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Which Muscles Do Rowing Machines Work?

This Rowing Machine Can Help You Get an Effective, Full-Body Workout From the Comfort of Your Own Home

Women Rowing

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Rowing machines and ergometers are common training tools for competitive rowers. It's not feasible to always practice on the water, and rowing machines allow athletes to work on the form and power of their strokes.

But these strength and conditioning machines aren't reserved for elite athletes only; you might have also seen them at your local gym. If you've walked by them without a second glance on your way to the treadmill for cardio or weights section for strength training, you might be missing out on an incredible workout opportunity. Exercising on a rowing machine could combine the cardio and strength training workouts you want into one fluid motion.

Before you get started on your new rowing machine workout routine, you might be wondering which muscles are strengthened during a rowing workout. Or you might be curious about the proper form and technique for using a rowing machine. After all, they could look quite intimidating if you've never tried them before. By the end of this article, you might be so interested in trying a rowing machine workout that you could even be wondering where you can buy a rowing machine for yourself. Keep reading as we dive into all of these topics.

Rowing Machines Let You Have a Full-Body Workout


Rowing machines target more muscles than you might realize and could become one of your favorite forms of exercise.

"With each stroke, pretty much every part of the body is used," Stella Lucia Volpe, an exercise physiologist and the head of the Department of Human Nutrition, Foods, and Exercise at Virginia Tech University explained to Harper's Bazaar. "A big part of rowing is core strength," she says. "People think it's all arms, but rowing is much more legs and core."

Rowing machines are such an effective conditioning and cardiovascular workout that they've even been recommended to astronauts who might lose muscle mass while in zero gravity on missions.

In fact, one 2008 study by the English Institute of Sport found that rowing machines might use up to 86 percent of your body's muscles. Different muscles are activated during the various parts of the rowing stroke. The American Fitness Professionals Association (AFPA) indicates that a rowing stroke comprises 65 to 75 percent of leg activity and 25 to 35 percent of upper-body activity.

"Rowing has both an aerobic aspect to it and also a strength aspect," Chris Dempers, exercise physiologist and department manager Department Manager Health and Fitness Cleveland Clinic Martin Health, explained in an interview with the Cleveland Clinic. "You can adjust the tension of the machine for a heavier pull, and you're still driving through your legs."

"Rowing is a full-body exercise, and it keeps the heart rate elevated," Garrett Roberts, a personal trainer, an exercise physiologist, and the founder of GoRow Studios in Hoboken, New Jersey, explained to Harper's Bazaar. "But then it's leg press after leg press and row after row, so there's a huge strength-training component to it, too."

There are four main parts of the rowing stroke. Dempers explained to Cleveland Clinic that maintaining proper form is essential for avoiding injury.

The Catch

The catch is essentially the setup stage of the rowing stroke, where the seat is close to the front of the machine, and you get into proper positioning. Grab onto the handlebar and bend your knees up close to your chest, ensuring that your shins are vertical. Your arms should be extended straight and your torso should be hinged slightly toward the front of the machine, with your shoulders over your hips. This part of the exercise could engage your triceps, hamstrings, quads, calves, and back muscles to hold you in the proper starting positioning.

The Drive

During the drive, your legs go from bent to fully extended with a powerful push back against the machine. As your arms pass over your knees, engage your core and hinge your hips slightly backward as you begin to pull in the handlebar. This part of the stroke activates your leg muscles—such as your hamstrings, glutes, and calves—for the power of your leg extension. It also activates the core and back as your torso tilts backward, as well as your biceps to pull the handlebar towards your body.

The Finish

You pull the handlebar in toward your sternum and hinge your hips and engage your core during the finish. "You should reach the point where your legs are extended, you're leaning slightly back and your arms [are] contracted into your chest," Dempers told the Cleveland Clinic. This part of the stroke could strengthen your core because it works to keep your body stabilized in a tilted position. It might also engage your arm muscles, such as your biceps, as you pull the handlebar towards your body.

The Recovery

The recovery is essentially the first three steps in reverse, as you go from fully extended and return to the catch position. Slow and controlled is the name of the game. First, extend your arms out in front of you, then tilt your torso slightly forward. Once the handlebar passes over your knees, start to bend your knees and return to the catch position. "It should be one fluid motion from start to finish," Dempers explained to the Cleveland Clinic. "And then you repeat the motion for as long as you want your workout to be." Since the recovery is a reverse of the previous steps done in a slow and controlled manner, it could also activate the muscle groups used before, including your core, arms, hamstring, glutes, and calves.

Additionally, because rowing is not a weight-bearing exercise, it might be easier on your joints than more traditional forms of cardio, like running. "Because it's a resistance exercise done in a seated position, you're not putting as much wear and tear on your back and knees," Dempers said to the Cleveland Clinic. Rowing could present an effective workout for those with previous injuries or joint pain.

Can I Row From the Comfort of My Home?


You could get an effective, full-body conditioning and cardio workout from the comfort of your home with the Hydrow Rower. It has a sleek design that measures 86 inches long by 25 inches wide and 47 inches tall. If you live in an apartment or only have a small space for working out, this could present a better fit than bulkier workout equipment like treadmills. In fact, with Hydrow's upright storage conversion kit, you can even store the Hydrow vertically.

The seat glides smoothly through your drive with a 10-roller system and precisely placed cushions for added comfort. The ergonomically designed handle is easy to hold no matter the duration of your workout. Its unique drag mechanism is electromagnetic and computer-controlled to provide a realistic feel of rowing through the water. Pair their real-feel drag technology with the 22-inch high-definition touchscreen and speakers, and enjoy beautiful river views while you row.

Click here to visit the Hydrow Shop and see all the available packages.

Additionally, you'll spend $38 per month for the Hydrow membership, which delivers the workouts to your machine or the mobile app. This comes with an unlimited number of member profiles, allowing you and everyone in your family to access live or on-demand instructor-led workouts on your Hydrow's 22-inch screen. The membership also lets you track your own progress individually.

What makes the Hydrow experience so unique is not only its intuitive technology and state-of-the-art design, its incredible classes led by experienced athletes, which you can access at your convenience. Gone are the days of rushing to sign up for that exclusive spin class, or organizing your schedule around that inconvenient workout group. With a Hydrow membership, you'll have access to a community of like-minded individuals, ready to motivate and encourage you to reach your goals.

Are you looking for an intense workout? Look no further. The Hydrow instructors won't limit you to the rower. They'll also let you get down on the mat for workouts that combine yoga, strength training, and Pilates with the full-body rowing experience—all while they guide you through scenic tours of beautiful landscapes projected on your screen.

Are you ready to row your way to the body of your dreams? Click here to visit the Hydrow Shop now.

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