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Rowing is a full-body workout that also works the back in addition to other muscles. So, yes, a rowing workout is good for your back. Not only that, rowing machine workouts will actually prevent back pain and are a great way to incorporate injury prevention into your regular exercise program.
In today’s article, I’m going to tell you about what you need to do to make your back pain a thing of the past or prevent it from happening to you!
Keep reading because even if you don’t have back pain, chances are really good that you will sooner than you think!
Please note that I am not a doctor, and this is not medical advice. Please consult with your physician or chiropractor if you currently have back pain or other health issues.
Table of Contents
The Most Common Reason for Back Pain
What causes back pain in the first place?
It’s all about poor posture. You might be reading this and thinking WTH does posture have to do with my back or rowing?! I hear ya. I was in the same boat at one time, as are many people.
Before anything else, did you know that back pain affects an estimated 80% of all adults at one time or another? That’s a lot of pain going on!
So what’s the thing you keep on doing that is responsible for most of your back pain issues? While there are many other reasons for people’s back pains, one thing is certainly doing its share: sitting.
A great many people sit at a desk job, in front of a computer, hunched over, head pushed forward, typing away on a keyboard. Then, of course, we do more sitting while we commute, more once we get home, and then you may do a lot more sitting while you catch up on those Netflix series.
Someone once said that sitting is the new smoking, and they aren’t kidding! All this sitting with poor posture will lead to back pain, even if you never actually injure your back by doing something like falling on your butt.
So now we return to posture. If you’re lucky, you probably try to exercise at least two or three times per week, but depending on the type of exercise you do, it may not be helping your back or your posture.
Can Rowing Help Lower Back Pain?
It sure can. One of the many rowing machine benefits is that it works all the muscle groups supporting the spine. It works the upper back muscles, which will go a long way towards improving your posture and limiting lower back pain.
Rowing offers a total-body workout that will strengthen the butt, leg muscles, core muscles, and back muscles, all of which support the spine.
I also want to suggest that you should know the source of your pain first. The majority of people experience back pain due to excessive amount of sitting, poor posture, the absence of a stretching program within many gym routines, and weak leg/butt/core muscles.
The spine itself has no muscles, but hundreds of muscles are attached to the spine. To support your spine, these muscles need to be both limber and strong.
If you have mild low back pain with no known cause, try standing up and crossing your legs while keeping your feet together. Now slowly bend at the waist and go as low as you can. Hold this for 30 seconds, then cross your legs the opposite way and repeat.
Does your back feel a bit better? Nearly everyone experiences some relief with this stretching exercise because it lengthens the hamstrings. When the hamstrings (the large muscles on the back of the thigh) are tight, they pull down on the lower back, causing pain.
Be sure that you do stretching every single day to prevent back pain caused by nothing more than tight muscles!
Can Rowing Cause Back Pain?
Has someone told you that rowing causes back pain? This statement is partially true.
Using a rowing machine will hurt your back only if you do the strokes incorrectly. You might also experience back pain if you have health issues such as spinal stenosis or degenerative disc disease.
If you are new to rowing, I really recommend that you watch some online videos explaining the correct way of doing the rowing strokes. If you belong to a gym, they might offer rowing classes.
Use a mirror so you can watch yourself row and correct your posture and form.
I notice that some of the newer rowing machines have instructional videos built into the programming so you can learn before you train. What a great idea!
How Far Should You Lean Back when Using a Rowing Machine?
The answer to this question will depend on several factors.
First, imagine your body as hands on a clock. Your back should always be straight, not slouched forward like the letter C.
If you’re new to rowing and you do not currently have back pain, it’s safe to say that you can work your core muscles by leaning back to about the 11 o’clock position. Use a mirror to ensure that you’re not leaning back too far or rounding your upper back.
Advanced users who don’t have any back pain issues can lean as far back as the 10 o’clock position. By leaning back on the Finish phase of your rowing stroke, you build a strong core that has plenty of long-term benefits, one of which is preventing back pain.
How Do I Protect My Back while Rowing?
It’s not as hard as you might imagine.
Weak butt muscles or weak lower body muscles can cause back pain even when you’re only doing everyday chores.
I can’t stress enough, however, that poor form while using a rowing machine is one of the major reasons why people experience back pain while rowing.
Using a rowing machine does take a bit of practice, and if you are new to rowing, you should work on proper rowing form rather than speed.
When you are rowing, your back should always remain straight. You can bend backward at the hips during the Finish phase, but do not hunch forward! Make those abdominals do the work when you’re on the rowing machine.
When pulling on the handle during the Finish, don’t stick those elbows out like a serving of chicken wings! Keep your elbows close to your rib cage and pull back on the handle only to your chest.
When you do the proper rowing technique, you should not experience back pain. If you still experience lower or upper back pain even when you do the strokes properly, stop exercising and see your doctor or chiropractor immediately. Don’t push through the pain!
Pain is your body’s way of telling you something is wrong. See your doctor to make sure that it’s OK to hit the rowing machine again.
You can also protect your back by doing other stretching and strengthening exercises. Focus on the core muscles, leg muscles, the back and booty muscles. (Yes! Your booty is the biggest muscle you have, and it supports the lower spine so there are many benefits to having a big strong booty!)
You don’t need an intense lower back workout or any strenuous workouts for your back muscles; you need an all-over body exercise that strengthens the major muscle groups supporting the spine.
Does Rowing Help with Back Fat?
I see where you’re coming from! You may not have back pain, but you definitely want to get rid of that back fat! Who doesn’t?!
The answer here is yes, it can.
I hate to burst the internet bubble, but the sad truth is that you cannot exercise away fat from one area. This is often called spot reducing, and while doing intense exercises on a particular part of the body will really strengthen the muscular system, it won’t remove one ounce of fat.
The good news is that you can reduce fat all over your body with lots of aerobic exercises. A rowing machine offers a fantastic cardio workout that helps you lose weight and lower body fat.
Rowing will also give you muscle tone, so when your weight drops, everyone will see your beautifully sleek, toned muscles.
Of course, it goes without saying (but let me say it anyway for those in the back) that you need to eat a healthy diet. No rowing machine can make up for a poor diet filled with junk food and sugary sodas.
If you need help with your eating habits, consult with your doctor or nutritionist/dietician.
Ditch those love handles, pooch belly, back fat (bra fat), and lower stress simply by using your rowing machine.
The Final Takeaway – Is Rowing Bad for Your Back?
The TL;DR version of this article is that a rowing machine is excellent for strengthening the muscles that support the back.
A rowing machine will cause back pain if you do not maintain proper form while rowing.
The body craves balance, so by strengthening the muscles that support the back and stretching away muscle tension, you can prevent back pain from becoming your constant and unwanted companion.
A rowing machine benefits every part of your body. It even reduces stress and improves blood flow!
Keep back pain at bay by working out on a rowing machine, using it correctly, and stretching, stretching, stretching! And, yes, don’t forget about improving your posture!
Your mother was right when she scolded you about slouching.
Sit up straight, use your rowing machine, and oh yes, back massages are the bomb!!
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.