What Muscles Does a Rowing Machine Work?

While not always the most popular piece of gym equipment, the rowing machine offers a complete, full-body workout by targeting a wide range of muscles. Muscles such as the deltoids, biceps and triceps, glutes, quadriceps, hamstrings and calves are put to work when rowing.

Muscles such as the deltoids, biceps and triceps, glutes, quadriceps, hamstrings and calves are put to work when rowing. (Image: Pekic/E+/GettyImages)

Tip

Rowing machine workouts are an accessible option for those seeking an impact-free workout. Rowing is a non-weight bearing exercise that won’t stress the joints with excessive force as in other higher intensity workouts.

Rowing Machine Workout Benefits

The rowing machine can lead to an increase in overall muscular strength. According to the American Council on Exercise, rowing machines offer a full-body cardiovascular workout that involves multiple muscle groups.

Perform movements on the rowing machine using the proper technique to build and strengthen muscles all throughout the body. Utilizing the correct technique and proper alignment will also keep the body in check, preventing excessive impact from jarring joints.

Tip

Push off the rowing machine platform with your entire foot, including your heel, to prevent straining your knee joints.

Rowing Machine Muscles Targeted

Rowing on the machine targets multiple muscles in one workout using the following actions: the catch, the drive, the finish and the recovery. During the catch, the triceps work to extend the arms and the flexor muscles in the finger grips around the handles of the rowing machine. Your hip flexors are used to hinge your torso forward.

Next is the drive, where the powerful leg muscles such as the quadriceps initiate the action of pushing your feet away from the machine's platform. Your shoulder and back muscles contract as your biceps pull the rowing machine's handles to move in toward your abdomen. At the same time, your erector spinae, glutes, quads and hamstrings engage to extend your body away from the machine.

In the finish, your upper body leans back slightly, as it is supported by the muscles of your core. Your legs are extended with your hands holding the rowing machine's handles in close to your body, near your lower ribs. Your grip is relaxed as your shoulders are low and aligned with your wrists, which are parallel to the ground.

During the recovery, your abdominals stabilize the rest of your body, while your calves, hamstrings and hip flexors contract to return your feet to the platform. Your core muscles contract to keep your torso upright. Your triceps engage to push your arms forward, moving them away from your body, as your abdominals flex your torso forward.

Rowing for Better Health

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends up to 150 minutes of moderate intensity aerobic activity, 75 minutes of vigorous aerobic activity or an equivalent mix of the two each week in order to maintain a healthy weight. Using rowing as a cardiovascular exercise that challenges the muscle groups of the entire body can help meet this health goal.

Performing a higher intensity interval training pyramid workout can also be done on a rowing machine, according to the Mayo Clinic. This type of vigorous aerobic exercise won't cause wear and tear on your joints. Unlike other aerobic activities such as running, the rowing machine is a good option for anyone with sensitive joints or issues such as arthritis, as it is a low-impact activity.

Hop on the rowing machine the next time you want to challenge your whole body to a workout that combines calorie-burning cardio exercise with strength training.

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