muscles worked in rowing

Muscles Worked in Rowing: Get Fit & Toned with Every Stroke!

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Hi there. My name is Alisha, a Certified Trained Fitness Instructor, with an interesting article about what muscles a rowing machine works and what makes it a favorite workout among most athletes.

A rowing machine works an astounding 86 percent of the muscles in your body – just about every muscle you have!

That’s one hell of a reason to add a rowing machine workout to your fitness program. Once I tell you all the names of the muscles used in every rowing motion you do, you’ll understand why so many athletes use an indoor rower to stay in shape.

What Muscles Does a Rowing Machine Work?

While you might see slightly different numbers mentioned when referring to muscles used in rowing, all of them are over 80%. Every single rowing stroke you do works an astounding 86 percent of all the muscles in your body!

muscles that a rowing machine work

Think about that! What other machine works all the major muscle groups and gives you cardio workouts every time you use it?!

OK, ellipticals are close at 80 percent, but they aren’t as low impact as rowing is. For anyone who finds the motion of an elliptical painful, you are going to love using a rowing machine.

the muscles used when rowing

It might be easier to list the muscles that rowing doesn’t work, but that’s another article.

A rowing workout is a full-body workout that targets different muscles, including your:

  1. Biceps
  2. Triceps
  3. Forearms
  4. Deltoids (or delts)
  5. Trapezius (or traps)
  6. Rhomboids
  7. Latissimus dorsi (or lats)
  8. Other back muscles (Erector spinae, Teres major and minor)
  9. Chest muscles (Pectorals, Serratus anterior)
  10. Core muscles
  11. Quadriceps (or quads)
  12. Hamstrings
  13. Glutes (Gluteus maximus, medius, and minimus)
  14. Calves (Gastrocnemius, Soleus)

I suppose I should add your heart or the cardiovascular system because rowing workouts are excellent cardio workouts as well!

Is Rowing a Good Cross Training Option?

muscles used by rowing machine

Yes, indeed, rowing is an excellent workout to incorporate in your cross-training program to mix things up a bit.

Cross-training, which means doing different types of workouts, is one of the best ways to avoid weight loss plateau and injury. When we do the same thing over and over, whether it’s jogging, swimming, bagging groceries, rowing, or typing, we end up with repetitive strain injuries due to overuse.

Our bodies are a lot smarter than we give them credit for. If you jog 5 miles every day, for example, you’ll find that you burn fewer and fewer calories over time. Your body becomes accustomed to that same 5-mile pace and works to be as efficient as possible.

When you cross-train, you keep your body guessing, prevent injury due to muscle overuse, and keep weight-loss plateau at bay.

What Does Rowing Do to Your Body Shape?

a woman in the starting position using a rowing machine

Let’s talk about the difference for men and women since rowing workouts offer slightly different body shapes.

Ladies first, right?

Ladies, if you want toned and sculpted arms (no more bat wings) but don’t want to look like a body builder, you’ll love a rowing machine.

You can have strong arms and shoulders, very similar to what you see on professional dancers. If you love those graceful but not overly muscular-looking upper arms, then you are going to want to add rowing workouts at least twice a week.

You will get the same type of “dancers” body from your rowing workouts. Long, firm thighs and calves, a tight core, and perkier (if I can use that word) breasts.

man working out on a rowing machine

Gentlemen, you will have some really good-looking shoulders, chest, legs, and biceps from rowing. However, if you want to look more like a bodybuilder, you will need to add some strength training to your exercise routine.

Rowing by itself is awesome for shoulder muscles, the upper back muscles, and biceps (not to mention a tight abdomen and a terrific-looking butt). However, despite growing those muscles, you won’t look like Arnold Schwarzenegger without doing weight lifting.

If you simply want to look firm and toned while having some excellent muscle tone, then all you need is to add two or three rowing machine workouts to your routine.

Take one look at the professional rowers on iFit, and you’ll get an idea of what shape your body will take after rowing regularly for 6 months.

Does Rowing Really Engage Your Core Muscles?

Yes, rowing engages your abs muscles.

If you have never used a rowing machine or have only tried them once or twice, you may not see how a rowing machine works those important core muscles.

Look at someone using a rowing machine in slow motion, or check out this video:


This video shows how you can get ripped abs by rowing with the proper form. See how she pivots backward at the end of the drive? Trust me, to keep that torso straight and to lean back like that takes some serious core muscles!

Of course, if you’re a beginner, don’t even worry about leaning back that far! You can work on keeping your torso straight up and down for starters.

As you become more experienced, you will find yourself leaning backward bit by bit. Even just keeping your torso straight will strengthen muscles like your core so that you can really get a tight midsection!

The great thing about rowing is that all that leaning forward and backward really gives the lower body muscle activation that you can’t get from other machines!

Can Rowing Workouts Help Me Lose Weight?

a couple doing a rowing workout at a gym

Yes! OK, more than just yes, how about HELL YES?!

If you’re a beginner, you might not feel like you are making much progress at first. I’ve seen many beginners last about 5 minutes before they are so tired they can’t continue.

This can make you start asking, “How can I possibly lose weight if I can’t do more than 5 minutes?!”

I understand your frustration, but stick with it, and I promise, you’ll see that weight peel off like dirty clothes.

Remember that you can do other types of exercise, such as walking, jogging, swimming, or whatever suits you, until you become more accustomed to rowing.

Be patient and add a minute to your workouts every week until you hit the 10-minute mark. By then, you should feel strong enough to move up to 15 minutes. Now add 5 minutes every week, and you’ll be working out like a pro!

what muscles do rowing machines work

Cardiovascular exercise always takes time to adjust to, especially if you haven’t been very active, and let’s face it, Netflix is always calling our names, right?

One of the best things about a rowing workout, however, is that you are working both the upper and lower body at the same time. Because of that, you spend less time exercising, and you won’t be as sore as you would if you did a spin bike class, for example.

This is because the effort you are putting into your workout is spread out over your entire body, not just the legs or the arms.

Does less soreness and less time spent exercising sound good to you? It’s certainly appealing to many people, which is why rowing has become so popular lately!

How Long Should I Work Out to Get the Most Benefits?

If you are adding rowing workouts to your exercise routine, you may want to add 45-minute sessions at least twice a week.

If you plan on using a rowing machine for the majority of your exercise, you can do HIIT workouts for 30 minutes at a time for 3 or 4 days per week, or you can do regular workouts 5 days per week for 45 minutes at a time.

Remember to always give your body at least one full day of rest! So many people skip this part, and it ends up being a detriment.

man in red shirt working out on a rowing machine at a gym

Your body needs at least 24 hours a week to rest, recover, and build new muscle while removing old tissue. It does this best when it’s resting.

This doesn’t mean you have to lie in bed! Just avoid any hard exercise, such as rowing. You can still enjoy a leisurely walk with the dog, do some yoga, or, yep, you can binge on your favorite series.

You’ll get a full-body workout with every rowing stroke when you use a rowing machine, so after you’ve done the work, give yourself a break and relax for 24 hours.

Your body will thank you for it!

The Bottom Line

One of the things I love about using my indoor rower is that it doesn’t just work the upper body muscles, like weight lifting, or just work the lower body the way running does.

A rowing machine works all of the nine muscle groups with every complete rowing stroke!

From the catch to the recovery phase, you get an intense workout and build muscle right from the get-go.

Rowing machines are truly a wonderful way to get in your exercise, and having one at home means you can do your workout and build muscle whenever you want!

If you’ve been thinking of getting your own rowing machine for your home gym, you might want to read this article to help you find the best rowing machine under 500.

Get a leg up on your next fitness level by adding rowing machine workouts to your routine! Your muscle groups will thank you!

Happy rowing workouts, y’all!