5 Rowing Machine Benefits and How to Use It

by James William
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Whether you’re a beginner or a seasoned gym-goer, rowing machines can provide a variety of workouts. They can be used to perform high-intensity interval training (HIIT) or for endurance-building cardio sessions.

To start a rowing session, slide your feet into the foot pads and grab onto the handle. Pull the handle in towards your body, to the 11 o’clock position, to move into the catch position.

1. Strength

The combination of full-body strength and cardio in a low-impact workout makes rowing a great addition to any fitness routine. It burns calories and strengthens muscles, especially those in the back, shoulders and legs. It also helps improve posture by engaging the core muscles. It is a good option for people with joint pain because it doesn’t place any stress on the joints like running does.

One of the most common mistakes when using a rowing machine is failing to get into the right position at the beginning of the drive stroke. This leaves a lot of power on the table. Ideally, you want to start pulling as your legs reach the end of the lean. Otherwise, you risk having a choppy stroke that will not engage all of the muscles required for this movement.

Another mistake is not finishing in the recovery position. In this position, you will do the same drive movements but in reverse: extend the arms, hinge the hips and bring your torso over your legs, then bend your knees.

2. Flexibility

Rowing is an exercise that can challenge the whole body, especially for those new to fitness. But it can also be a good way to build strength and endurance while easing the load on joints and other sensitive areas like the back and knees.

It may look complicated at first, but the basic stroke is fairly easy to learn and can be used at nearly any resistance level. “You drive your legs, then swing your hips and pull your arms,” Hansen says. It’s important to keep a secure grip on the handle, but you shouldn’t squeeze it. Too much pressure can cause forearm burnout and a loss of efficiency, which will take away from your workout.

Unlike hefty treadmills and elliptical machines, most home rowers are small enough to fold up under the bed or in a closet for storage. This flexibility makes them a great addition to any workout routine, whether you’re trying to improve your health or up your cardio game. Just be sure to spend some time working out with a coach so you can learn proper form and get the most out of your workout.

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3. Endurance

Rowing is an excellent choice for people looking to build aerobic endurance and muscle strength. A typical 30-minute workout burns 210 to 294 calories, depending on your weight and the intensity of your session.

As a full-body exercise, rowing targets major muscle groups, including the legs, core and back. It also helps with posture, as it strengthens the posterior chain of the body — the muscles on the back side. “It’s a great cross-training option for anyone looking to add strength without the load on joints,” Hansen says.

Unlike treadmills and other types of cardio equipment, which make a lot of noise, the whir of the rowing machine can be meditative, especially when done in a group or solo. The repetition of the motion also provides a sense of progress, which is a big benefit for many exercisers. However, rowing can be challenging for the joints, and it is important to use proper form and listen to your body. People with joint issues should always check with their doctor before using any equipment. In addition, if you are a beginner to exercise or a rowing veteran, starting your workout with a warm-up on the machine can help prevent injury.

4. Muscle Toning

Rowing is a full-body cardio workout that tones major muscle groups including the chest, back, shoulders, quads, hips, and hamstrings. In addition, the seated position reduces the impact on your joints that can occur with other aerobic exercise like jogging or running, making it ideal for people with chronic health conditions that limit their cardiovascular and joint mobility.

When done correctly, a rowing workout burns 377 calories per 30 minutes of moderate activity, falling just short of vigorous exertion. Combining rowing with high-intensity interval training can provide an excellent way to torch calories and build strength at the same time, helping you achieve your fitness goals faster.

Many people make rowing mistakes that can lead to injury and decrease the effectiveness of the workout. For example, rushing through the catch and not bracing the core or engaging the lats can create tension in the shoulder muscles and put unnecessary pressure on the back. The drive, which is accomplished by pivoting from the hips and swinging the arms open, should also be done with the core engaged to avoid adding unnecessary movement to the lower body.

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5. Weight Loss

In addition to toning muscles, rowing machine workouts burn tons of calories. When done at high intensities, this workout can be as effective at burning calories as a jog, but without the wear and tear on the knees, back, or joints.

Rowing is also a great way to tone and strengthen the shoulders, chest, biceps, and triceps. Rowing machines are particularly useful for working the posterior chain of muscles, which is essential for good posture and for preventing lower back pain.

To use a rowing machine correctly, you need to know the stroke sequence and the correct positions. Begin in the catch position, with your legs straights and torso leaning forward, then copy the drive movement by extending your arms, hinging your hips and pulling the handle toward your torso. Return to the catch position and repeat the stroke sequence. This is the only way to get the full rowing machine benefits. A clumsy rowing workout can be very dangerous to your body. This is why it’s so important to learn the proper technique from a knowledgeable instructor.

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