Is a Rowing Machine a Good Workout?

If you’re bored with your current workout routine and the thought of another bicep curl is enough to put you to sleep, it’s time for something new.

There are a few exercise machines that provide a true full-body workout, and one of the best is a rowing machine. And when used right, it targets about 85% of your muscles in a single workout. when done correctly.

What is a rowing machine?

Rowing machine classes are sometimes referred to as the “new spinning” class and if you’ve ever wondered what it must be like to be on a rowing team competing on water, a rowing machine will give you a pretty good idea of this. 

Many gyms have rowing machines with classes that simulate the same movement and resistance as being on the water. 

Most rowing machines can monitor distance, speed, power, and calories burned.  The frame of the machine sits low to the ground with the user sitting on the machine much like one would in a real rower:

The user pulls the handle back toward themselves during the rowing movement while the seat slides away allowing the user to engage the lower body during the “drive” motion of rowing. 

The phases and positions when using a rowing machine are exactly the same as what you imagine Olympic rowers doing as they drive their boats through the water with paddles with the only difference is you’re performing the movement on land.

Health and fitness benefits of using a rowing machine

Rowing is an excellent form of exercise and using a rowing machine can be both relaxing and motivating to get yourself in shape. 

Once you learn the proper technique, rowing can offer a tremendous amount of physical health benefits, including increased power and strength. 

The health and fitness benefits of rowing machines are much like those of water-based rowing including some bonus benefits you will gain:

Enhances cardio-respiratory fitness

Any exercise that requires high-intensity sustained movement that increases your heart rate for a certain length of time is working on improving your cardiovascular fitness.  A typical rowing class generally lasts between 30 to 60 minutes in length getting your heart pumping blood to your working muscles. This rush of blood flow will be delivering energy and nutrients to your cells while buffering away waste byproducts such as carbon dioxide and lactic acid. 

Builds muscle strength and endurance

The primary muscles that rowers work are the quadriceps, the large muscles in the front of your thighs.  Muscle strength is the ability of muscles to overcome physical resistance. This muscle characteristic develops with increasing workload rather than repetition and is associated with muscle size.  Muscle endurance is the ability of muscles to contract repeatedly within a given time without becoming exhausted.  This muscle characteristic develops with increasing repetition rather than increasing workload and is associated with cardiorespiratory endurance.

Rowing can increase both muscle strength and endurance because you are repeatedly pushing and pulling against resistance for the entirety of your workout.  By increasing resistance over time, your muscles will grow and develop becoming stronger. 

The thing that makes rowing stand out is that it works your entire body.  During the drive phase you engage the major muscle groups of your legs first, then your core, and finally your upper body and back.  The repetition exerted while rowing helps improve muscular endurance for all muscle groups.

Low impact

If you need an exercise easy on your joints, a rowing machine done correctly may be your answer.  Since your feet stay in place at all times in the footpads and your hands hold onto the handles, there is little to no impact on the ankles, hips, elbows, or shoulders, all of which can be prone to injury.  Anyone who cannot do weight-bearing exercises such as walking, jogging, or certain other aerobic activities, should consider using a rowing machine.

Other benefits of rowing machines

Besides the health and fitness improvements, one will see when taking advantage of rowing machines, other perks of using this workout are as follows:

Relatively low-cost – Most people will use a rowing machine that is offered at a local gym.  But some may want to invest in having their own to use at home.  Depending on the style and brand, most rowing machines are comparable to what one may spend on buying a treadmill.

Can used individually or as a group – The nice thing about using a rowing machine is they can be done individually or in a group class setting.  These classes are much the same way as a spinning class with high-energy instructors, pumping music and a loosely choreographed routine.  If you like exercising with others, this can be a fun option.

Accessibility – More and more gyms across the nation are installing rowing machines as a workout option.  If you have never used a rowing machine before, ask for tips from a trainer to make sure you are using it properly.  As with any exercise equipment, if you are using poor form, it can result in injury especially to the lower back.  Start slow and work your way up.

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