Want to know an interesting fact!?
The rowing machine muscles used while rowing equal about 84% of the total muscles in your body!
Now what other workout machine can boast these types of numbers?
Rowing machines are known as a full body workout because they exercise every major muscle group and provide a fantastic cardiovascular workout.
Rowers can expect to burn anywhere between 400-800 calories an hour on average based upon their current fitness levels.
More on the calorie topic in my article about Burning Calories With A Rowing Machine.
Using a rowing machine is also great because it is low impact, meaning it is great for people with injuries and bad knees.
So what muscles does a rowing machine work? Being that it is an almost perfect piece of workout equipment the rowing machine muscles targeted are:
Plus it is one of the most extreme cardio workouts you can perform- so your lungs will be feeling it as well!
With all these rowing machine muscles used, it doesn’t surprise me that rowing has become increasingly popular in todays Crossfit style training environment.
Depending on how you train, you can row to increase you cardiovascular capabilities or use it to build strength and power.
Due to a rowing stroke being performed in 4 phases there are different muscle groups worked during each phase. I will go over the 4 phases and then breakdown each muscle targeted during each rowing machine phase.
The Muscles Worked when Rowing Change Throughout the Stroke
When beginning to row you will learn there are 4 phases to a rowing stroke. They are the:
These photos illustrate the different positions.
The Catch is the beginning of your stroke where your knees are bent, shins are vertical, arms are straight, and body leaning slightly forward
The Drive begins with pushing off with you legs, then swinging your back through the vertical position, and then pulling with your arms.
The Finish is where your upper body is leaned slightly back, legs are extended, and the handle is pulled to your lower chest.
The Recovery is the reverse order of everything just performed. You begin by extending your arms, leaning from your hips forward, and then begin bending your knees until you are back in the catch position.
Here is a quick video of the rowing stroke:
Muscles Used While Rowing: Complete Stroke Breakdown
Now that we did a quick overview of the different phases of a rowing machine stroke we can cover the rowing machine muscles used during each phase.
Listed are the major muscle groups targeted but if you look at the colored photos you can see some of the smaller muscle groups worked as well.
- Lower Back
- Upper Back
Body Swing Emphasis
- Middle Back
Arm Pull Through Emphasis
(These photos were taken from the Concept 2 website which is a great source for rowing information)
As you can see the rowing machine muscles used during the 4 phases are just about every muscle in the body!! It would probably have been easier to just name the muscles it doesn’t target.
To target all of these muscle groups you just have to simply perform a basic rowing stroke.
Are Rowing Machines Engaging Your Core?
Yes, rowing machines engage your core. Usually, when you row, your rowing workouts engage your abdominal muscles the entire rowing time. And this is essential to prepare your other muscle groups for the intense workout against the resistance created.
Since rowing engages your midsection muscles and is a terrific fat-burning activity, you can expect your midsection muscles to be lean with time.
With rowing, even for a few minutes a day, you will ignite the metabolic furnace, which will burn all fat deposits in major muscle groups to the ground.
As a result, your toned and strengthened midsection muscles will be what to show for an excellent rowing machine full body workout.
Since engaging your core and strengthening the muscles in your midsection is what a rowing machine does excellently, you want to incorporate rowing into your daily training.
How Long Should You Work Out on a Rowing Machine to Tone Your Core Muscles?
You will row for 30 minutes to tone your core muscles. Rowing for 30 minutes daily on your rowing machine will strengthen your core muscles. Also, this rowing session is sufficient to yield results in your upper and lower body.
If there’s one advantage of working out on a rower, it is delivering a full body workout. That also means your core muscles benefit from your rowing workouts.
The worked core muscles during a rowing session include your abs, obliques, gluteus, and lower back muscles.
Your rowing machine works your core muscles right from the first stage: the catch. The ergometer works your abs and the lower back in this first rowing stroke phase.
What’s even more incredible is working out for only 30 minutes daily yields astonishing fitness levels.
The drive phase also works core muscles; this time, it focuses on your glutes. Also, this stroke phase works your glutes and abs, especially during the body swing emphasis.
Additionally, the finish and recovery phases also work some core muscles. You can engage your core and work its muscles excellently by working out for 30 minutes a day on your ergometer.
So, consider rowing for at least 30 minutes daily to ensure critical core muscles work for an astonishing fitness level.
Does Rowing Also Use Heart Muscles?
Rowing gives you excellent cardio workouts. Rowing on your ergometer uses up to 86% of muscle groups. With more muscles used, more oxygen needs to reach the muscles.
As your heart pumps harder throughout the rowing session, it works its muscles to build endurance.
As a result of rowing on your erg, your heart rate will increase to meet the demand for more oxygen by the worked muscle groups. And that’s how rowing benefits you with cardio workouts.
Rowing doesn’t use your heart muscles directly. But it initiates cardio workouts to benefit your heart muscles. And the result of working on your rowing machine shows your toned body muscles and great cardiovascular health.
Can I Also Lose Weight from a Rowing Machine?
Absolutely yes, you can also lose weight from rowing besides working various muscles such as those in your upper arms and upper bodies like your shoulder muscles. And that’s because rowing boosts calorie burn.
What’s more impressive is that working out on a rowing machine burns the same calories as running while remaining a low-impact exercise.
But you want to reduce your calorie intake to boost the calories expended. And this is how you lose weight while rowing on your erg.
How Many Phases Does a Rowing Stroke Have?
A rowing stroke has 4 phases: catch, drive, finish, and recovery. Each phase has specific muscle groups it uses. So, let’s go over how to perform each phase for a rowing stroke:
It’s the first rowing stroke phase, therefore, your starting position. You will lean forward slightly while bending your knees to do so. Also, you will have your shins vertically placed to the ground and extend your arms to grab the handlebar.
It’s the second phase of the rowing stroke. You will push off the footrests with your legs slightly extended straight and lean back slightly to the vertical position. Of course, you will pull the handle slightly.
It’s the third rowing stroke phase. You will lean slightly back so that you’ve no longer placed your back vertically. Also, you will have your legs fully extended to pull the handle to your lower chest.
It’s the final rowing stroke phase. And it requires you to perform every move but in the reverse order. You will extend your arms, lean forward, and bend your knees to the starting position.
Does Increasing Rowing Intensity Workout Increase the Fitness Level?
Yes, increasing your rowing workout intensity will boost your fitness level. But this is after working out at lower rowing intensities.
You want to work out at moderate intensity when starting your rowing sessions. And that’s because a moderate intensity keeps upper bodies, such as your shoulder blades, engaged while allowing you to hold a conversation.
Since you want to start rowing at a moderate intensity, set your rower’s damper setting to 3 – 5. Once you’ve worked out enough and want to boost your fitness level, you can set the damper to 8 – 10, with 10 being the maximum workout intensity.
But setting your rower at high intensity increases the resistance, and you will use more effort to counter resistance. So, rowing at high intensity means using more effort and building muscle groups.
Therefore, consider working out at high intensity to strengthen muscles for an impressive fitness level.
Does Rowing on an Ergometer Also Trains My Latissimus Dorsi?
Yes, rowing on a rowing machine also works your latissimus dorsi. Often referred to as lats, this muscle connects your upper arm bones to your spine and hips. Usually, pulling the handlebar to your lower chest in the finishing phase of the stroke uses your latissimus dorsi.
Specifically, you will pull the handle with your shoulder blades squeezed together. However, you want to maintain a proper rowing form the entire time to work your lats better. Since rowing machines use your lats, they work your back muscles and strengthen other muscle groups.
I’m sure you already guessed it, but I’m a huge proponent of the rowing machine. I feel it is one of the best all-around pieces of fitness equipment and they are great for home-use.
The rowing machine uses almost every muscle in the body while still giving a great cardiovascular workout! This leads to losing more weight, building more lean muscle, and saving you time!
For more informational articles like this one check out my Rowing Machine Articles section.
I have a great article called Will A Rowing Machine Help Me Lose Weight? which may also interest you.
If this article helped convince you the rowing machine targets enough muscles and you want to buy one, then check out my best home rowing machine picks here.
I hope you enjoyed this article and if you have any questions please leave me a comment below! I love answering your questions so don’t hesitate to ask!
Rowing Machine King Founder and Author.