If you enjoy using a stationary rowing machine but don't have access to one, you can approximate the motion of rowing with elastic resistance bands. Just keep in mind that you must split what's usually done as a single full-body movement into two separate parts.
Rowing Exercise Without a Machine
Your legs provide most of the power as you first press the rowing machine's sliding seat away from the foot platforms; then your back and arms help you pull the rowing machine handle toward your ribs.
However, if you don't have a stationary rower, you don't have a sliding seat to work on. So when rowing with bands, you must split the motion into two parts: upper body and lower body.
Move 1: Upper-Body Rows
If your resistance bands don't have handles, make sure you can grasp the ends securely; some people like to wrap each end around the hand once for extra purchase.
- Sit on the floor with one of the resistance band's handles in each hand.
- Extend both legs straight out in front of you, and pass the middle of the resistance band around the bottoms of your feet.
- Sit up straight and extend your arms in front of you. Choke up on your grip, or adjust the band handles, so there is resistance on the band. This is your starting position.
- Squeeze your core muscles to remain sitting up straight — think "proud chest" — as you pull on the resistance band, bringing both ends back toward your ribs.
- Keep your elbows close to your body. Stop when your elbows break the plane of your back, or at the limits of your comfortable, controlled range of motion.
- Slowly extend your arms back to the starting position.
This exercise lacks one thing: the backward hinge at the hips that is a natural part of the rowing stroke, as demonstrated on YouTube in the "Proper Rowing Machine Technique, Improve Your Rowing" video by rowing machine authority and manufacturer Concept2. That motion is awkward to do without the leg drive that precedes it when exercising on a real rowing machine.
Move 2: Lower-Body "Rows"
This exercise approximates the lower-body motion of a rowing machine. Since you can't press yourself away from the foot platforms of a rower, press the band away from your body instead.
- Assume the starting position for upper-body rows, with one exception: There's no need to keep your arms straight. Feel free to hold them closer to your body for better leverage. This will be your starting position for lower-body "rows."
- Choke up on the band so there is resistance from this starting position.
- Squeeze your core to keep your torso upright as you straighten your legs against the band's resistance. Press your legs straight out in front of your body.
- Return to the starting position, bending your legs in a smooth, controlled motion.
Rowing With Bands
If you're doing this substitute exercise for a rowing machine primarily for strength, then recommendations from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services are a great place to start: They recommend strength-training every major muscle group at least twice a week, doing one to three sets of eight to 12 repetitions. Once those final repetitions start feeling easy, you can change to a heavier-duty resistance band or choose a more challenging workout.
If you're rowing with bands for cardio exercise, use a lighter band that allows you to keep up a constant, controlled rhythm on each movement, and set a timer to track your progress. As the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention note, adults should get at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity cardio per week, or 75 minutes of vigorous cardio.
That doesn't mean you have to "row" the entire time. Mix up your rowing with bands with walking, rebounding on a mini-trampoline, cycling or any other type of cardio workout that you enjoy.
Read more: Does Rowing Burn Belly Fat?
Did you know you can use resistance bands to strength-train all your major muscle groups?