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Is Rowing Machine a Good Exercise?

man and woman working out with rowing machine

The rowing machine is a good exercise for every fitness level. Unlike other machines, it’s used for both cardio and strength training, killing two birds with one stone. It provides a hybrid full-body workout that builds strength and endurance.

Although cross fitters put it back to business in the last decades, the rowing machine has been around since the 70s. Many people use it for cross-training, combining it with weightlifting, bodyweight cardio workouts, and more.

Read along to find out how rowing workouts help you achieve your fitness goals, burn calories, and build strength.

What Is a Rowing Machine?

a man using a rowong machine as a demo

You might have seen the indoor rowing machine at a fitness facility or thought of buying one for your home gym. Heck, POTUS Frank Underwood had one. Many people ignore this machine, because, to God’s fairness, it is intimidating.

But just as with the elliptical, very shortly you’ll get the hang of it and be able to progress and see results in your looks and health.

Known as ergometer or erg, the row machine makes for a hybrid full-body workout, training up to 86% of our muscles. Overall, a rowing workout combines rowing strokes with resistance training. That means you’ll perform both anaerobic and aerobic exercises.

While anaerobic exercise optimizes the body to build strength and muscle, aerobic exercise builds endurance and helps you preserve mobility as you get older.

Now, where else can you find that! All three groups – push, pull, and leg – muscles are trained during any indoor rowing machine workout.

Does the Rowing Machine Build Muscle?

concept 2 rowing machine

Rowing Machine. Photo by Victor Freitas on Unsplash

Yes, a rowing machine does build muscle. But to fire up your muscle building, you have to learn a few tricks. I also wrote an article called “Rowing Machine Muscles Used” which talks about the percentage of body muscles used on a rowing machine during a rowing workout.

Rowing resembles many bodybuilding moves, such as rows, leg press, calf raise, deadlift, and push up. As you’re training your entire body, you’ll reach hypertrophy by switching up to harder levels.

The harder it becomes to push and pull the handle, the more slow-twitch muscle fibers you will activate. This might slow down your pace since you’ll switch to anaerobic activity. But don’t worry, you’ll still be burning calories and striping fat to expose those hard-earned muscles.

Fire up your workouts with this trick: After a few minutes of rowing at challenging levels (5-10), switch to an easy level for recovery (1-5). For a complete rowing workout, repeat this cycle 8-10 times.

Take your time to learn how to row effectively, and always make an effort to maintain proper form throughout your workout. Extend your arms and legs properly and keep your back straight. Results come faster when you start off on the right foot.

How Many Calories Does the Rowing Machine Burn?

The calories you burn during physical activity depend on your metabolism, age, muscle mass, gender, and many other factors. Here is an article called “Calories Burned on Rowing Machine“. The article covers how to calculate the calories burned during a rowing machine workout, which can be difficult to do.

But according to data from Harvard Health, a 155 pounds person can burn up to 260 calories in 30 minutes of moderate-intensity stationary rowing. That’s more than weightlifting, stair-step machines and aerobics.

Switch levels, and you’ll easily ramp up this number. A vigorous indoor rowing machine workout can burn more than 369 calories in 30 minutes. Calculate the calories you’ll burn based on your weight here.

A rowing machine is a good exercise for those looking to burn calories and lose weight. If you stay consistent, you’ll slim and tone your arms, thighs, lower back, and abs.

Top Benefits of the Rowing Machine

What separates the row machine from others is its dual or hybrid use. It works the whole body, builds endurance and strength, and is super efficient when it comes to time constraints. A few of these benefits are listed below as well.

Fitness Benefits of the Rowing Machine

  • Efficient full body workout for any fitness level and goal

The ultimate benefit of the row machine is that it provides both anaerobic and aerobic exercises, which is uncommon in other cardio machines. If your goal is to get your body moving, sweat, and burn calories, you can row at a slow and steady pace for low-impact cardio workouts.

If you want to build muscle without bulking up, you can switch to harder levels. This way you’ll recruit more muscle fibers. The row machine allows you to train all the muscle groups at the same time, reducing the time you spend working out.

If you are thinking of building a home gym, a good rower might be all you need, especially for those who don’t want to spend too much time training.

  • Improve lower and upper body conditioning

Rowing makes for a very effective lower and upper body conditioning workout. With conditioning, we’re looking to increase endurance and flexibility and create a balanced and strong physique.

American Fitness Professionals Association (AFPA) notes that rowing consists of 65-75% leg work and 25-35% upper body work. The reason why the rowing machine is a good workout is that you simultaneously train many muscle groups.

Conditioning is more than defining your muscles. It allows you to perform your daily activities with ease and not feel like you’re short of breath every time you take your groceries upstairs.

  • Body coordination and posture

Many people struggle with body coordination and are intimidated to start rowing because it seems like a hassle. The rowing stroke looks more complicated than it actually is. But it has a major impact not only on your coordination during exercise but outside of it as well.

A study found that 8 weeks of row machine training (3 days a week) improved joint strength and muscle balance. In less than 8 weeks, you’ll gain control over your body and improve your daily posture. Rowing increases mobility and flexibility, which will help you in your everyday activities.

Health-Related Benefits of the Rowing Machine

  • Health benefits

Your heart and lungs will be thankful for your indoor rowing machine workouts. As an aerobic exercise, the row machine optimizes the amount of oxygen the body uses. Your heart rate will increase, boosting blood flow to your muscles and your lungs.

Also, rowing helps improve your cholesterol levels and reduce the risk of obesity, high blood pressure, and type 2 diabetes, among other things.

  • Strengthens your joints and bones

A study found that the rowing machine is superior to walking, jogging, and climbing stairs. It builds more muscle mass and strength than the former activities.

The same research showed that the rowing machine is much safer compared to the other cardio workouts. Rowing prevents osteoporotic fractures, in other words, the probability of falling and injuring yourself.

Lastly, your knees and ankles will not be as stressed as when running, since rowing is a seated exercise. This goes to show that the row machine helps protect your bones and joints and keeps them healthy for longer.

  • Helps with recovery

Indoor rowing machine workouts are a great option to recover from injuries and joint problems. Rowing at a slow pace will improve your blood circulation and relieve any pain or stiffness you may be experiencing.

However, if you have any health conditions, do consult with your doctor before using the rowing machine.

  • Unwinding and mindfulness

Gerald Bale, Gerard Butler, Hugh Jackman, and others use and praise the rowing machine for its benefits in improving focus and mental resilience.

The calming whoosh of the machine will help you relieve stress, block out distractions and help unwind while improving your overall health. Since the movement is repetitive, after you master it, you’ll be able to enjoy the de-stressing element that this machine offers.

man is using a rowing machine

Is a rowing machine good exercise? Photo by Bastien Plu on Unsplash

What to Expect from Rowing Workouts?

If you do rowing workouts for endurance or strength training this is what you’ll get:

  • Burn calories and lose weight
  • Enhance endurance, stamina, and power
  • Boost your metabolism
  • Improve body coordination
  • Keep your heart and lungs healthy and functional
  • Strengthen your joints and bones
  • Improve your moods and focus

Is Rowing Machine Safe?

Many people think the row machine might be bad for the lower back. But, in fact, this comes due to the lack of a proper form and not engaging the core muscles. For this reason, your first step is to learn how to use the indoor rowing machine effectively and safely.

Physiotherapists use rowing workouts to help people recover from injuries, get back to exercising, and ease joint pain. Every rowing stroke engages almost all the muscles, which helps the body spread the tension evenly and safely.

Also, you might have seen a personal trainer assigning rowing machine workouts for the elderly and people who aren’t used to physical activity. It’s a great way to start exercising more, do cross-training, and help improve your mobility.

Thinking Of Buying a Rowing Machine? Here are 4 Different Kinds to Consider!

Based on the type of resistance used, we have 4 kinds of indoor rowing machines:

  1. Hydraulic Rower works with air or fluid compressed in a cylinder or piston. They’re the cheapest and most space convenient row machines. A downside is that doesn’t allow you to pull in a straight line, fully extend your arms, or make the natural rowing stroke.
  2. Flywheel Rower consists of a spinning wheel with fan blades. Here, rather than having different levels of difficulty, you can increase your pace by pulling faster and harder.
  3. Magnetic Rower creates resistance from the magnets built into the flywheel, which slows the flywheel down as the user spins it by pulling the handle. This type is silent and provides a smooth rowing stroke.
  4. Water Rower tries to mimic the rowing stroke in a boat and uses water to set it into motion. This one is great for those looking to unwind and relax during their workouts.

Here are some Rowing Machines on Amazon to take a look at:

Depending on your fitness level, preferences, and budget, you might opt for one and add it to your home gym.

If you are new to rowing machines or just want to take a look at what rowers are on the market to compare, here is an article called “Compare Rowing Machines” to take a look at.

Final Verdict: Is Rowing Machine a Good Exercise?

The rowing machine is a good exercise, especially if you want to stay healthy and fit but don’t like weightlifting or boring cardio. Rowing is a full body workout that trains all muscle groups and delivers many other health benefits.

Next time you’re short of time and want to get a good workout in, spend around 20 minutes rowing. You can switch from cardio to strength training just by changing your pace in the machine or through your movements.

Related Articles:

Water vs. Air Rowing Machine: What is the Difference?

Air vs. Magnetic Rowing Machine: What is the Difference?

Rowing Machine Resistance Types

Rowing Machine Abs Benefits


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