Which Muscles Do Rowing Machines Target?

Rowing targets your upper body, legs, and core muscles.
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Rowing is an intense full-body workout that spikes your heart rate and builds your strength. With a rowing machine, the muscles targeted include parts of your core, legs and upper body. It's also a low-impact move that won't put undue pressure on your knees or hips.

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With proper technique, you can expect to target muscles in your upper back, core, triceps, glutes and quads on a rowing machine.

Proper Rowing Technique

If your rowing technique is correct, you can build muscles all over your body with a rowing machine. But proper rowing technique doesn't always come naturally for people, which means their rowing machine body results might not be what they'd hoped. To make the most out of your workout, follow these steps as you use the machine — and check out this instructional video from rowing machine manufacturer Concept2.


Catch: The catch is the position when you're sitting with your legs pulled in toward you, your torso leaned forward and your arms extended. Your deltoids and triceps are working here as your arms extend forward, pulling your upper back muscles taut.

Drive: This is the part of the rowing workout where your whole body moves at once. As you extend your legs, the machine slides your body backward. The key to getting this technique right is to drive with your legs, not your arms. This way, you'll get maximum lower body benefits, and your shoulders will contract as you pull the handle back with you. After you drive your legs back, your core and glutes continue to work as you hinge back slightly from the hips, then your arms finish the motion by pulling the handle in toward your chest.


One crucial element to note in this stroke is the order in which it's performed. First, your legs drive you back, then your torso moves, then your arms in a quick, smooth progression.

Finish: As your body reaches the back of the machine, with your legs extended and your arms pulled in toward your chest, your core kicks in to keep you stabilized. Your quads and glutes are also actively working in this stance.

Recovery: As you slide back forward to begin the stroke again, make sure to begin by moving your arms, then your torso, then your legs (the opposite order that you moved them during the drive). Your abs and triceps are still working as you keep your arms extended, and your core pulls your torso forward.


Read more: Benefits of a Rowing Machine

Rowing Machine Body Results

Proper technique is crucial to making the most out of your time on the machine. The American Council on Exercise outlines different workouts you can try with the machine, using meters, time or strokes as a barometer for how much you're working. ACE also suggests setting a reasonable level of resistance on your machine, so you're working hard without feeling like your form is being compromised.


Read more: Rowing Machine Workout Plan

Aerobic and Anaerobic Benefits

The rowing machine and muscle gain go hand in hand because it offers both an aerobic and anaerobic workout. If you're exerting speed and force, you'll likely grow breathless as you use the machine; and yet, you're also building muscle with your movements. Concept2 suggests interval exercises as the best way to get an aerobic workout on a rowing machine.

With proper attention to form and a mix of different workout combinations, the rowing machine is a good workout to add to your regular routine. It offers full-body benefits in an efficient and low-impact format, making it ideal for building strength and aiding in weight loss.