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How Does Rowing Change Your Body? 10 Benefits and How to Row the Right Way

 Written by 

Julien Raby

 Last updated on 

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If you’re new to rowing, you might wonder, “How does rowing change your body?” If you’re used to other forms of exercise, you might want to become more familiar with the full-body benefits of rowing workouts.

We’re going to answer that question for you today. We’ll offer a detailed explanation of how your body changes (for the better!) when you row and how you can get optimum results from the exercise. Check it out below!

An athlete practicing rowing to change his body
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Can Rowing Change Your Body Shape?

Let’s start with the nitty-gritty: Will the shape of your body change as you row?

In essence, your body shape will change if you continuously row. Because it works specific muscle groups, it effectively tones those areas. You’ll likely achieve a strong, lean look in the arms, legs, and core.

If you’re looking for weight loss, you can likely achieve it with rowing. Increased muscle mass usually translates to more calories burned and decreased fat. With time, it can transform how your body looks along with your endurance and mental stamina for cardio workouts.

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10 Body-Improving Benefits of Rowing

Let’s hone in on some of the best benefits of hitting the rowing machines each week. This will give you a better idea of how completely your body can change with this aerobic exercise.

1. A Noticeably Stronger Core

Your core muscles will start to strengthen from the first day. You must keep your abdominal muscles tight and engaged as you pull, so you’ll instantly be working on those abs.

The rowing exercise starts with your legs as you push against the machine foot holds. As you lean back and pull with your arms, your abdominals engage to effectively transfer momentum from your legs to your arms and back. It’s an excellent core workout!

This core engagement makes it possible for rowing to be a full-body exercise. So if you need a stronger core, rowing is a great place to start!

2. Strength and Definition in Arm and Back Muscles

You’ll notice changes to your upper body–particularly your upper arms, upper back, and shoulders–within the first couple weeks of rowing. If you’re familiar with the muscle-toning power of bent-over rows, you understand what rowing can do for you.

Remember that rowing is a cardio exercise, and you’re typically using light resistance and high repetition. So you won’t get ripped from rowing, but you’ll build lean, toned muscle in your arms, back, and shoulders.

3. Leg Strength and Toning

Since a row stroke starts by engaging your legs, it makes sense that you’ll grow stronger and more toned in this area. The benefits of rowing for leg muscles are similar to a squat, deadlift, or leg press.

Again, you’re using low resistance and high reps here, so you likely won’t gain massive muscle. But if you stick with it, you’ll grow stronger, build endurance, and see a visible change in the shape and definition of your legs.

4. Improved Posture (and Less Back Pain)

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A good rowing machine workout could be precisely what you need for better posture and less back pain. You must properly align your body upright for proper rowing form. It trains your back and neck muscles to have good posture, which can translate into everyday life.

Often, back pain is attributed to poor posture, especially for those who sit hunched over a computer all day for work. This workout can support back muscle memory, strengthening your posture in and out of the rowing workout.  

5. A Better Butt

Looking for firm thighs and a better butt? Look no further. In a matter of weeks, you can see better strength and definition in your gluteals. The movements in this exercise routine engage your glutes just as they do your legs, core, and arms.

You’ll get similar benefits as squats and leg presses, but without the heavy weights. So you might not get a bigger butt, but you’ll lose some of that cellulite that makes the sit muscles appear more jiggly than firm. 

6. Fat Loss

If you combine a healthy diet with your rowing exercise, you’ll definitely see changes in body weight. Building lean muscle is a great way to target fat and boost your resting metabolism, so you can still burn calories when you’re not working out.

Remember that this is a form of cardio exercise, so the body shape benefits you gain will be similar to running or swimming rather than weight lifting. You’ll burn fewer metabolic calories than you would by weight lifting. But if you work up a good intensity for weight loss, you’ll see a difference.

7. Heart Health and Endurance

With heart disease being the number one killer of U.S. adults, a more efficient heart through aerobic fitness is a must. Rowing workouts are a great source of cardio fitness to help fight off major illnesses like coronary heart disease.

Rowing can strengthen cardiovascular health by keeping your heart rate up and training it to pump harder and increase blood circulation. This can naturally break up blockages and create a more efficient heart to prevent future heart and blood flow problems.

A good cardiovascular workout should be on the schedule for everyone, and rowing workouts can do the trick.

8. Mental Energy

Along with physical fitness, you’ll likely also notice mental benefits. Regular workouts, including those that use a rowing machine, can positively affect your mental health.

This cardiovascular activity can translate into various brain-related benefits, including reduced stress, anxiety, and depression. Boosting the blood flow to the brain can also increase energy, self-confidence, memory, focus, and endurance. 

9. Built-up Endurance

If you need a good low-impact activity to build your endurance, rowing is one of the most beneficial workouts you can choose. It gives your entire body a facelift with just one cardio machine.

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The key is lower resistance and higher repetition. You can get an intense 20-minute HIIT workout, including a row machine, or row consistently for 30 minutes or more.

Cardiovascular fitness is a great way to increase your endurance in every exercise, from outdoor workouts to indoor routines. Because it’s a full-body workout with many additional benefits, the body will become stronger and able to take on more.

10. Faster Metabolism

Get the faster metabolism you crave with a few rowing strokes a day. Anyone can get a faster metabolism by prioritizing their health. Along with getting adequate sleep, eating more protein, and drinking more water, regular rowing workouts can kick your metabolism into gear.

It makes the burn of fat to use as energy a more efficient process in the body, so you can eat more while still keeping your figure.

How to Get the Best Results from Rowing

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If you want to see those body changes from regular rowing workouts, we can help. Here are some tips for a more effective rowing machine workout.

Check the Machine Settings

Set up the machine correctly for best results. Set the seat at a comfortable position for your legs, so you can get a full extension of your legs and arms as you pull.

Also, check the damper settings. Setting the dampers too low will give too little resistance, and too high will make it difficult to get in the reps.

The general recommendation is to set the dampers between 3 and 5, but you can adjust these settings as you become familiar with the machine and know the desired results.

Notice Your Posture

Slouching and failing to engage your core will almost certainly result in injury. The rowing machine is designed to engage your entire body, and failing to involve your core will cause your arms or legs to overcompensate. You’ll not only fail to get the desired results, but you could also sustain an overuse injury.

Don’t Forget to Use Your Legs!

You must use your legs to engage the row machine, but ensure you’re consciously allowing your legs to engage. Yes, you’ll be using your arms to pull, but your legs set the stage.

Consciously think about using your leg muscles as you position your body. It will enable the momentum of the rowing machine to affect the entire body. It will give you better results and prevent injury.

Set Time or Distance Goals

Set goals to improve your performance; don’t just row for the sake of rowing. You might develop a goal to row for a certain amount of time each day. Or, if your row machine measures distance, use that to guide your daily rowing efforts.

You could also set goals that increase the resistance alongside your time and distance goals. Then, as you grow stronger, you’ll achieve a more efficient workout from a 5-mile row or 30-minute session.

FAQs About How Rowing Changes the Body

You may have a few more questions about rowing and how it can help your body. Let’s see if we can answer a few of them now.

How Long Does It Take to See Results from Rowing?

You’ll likely notice some change to your body within a week or two of rowing daily. However, don’t expect to develop that lean, muscular body we’ve talked about overnight. Most people see a significant difference after about three months of rowing consistently.
This time frame depends on your fitness level and the intensity and volume at which you incorporate rowing into your workout routine.

Can You Get Toned from Only Rowing?

It’s a full-body workout, so yes, you can see definition from rowing. We recommend setting goals for the volume and intensity of your rowing machine workouts to see the best results.

Is Rowing Good for Belly Fat?

Yes! The exercise tends to slim down your entire body, building up muscle instead. As a core-intensive workout, it targets the muscles in your belly. As these muscles grow and become more efficient, you’ll burn more fat and calories, resulting in a trimmer middle.

Is 20 Minutes of Rowing Enough to Change Your Body?

Yes, 20 minutes is a decent amount of time to row. Science indicates that 20 minutes minimum of cardio workout is optimal for releasing oxytocin and making you feel great after a workout.
Of course, doubling your workout will likely offer faster results, but if you only have 20 minutes to spare, rowing that whole time is a great option.

How Often Should You Row to See Body Changes?

Treat rowing as your cardio exercise for the week. That means you should be rowing between four and six times every week and doing strength training the rest of the week.
You could also hop on the rowing machine every day and get 15-20 minutes of rowing in before you start your strength training exercises for the day. It’s an excellent way to warm up your entire body and get your muscles limber for your next lift.  

Is Rowing Healthier Than Running?

It’s hard to say if rowing is healthier than running because both offer excellent cardiovascular health benefits. However, rowing is low-impact cardio, while running is high-impact. Therefore, it can be much better for people with joint issues or old injuries.
Additionally, rowing engages more muscles than running, so you’ll build muscle faster.
You can also expect faster fat burn and a stronger core. So it can offer apparent health benefits more quickly than running and be a better option for those who struggle with impact sports.

What Are the Disadvantages of Rowing?

The most significant disadvantage is that you must have a row machine to row. It’s not a standard piece of equipment for most in-home gyms, so most people need a gym membership and the time to go to the gym to get it done. It’s not quite as accessible as biking or running because of this.
Those who fail to achieve proper form might also experience injuries like lower back pain. If you row at a higher intensity or volume than your fitness level, your back muscles may overcompensate and cause injury.

Does Rowing Make You Lean or Bulky?

Does Rowing Make You Lean or Bulky?
Lean. If you’re looking for bulk, rowing is an excellent exercise to warm up your whole body before you hit the weights. It will strengthen your muscles and endurance to help with your strength training exercises, but it won’t offer bulk on its own.

Does Rowing Change Your Body for Good?

Ultimately, rowing is an excellent way to improve your health, endurance, and strength. It can aid in weight loss and cardiovascular health, helping you feel better and extend your life. As a result, your body will change for the better!

If you want long-term results from rowing, the best thing you can do is incorporate it into your regular workout routine. If you struggle with running or other forms of cardio, consider swapping it out for a row machine for a better body shape!


Julien Raby is the owner of BoxLife. He owns a bachelor in literature and a certificate in marketing from Concordia. He's Crossfit Level 1 certified and has been involved in Crossfit since 2010. In 2023 he finally made it to Crossfit Open Quarterfinals for the first time. LinkedIn Instagram Facebook

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