The Science Behind Rowing Machines

Rowing machines offer a tonne of health benefits, but they rarely get the recognition they deserve. If you are going to do a cardio workout then you’re more likely to opt for the treadmill or cross trainer, whilst if you’re after a strength workout you’ll head over to the free weights or weight machines.

Either way, your local gym rowing machines end up gathering dust because so many people don’t bother to use them or don’t know how to use them. Are you curious to know what the rowing machine does? Do you want to know how adding rowing to your exercise regime could really benefit you, and which muscles you’ll be working during your rowing exercise? Read on to find out more!

Full Body Workout

The rowing machine utilises muscles from both the top and bottom parts of your body. Isolation exercises can be good if you want to concentrate on a specific muscle set, but full body exercises and motions which use multiple muscle groups tend to be more effective for overall fitness and weight loss.

The downside to the rowing machine is that you can’t really focus on the top or bottom half of your body specifically, but the upside is that you will be able to find and condition your entire body!

So which muscles will the rowing machine work on? Here is a list of the muscles which will be utilised when you use a rowing machine.

Healthy Heart

Rowing is a form of cardiovascular exercise which means it helps keep your heart strong and healthy! Cardio workouts are good for weight loss, better circulation, improved health, and general fitness.

Leg Muscles

  • Quadriceps
  • Gluteus Maximus
  • Hamstrings

The leg muscles listed above, i.e. the glutes, quadriceps and hamstrings, basically just means that the rowing machine engages your butt and the front and back of your thighs. The rowing machine can tone and condition these muscles to give you a firm and toned butt and shapely, powerful thighs without putting extra pressure on your knees or joints

Core Muscles

  • Erector Spinae
  • Obliques
  • Abs

When people think of the ‘core’ they normally go straight for the stomach, but the core can also involve the lower back and part of the spine. This part of your body can help improve your balance, it comes in handy for a variety of exercises and, if you work on this part of your body, you can tone your stomach and strengthen your spine for improved posture and rock hard abs!

Back Muscles

  • Latissimus Dorsi
  • Trapezoid
  • Rhomboids

The back is often neglected when it comes to working out because, unlike the butt, stomach and thighs, losing weight, conditioning and strengthening the back isn’t high on many people’s list of priorities.

However, strengthening your back is crucial for maintaining good body posture and preventing back pain in later life. Our backs are often unintentionally strained by bags, bad posture and sedentary lifestyles, so it’s a good idea to counteract this by strengthening your back, improving your posture and building your overall strength. It’s also a good way to combat back fat!

Arm Muscles

  • Deltoids
  • Triceps
  • Biceps
  • Wrists

You may think that weightlifting is the only way to exercise your arms, but rowing gives you a strength workout and a cardio workout at the same time! The rowing motion utilises your triceps, biceps and deltroids and it can help promote muscle growth and strength conditioning on the upper half of your body.

So Many Muscles

As you can see, the rowing machine utilises many different muscles at the same time and it targets some muscles which are often neglected by other exercise machines. If you are looking for an overall full body workout which can condition your arms, legs, core and back at the same time then the rowing machine is a good choice, but how does it actually work in practice? Read on to find out!

Rowing Motion

The rowing motion utilises different muscles depending on which part of the sequence you do. Read on to see which muscles are used during which parts of the exercise and find out how effective rowing really is.

The ‘catch’

The catch i.e. the first motion you will perform where you push yourself forward to grab the handle bar will use your hamstrings, muscles around your spine known as erector spinae, and your gastrocnemius & soleus  (i.e. your calf muscles).

‘The Start of the Drive’

The beginning of the drive, i.e. the part where you start pulling the handle bar back, utilises your erector spinae, your hamstrings, the, your rhomboids (located in the upper back and used your retraction), and the quadriceps.

The Drive

The drive, I.e. the main part of the exercise where you have pulled yourself back completely and your legs and arms are straight, utilises the largest amount of muscles during the sequences. These muscles include the rectus abdominous, the triceps, pectoralis major, wrist extensions, and the glutes.


The rowing machine utilises many different muscles and provides you with a low-impact full-body workout which tones and conditions your muscles, promotes weight loss and can even help you train for real life rowing.



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