time to spare on long, arduous workouts. Plus, as long as it is still just as effective, why would anyone choose to spend half an hour working out when you can achieve the same results in half that time?
You will need to ensure that you are working hard for the duration of time that you do workout on the rowing machine, however, as otherwise, 15 minutes will not be enough.
This means that you should be using around 80 percent of your overall maximum intensity in order to help you lose fat in just 15 minutes. Basically, you need to make each minute count.
Great Alternative To Other Cardio Machines
As we have already mentioned, rowing is a low-impact sport that does not put a lot of strain on your joints. The same can’t be said for certain other cardio machines, for example, the treadmill, so this makes the rowing machine a great alternative to other cardio machines.
If you are the type of person who has the best of intentions when you set foot in the gym, but you allow yourself to become lax midway through your workout, then this is another reason why you should consider using the rowing machine, as it will not allow you to slack off at all.
Unlike some other cardio machines such as exercise bikes or elliptical machines, if you start to slow or lag halfway through you will come to a full stop. This is because what you get out of the rowing machine is related to what you put in. The machine itself does nothing for you.
Good For Your Mental Health
As many physical health benefits as there are to rowing, it is also important that we do not forget to mention all of the ways in which rowing can benefit your mental health as well.
There are many mental health benefits of exercise and working out regularly can have a hugely positive effect on how you are feeling and your outlook in your everyday life. This includes being able to help relieve some of the symptoms of stress, depression, and anxiety.
Working out releases endorphins and some find that the gliding motion of a rowing machine relaxing. People can find peace in the rhythm of the strokes which can promote better well-being and can be hugely beneficial if you are struggling with your mental health.
Rowing out on the water can be even more beneficial, but even using a rowing machine can have the same effects to some extent. For the best results, try a combination of both indoor and outdoor rowing once you have successfully mastered the right technique and the form.
Fantastic For Your Heart and Lungs
Rowing helps strengthen your cardiovascular system which makes it a great form of cardio. This is because it is able to help the heart, blood vessels, and blood as well as being the sole form of transportation for essential materials such as oxygen and other nutrients.
Due to the intensity that is often involved in a rowing workout, your heart is required to pump blood around the body at a faster rate to ensure that it is being delivered to all of the necessary muscles and parts of your body, which will therefore improve your heart strength.
The rowing machine is also a cardio machine that can help boost the capacity of your lungs, according to livehealthy.com. This is also because of the fact that blood (and therefore, oxygen) is being pumped around the body at a much faster rate. Furthermore, the increased rate of your breathing will mean you are taking longer, deeper breaths but more frequently.
This in turn is able to help improve both your lung power and your lung capacity. To achieve the best results from your rowing machine workouts, it is worth practicing different types of breathing whilst you are rowing to figure out which one will be the most effective for you.
May Help Fat Loss
Rowing is undoubtedly able to help contribute to weight loss. For starters, like all forms of exercise, rowing gets your body moving and helps you to burn calories. So, how is this able to help target fat loss specifically as well as helping you with your overall weight loss?
Well, this is because exercises like rowing help mobilize fats in your body to be used for energy. Therefore, when you combine this exercise (preferably a few times a week for at least 15 minutes of rowing at high intensity or longer if at a lower intensity) with a healthy, balanced diet, you should be able to notice the signs of weight loss and fat loss after a while.
Without a nutritious diet to supplement your exercise on the rowing machines, however, you will struggle to achieve the same results and may not notice many signs of fat loss at all. In order to reduce your overall calorie intake, stick to protein and veggies instead of fatty carbs.
It is also a good idea to try and eliminate the majority of processed foods if you are attempting to lose weight or promote fat loss, as diet and exercise always go hand in hand.
How To Use A Rowing Machine
It might look relatively simple, but there is a right way to use a rowing machine, so you might want to make sure that you follow these tips to improve your rowing machine skills.
Practice Leg Isolations
The correct way to hold the oar is with your arms extended, your knees bent, and balancing your weight on the balls of your feet, also known as “the catch” position. Keep your back straight, your arms extended, and engage your core as you push back using your legs only.
Practice Arm Isolations
Keeping your legs straight, pull the oar toward your chest until your elbows are bent outward either side of you and your oar touches your chest. As you pull the oar toward you, make sure you are only using the muscles in your upper back, not your shoulders or your biceps.
So, there you have it. This is pretty much everything you need to know about the basics of how to use a rowing machine. We told you it was relatively easy, didn’t we?
Technique Tips For Using the Rowing Machine
Whilst it is easy to get to grips with the basics of how you can and should use a rowing machine, there are also a few tips and tricks that you can use to really nail your technique.
Here are some other techniques you can use to try and improve your rowing technique:
- The Catch: Lean forward from your hips and try to keep your arms straight out in front of you whilst you keep a gentle yet simultaneously firm grip on the handle.
- The Drive: When you begin a stroke, make sure that you begin with your legs as this is where you store most of your power. Ensure that your back remains straight whilst you straighten your legs and pull the handle toward your chest. As you finish the movement, keep your legs straight and keep your elbows down at your sides.
- Recovery: Avoid lifting the handle above the height of your knees as you pull back, as this will lengthen the distance between the end and the handle’s starting position. The aim should be to return the handle to its original position in a straight, short line.
- Timing and Focus: Do not rest at any point during your rowing workout. You should not come to a stop or be stationary for a moment as the whole point is to continually move your body using the same motions as you would on a real boat. According to a Men’s Health article, “the drive is the explosive part and should be completed on a count of one, whereas the recovery should be completed on a count of three”.
Common Mistakes That Are Made When Using a Rowing Machine
Just like there are hints and tips about how you should be using a rowing machine, there are similarly some common rowing mistakes that you should avoid whenever you do a workout.
Common mistakes that those who are new to rowing make can include the following:
- Hunching your back.
- Making a scooping motion while you row back and forth.
- Allowing your arms to rise too high.
- Allowing your knees to fall to the sides.
- Gripping the handle too tightly.
So, try to avoid these common mistakes. At best, it could hinder your progress and result in your workout being less effective, and at worst, some of these mistakes could lead to injury.
Summary: Start Rowing!
Do you really need more convincing? The only downside there is to taking up rowing is realizing you wish you had started sooner! If you try it out, let us know in the comments.
Just remember, the sooner you start, the sooner you will be able to improve your skills, and eventually you will be able to master the proper technique and form that is required for this form of exercise. If you can, a mix of both indoor and outdoor rowing is arguably best.
Written by Kathleen Langdon – TheHealthPot.com Founder
Certified Personal Trainer (CPT), Certified Corrective Exercise Specialist (CES)
Kathleen, a mother of two, struggled with ongoing weight and health issues. She created this website after she turned her life around. She built Thehealthpot.com to help inspire and motivate others with their fitness goals. Read more about Kathleen here.