Rowing Machine Benefits – Build Muscle, Burn Fat, and Increase Fitness

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You’ve probably seen them in the gym, and strangely there is often no queue to use them. This shows how many people are missing out on the huge number of rowing machine benefits. They will help you build muscle, burn fat and increase fitness. A growing number of people are investing in a rowing machine to use at home, if that is the case for you then this guide will help you get the most from it.

The aim of this article is to share some of these health and fitness benefits, highlight some common mistakes, and give some hints the correct form and technique when using one.

 Rowing machine benefits

 Easy to get started with

This really is a simple exercise machine to master. Therefore suitable for people just starting out on the road to increasing their fitness. When using it for the first few times, aim to start at a low resistance for 5 minutes. Allowing your body to get accustomed to the movements involved. Once the movement becomes more familiar then move on to higher resistance and exercise for longer with greater intensity. Form and technique are key with this machine. Later on in this article we elaborate on good form and technique.

 A whole body work out

One the most significant rowing machine benefits is that it works out the whole body, engaging major muscle groups. This is an advantage over similar cardio machines such as treadmills when aiming for a general work out. This is because it engages the upper body and not just the legs.

Rowers exercise the shoulders, the upper back, and the lower back. The benefits of a stronger back and shoulders include posture improvements and back pain reduction. Rowing machines also provide a good workout for your biceps, pecs, and abs, helping you develop a stronger core. By maintaining a strong grip on the handle, you’ll also develop stronger hands and wrists.

Rowing is a fantastic lower body work out. The major leg muscles involved are your quads in the upper front of the thighs. The calves and glutes (buttocks) also get a great work out. Working out the lower body burns calories at a fast rate because of the size of the muscles that are used. Not only improving muscle strength and tone, rowing machine resistance training also focuses on flexibility and balance improvements.

 You can vary intensity

As you are in control of the pace of the machine you are able to easily control and vary the intensity of your work out. This can be done by varying the resistance of the machine and the pace at which you row.

This means this a machine that can provide a basis for High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT). This basically means mixing high intensity bursts with periods of lower intensity. This is a really effective and efficient way to train. It improves strength and endurance, which we will cover as we go through this article.

It’s important to build up to high levels of intensity gradually over time rather than when you are starting out. You do require a base level of fitness before getting started.

 Burns calories and therefore fat

At a level where you are able to work out at high intensity and start carrying out interval training on this machine you will burn calories at a tremendously high rate. This means calories burnt really ratchet up, and this can really help weight loss (as long as your diet permits).

The fact that it engages all of the major muscle groups is one reason that it burns a lot of calories. When used at a high resistance it can have a similar effect to weight lifting. Creating micro-tears in muscles that have to be repaired after your routine has finished. Such repair requires energy and therefore calories, so you burn more than when you are at rest.

Another way it can burn calories after you finish exercising is through the EPOC effect (Exercise Post Oxygen Consumption). EPOC is where the body replaces the oxygen debt created by intense workouts. Working out at high intensity also results in energy being supplied from stores in the muscles which need to be replenished after training stops. This creates waste product which the muscles must clear after exercise. Oxygen and energy store replenishment, plus clearing of waste products all require greater calories than a body at rest.

We should point out that healthy diet is essential in order to lose weight. Exercise will not assist you in the gains you are looking for without controlling the amount and types of food that you consume.

 Protects joints and helps injury prevention and recovery

This is one of the rowing machine benefits that separates them from other pieces of fitness equipment.  Rowing machines are impact free, a major advantage over treadmills. The smooth motion means they are kind to your joints, especially your knees and hips. They are great for people that currently suffer with joint problems or that are recovering from injury. For people that do not have current issues with knees and hips, using a rowing machine can prevent issues from arising.

 Boost cardiovascular fitness and increase endurance

Rowing machine work outs lasting for an extended period of time are good for your heart. It works harder to pump blood around your body more efficiently, enabling it to get more oxygen to muscles. The heart is like any other muscle, it will adapt to greater use and grow stronger.

Your lungs will also become more efficient at taking in oxygen as they adapt to the requirement to do so. Interval training will help increase your VO2 max, which is the maximum amount of oxygen your body is able to consume during exercise.

Muscle endurance will improve as you train at greater intensity for longer periods. Your body becomes used to relying on energy stored in your muscles, and clearing waste products from your system.

 Build muscle strength

Using a rowing machine as an alternative to resistance training as a way of strengthening muscles or as a way of supplementing other strength gaining routines.

When you increase the resistance of the machine your body needs to work harder to achieve the same speed. Therefore leading to gains in strength in a similar fashion to weight training.

It can also be used as a way to recover from weight training sessions for people that carry out a lot of resistance work. By using it at a low resistance and intensity it will stretch out tired muscles, and increase blood flow. Therefore improving recovery time, eventually allowing more weight training sessions to carried out.


As you control the speed directly by the movements of your own body this is a safe machine to use. With other machines – such as treadmills – that continue to move without your stimulus, you can run the risk of having difficulty stopping if you are tired or hurt, which in turn can lead to trips and falls.

 Boosts basal metabolic rate (BMR)

We mentioned earlier rowing machine work outs will have an impact on some of the bodies energy systems. It is a good way to build lean muscle. This leads to an increase in BMR which relates to the number of calories that you burn at rest, helping weight loss.

 As well as these rowing machine benefits to health and fitness, there are also practical rowing machine benefits.

  • They can be compact and therefore take up little space, meaning they are ideal for those wanting to work out at home
  • Maintenance is simple and easy, most will come with a warranty and a guide book on how to look after them and fix minor issues

 Good rowing machine form & technique

Check out this video for a basic guide:

Wikihow have a great article on rowing machine technique, check out the link below:

Wikihow – How to row on a rowing machine


Rowing machine workouts – common mistakes to avoid

 Not checking (and changing) the damper setting

The damper setting is normally easy to find, often a lever by the side of a flywheel. Similar to gears on a bike you can determine the level of resistance and therefore the level of exertion required to undertake the rowing action.

If the resistance setting is too high it will exhaust your muscles too early in the work out. Therefore start out at a setting that is not too demanding. Building up resistance over time as you become fitter and more accustomed to the machine.

 Going too fast or hitting your backside on your heels

If you are going too quickly you may be bumping into your heels and forcing your body forward uncontrollably. This is poor technique. You are expending too much energy on the movement forward rather than the backward stroke.

The recovery stroke should be smooth and relaxed with the effort focused on the pull stroke with a ratio of a 1:2 count.

 Using arms only to row

Putting too much strain on your back, arms and shoulders is bad for you and can cause injury.

You should be generating around 60% of your power from your legs with 20% coming from your core and 20 % from your upper body. Focus on the power from each stroke coming from pushing against the panel where your feet are strapped.

Hunching back during the stroke

If you often have poor posture in other areas of your life there is a fair chance you will bring it onto the rowing machine with you. This means your technique will be poor. You increase chance of injury and do not get the most from your work out.

Sit upright with your back straight. Concentrate on engaging your core muscles with your shoulders relaxed and pulled down and your spine in neutral.

 Using body parts in the wrong order

There is a three-step process to a rowing stroke. Performing these steps out of order can place an unnecessary strain on your body.

First push off with your legs. Then pivot backwards at the hips so your shoulders pass behind your pelvis. Finally pull the arms into your chest just below the sternum. Once your hands are at your chest reverse back through the sequence to the starting position.

Thanks for making it this far!

We hope you have found this article helpful. That we have managed to shed a little light on how a rowing machine benefits your health and fitness, and you start you utilise them as part of a successful exercise routine that helps you meet all you training goals.

P.s. if you liked this article, please like or share it. So others who may also enjoy it, can find it too.

 Some great further info

British Rowing – Rowing machine technique


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