What are Rowing Machines and What are Their Benefits?


    Are you curious to find out if rowing is a good workout? Well, absolutely! You don’t have to be a competitive rower or an athlete to reap the benefits of rowing. If you haven’t tried it already, it’s about time to get to know the rowing machine and its benefits for your body and fitness goals.

    Rowing machines, also known as ergometers or ergs, use both the upper and lower body on every stroke. In turn, they can help strengthen and tone your muscles and improve your endurance. Also, rowing offers some surprising benefits for your heart and lungs.

    Rowing machines can look intimidating at first, but they are actually easier to use than you might think. Whether you’re familiarizing yourself with different gym equipment, or are considering adding one for your home gym, here are some details about the rowing machine and its benefits for your body.

    What is a Rowing Machine?

    A woman using a rowing machine at the gym

    A rowing machine is a piece of equipment that mimics the rowing of a boat. The resistance of the “water” builds your strength and increases your heart rate. It sounds simple, but if you step on a rower, you will realize the intense workout it can offer.

    Unlike running and other high-impact exercises, it offers a low-impact workout that is easy on your joints, making it ideal for anyone who would like to exercise, especially beginners and those who are recovering from an injury.

    The movement you make when rowing is not always intuitive, but it’s actually pretty simple once you dial it in. When you start from the bottom of a stroke, you push out to extend the legs. Hinge your core by leaning back, then use your arms to row the handle towards your chest while pulling your elbows back. Then, reverse this motion to repeat the starting position. Extend your arms forward, make your core lean forward while maintaining a flat back, then bend your legs. To make it easier, remember this while rowing: legs, core, arms, arms, core legs.

    Benefits of a Rowing Machine

    People in the gym exercising using rowing machines

    What can you get out of working out using a rowing machine? Here’s what makes it a good workout and some of the benefits you can expect:

    1. It’s a total body workout.

    The biggest misconception about rowing workouts is that it’s an exercise only for the upper body. In reality, it’s a full-body workout. It has a unique ability to target 85% of the body’s muscles as you try to perform the full movement or stroke properly. The motions you do while using a rowing machine workout include:

    • Pushing yourself backward with the legs
    • Using your core to lean your body backward
    • Using your arms to pull the handle in towards your chest

    So, for every stroke, you will be using all the major muscle groups.

    Rowing targets your calves, quadriceps, and glutes, and it can also strengthen your upper body muscles, including your arms, pecs, obliques, and abdominal muscles. The leg muscles are engaged during the drive part of the stroke, or when pushing off the foot stretcher.

    2. It involves cardio and strength training.

    Unlike other cardio exercise options, the rowing machine can bring strength and a cardio workout simultaneously. Rowing workouts can help you build more muscle by raising resistance levels, whereas treadmills, elliptical machines, and spinning bikes offer limited benefits for muscle building. With a rowing machine, you get a cardio workout, but you’re also making moves similar to lifting big, heavy weights. Rowing can allow you to make similar movement patterns to leg presses, deadlifts, seated rows, and even calf raises whenever you push the leg away from the platform.

    3. It’s a low-impact workout.

    Rowing is the ultimate low-impact exercise. Unlike running or jumping, it can burn serious calories without putting too much stress on your joints. With rowing, you can work at the highest intensity with the lowest impact on your body.

    Because you are sitting and your feet don’t hit the ground, your feet, knees, and back don’t need to absorb shock the same way as jumping or running. When you run or jump on hard surfaces, it can cause wear on your joints, which can cause painful stress fractures in the long run.

    Rowing gives a lower injury risk, and because of that, you can complete rowing workouts at a high intensity without much wear and tear on your joints. However, you must have the proper posture and form to prevent strain on your wrists, lower back, and knees.

    4. It’s a time-efficient workout.

    Rowing is an efficient way to burn calories. It’s the perfect machine to do your workout on if you’re pressed for time or want to do a short, high-intensity exercise. You can feel the exertion for the first few strokes and achieve a quality training session in as little as 15-20 minutes. Because this is a full-body workout, your body will be challenged, and you may feel the burn sooner than you expect. As a result, it provides quicker results, as you need to spend less time getting the same fitness benefits on the treadmill or the bike.

    You can even get the most out of your workout, even if you only have 15 minutes to spare. Make sure you are working consistently at about 80% of your maximum intensity over 15 minutes if you want to lose fat. If you want to burn more calories, pair 20 seconds of 100% maximum effort rowing with 10 seconds of rest for the entire 15 minutes.

    5. It’s good for all fitness levels.

    Rowing is for everybody, and everybody can use a rowing machine. It’s safe for virtually everyone and will meet you where you are with your fitness level. It’s because you can adjust the resistance level on most rowing machines, making it suitable for beginners, seniors, and seasoned gym-goers alike. Even those people with low vision can use a rowing machine with ease.

    6. It’s versatile.

    There are benefits to both HIIT (high-intensity interval training) and LISS (low-intensity stead-state training). And with a rowing machine, you can do HIIT and LISS workouts. A large portion of the training you can get with a rowing machine is steady-state for building aerobic capacity, but you can also add high-intensity bursts when you need to build up strength and endurance.

    You can tweak the settings on the machine to fit your ability. For beginners, it’s not advisable to crank up the resistance too early. Instead, increase in steady increments to protect your body. You can always increase the intensity as you improve.

    7. It strengthens the core.

    A rowing machine can help you strengthen your core muscles in the abdomen, hips, lower back, and pelvis. Rowing can even equate to tummy exercises and a bum workout in one. Your core crunches and relaxes as you glide along the machine while rowing, so it’s like doing a mini sit-up in every stroke. The movement as you shoot the seat backward works the glutes and the lower body.

    8. It won’t aggravate sore muscles.

    If you want to lose body fat with regular cardio and strength training, but muscle soreness always comes right after, rowing can be your alternative workout option. It allows you to raise your heart rate more weekly without getting too sore.

    9. It can benefit your heart and lungs.

    Rowing is partly a cardio exercise, which helps strengthen your cardiovascular system. Since it can be intense, your heart has to work harder to transport more blood to your body, improving heart strength. This will benefit everyone, especially people who could be at risk for heart disease, and people who are sedentary and need to give their bodies a boost.

    10. It can help you build better posture.

    If done correctly, rowing can help improve your posture. It requires you to get into an upright position as you pull, holding a good posture throughout the rowing stroke and strengthening your postural position throughout the workout. Once you practice rowing regularly, your muscle memory will reinforce good posture to keep your body upright throughout the rest of the day. 

    A rowing machine is a great tool to engage the body’s posterior chain. Working it out is essential for balancing your muscle strength, correcting bad posture, and reducing the risk of injury – which are all common in people with a sedentary lifestyle.

    11. It can be good for your mental health.

    There’s a mind and body connection when it comes to rowing. While you might find the most relaxing and calming benefits of rowing in the water, you can still achieve them indoors. The smooth and gliding motion you create on the rowing machine, and the repetitive movements allow your mind to go auto-pilot. The rhythm of the stroke can be calming, and if you row at a lower and slower pace, it becomes meditative. A gentle row can have the same calming-to-the-mind benefits as a leisurely walk.

    12. It can improve your grip strength.

    By holding the handle and pulling on it, you are strengthening your grip, as well as forearm and wrist strength with every stroke. According to research, grip strength is a valuable indicator of good health in older people. Grip strength is also associated with better upper limb function, bone mineral density, and overall strength and health. 

    13. It builds endurance and power.

    The combination of cardio and strength training in rowing can help build both endurance and power. In rowing properly, you need to use your arm muscles to row and your leg muscles to propel your body back – both of which require power. And if you sustain this activity, it will help increase your cardiovascular and muscular endurance.

    14. It’s a great alternative to the treadmill and the elliptical.

    Regarding exercise machines at the gym, rowing machines are often overlooked. However, you may change your mind about it when you compare it to other exercise machines, like the elliptical or the treadmill. The treadmill only focuses on the lower body. The rowing machine and the elliptical both work the upper and lower half of the body, but the rowing machine needs more effort in your upper body and abdominal muscles with each stroke.

    15. It’s easy to add as home workout equipment.

    A weight rack setup or a treadmill can take up quite a bit of space in your home gym, primarily if you use your living room as your workout space also. Many rowing machines fold up so you can keep them away when not in use, so they won’t take up too much space in your house.  


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