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10 Reasons Why Rowing is such a Good Workout

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Last Updated on:

November 4, 2022
a man doing a good workout with rowing machine

Rowing machines (aka ergometers) have gathered dust in the gyms since the days of Jack LaLanne and the Weider brothers. In most gyms, they’re one of the least used pieces of equipment, right next to the safety squat bars and deadlift platform.

But if you stop and think about it, rowing machines have a lot to offer in your workout, at the very least just as much as a treadmill or a stair climber you’re heading to warm up on.

1. It’s a full-body workout

Running on a treadmill or climbing a Stairmaster is great for your aerobic system and it’ll do wonders for your leg muscles and calves. It’s also a great way to get your blood flowing, get your blood pressure in check, and work on long-term endurance.

But in that hour you spend huffing and puffing on a treadmill your back and your upper body are just taking a vacation.

Not so working out on an indoor rower machine. Here you’re getting a full-body strength training workout paired up with an aerobic endurance workout.

You literally have the whole body involved in the movement.

Legs muscles( working leg muscles with a true deep extension unlike about a quarter squat you get with a Stairmaster), upper back, lower, back, chest, arms, and even the core are staying taught and working all the way through the movement.

Rowing is one of the best full-body movements in sports and rower machines duplicated it very well. It is also a very good exercise for your back.

2. Rowing can be high-intensity without the impact

a man trying rowing machine to understand if it is a good workout

Rowing machines are gentle on your joints while more than capable of kicking your rear end in a good, hard workout.

There is no weight crashing your back, nor the impact from explosive training movements or plyometrics. Low-impact workout tools, like rowing machines, deliver an intense workout without the next morning feeling like you went 12 rounds with Mike Tyson.

Even the negative part of the movement, the part responsible for more than 60 percent of tissue damage and sourness in free-weight strength training workouts, is slowed down and smoothed out by the friction of the seat on the rails.

3. Tone up your heart and lungs

Most machines designed for aerobic exercise, such as the aforementioned treadmills, are pretty good for keeping your heart in shape as well as developing better aerobic capacity.

Rower machines take that a step further. Do you remember that feeling you get after a high rep set of squats or cleans, or a few minutes one on one with a heavy sled?

Chest heaving, sucking in oxygen so hard you can’t even stop to talk?

Lungs are a muscle, just like your biceps or your tongue.

Compared to other exercise machines, the rowing stroke of a rower machine is a much larger movement, literally stretching and contracting the upper torso and ribcage as you go.

It motivates you to inhale much deeper than the shallow breathing most of us normally do during low to med-intensity cardio exercises. A vigorous rowing workout helps to strengthen the lungs and improve their capacity as well as give you a step up in the heart health department.

4. Work on your strength and endurance at the same time

No, a rowing machine will not build muscle as well as weightlifting or Crossfit.

But when it comes to that happy medium between building endurance and strength at the same time you hardly can do any better.

The power rower machine workouts build is the functional power that will come in useful in day-to-day tasks and most sports, and the endurance you gain is not just aerobic but muscle endurance as well.

It’s a practical, capable type of strenth, something you can use in MMA or chasing down the ice cream trucks with your backpack on. Not that I chaise ice cream trucks. Honest.

5. It works your core and your glutes

The days when working out meant doing a couple of sets of bench, followed up by 125 sets of slow curls in front of the mirror are thankfully behind us.

Core is king-it literally keeps you out of the hospital any time you put some serious sweat into a workout. Glutes are the prime mover on almost every movement we do through the day that does not involve a tv remote.

Rowing machines work both of them to the hilt.

The posterior chain and the core are the prime movers in a rowing movement and it does a great job at strengthening it through the full range of motion.

6. It will improve your posture

someone's legs on a rowing machine

An unexpected but most welcome additional benefit of all that back training is improved posture.

Rowing works all the major and minor muscles on your back, toning up the rhomboids and traps to help you get rid of that slumped-down, hipster look.

It teaches your body expended chest posture position that’s literally the finishing point of a row.

Toning up and strengthening your low back and abs will automatically position your upper body straighter, making you look taller and helping prevent future lower back injuries.

7. Rowing machine workouts don’t need to be long

A single stroke of a rowing machine works the quadriceps, glutes and hamstrings, back, arms, chest, and core in a single motion. Rowing activates almost twice as many muscles compared to elliptical or elliptical machines.

The amount of time you’ll spend on a rowing machine is directly in proportion to your fitness goals and the intensity you’re applying but in general, it’s a lot less than other aerobic-oriented exercises.

To increase your anaerobic endurance you only need 10 to 20 minutes but the intensity needs to be pretty high.

To work on aerobic endurance you won’t need to push yourself as hard but the time in the saddle will be much longer at least 30 minutes

Or you can decide to go for broke and give Tabata or another high-intensity interval training method a go – you’ll be done in 12 minutes but the extra time you’ll take crawling to the locker room might make it a wash.

8. An efficient calorie burner

The number of calories you’ll burn will depend on a bunch of factors-your weight, fitness level, the intensity of the workout, temperature, and so on.

Being a full-body workout a rowing machine will burn more calories than most cardio workouts since almost twice as many muscles are recruited at the same time.

Twice as much energy is used to keep those major muscles contracting-means pretty close to twice as many calories burned.

As a rule of thumb, the more effort it takes to accomplish the task, the more energy reserves you expend to get it done. The faster you get to your desired body fat percentage.

An average 150 lbs male rowing at a relaxed pace( about 24 strokes per minute) will burn close to 500 calories an hour.

But who of us is average?

9. Mental health

The calming, repeatable rowing stroke offers unexpected but welcome calming,re-centering benefits.

Sure, the effect would be greater if you were rowing a kayak somewhere in the San Juan islands but as far as getting that restorative, candle-in-a-dark-room, Zen feeling in the middle of a gym rowing machine is as good as it gets. 

10. A truly efficient training session

It’s great to be one of those people who can spend 4 hours in the gym each day, doing an hour of cardio, a couple of hours of weights or CrossFit, and another hour of flirting with the staff and admiring yourself in the mirrors.

I’m not one of those lucky people and personally have never met someone like that.

Combining warm-up, functional strength training, aerobics, and stretching into a single half-hour workout looks pretty good to me.

Rowing machines allow you to do just that. Plus you get to work a bunch of smaller muscles like the intercostals, that you didn’t even know existed.

Rowing Machine Benefits That Make It a Perfect Strength and Conditioning Workout

The bottom line is rowing machine is one of the most underappreciated pieces of equipment in your gym. It helps build muscle and endurance, fixes your posture and helps your flexibility, burns calories, and helps you level your head, all in less than half the time of most other aerobic machines.

 And the best part? No one is ever on rowers.

Next time you’re looking for a new twist to your cardio or long-range strength routine, give a rowing machine a chance!

About Julien Raby