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What Muscles Does Rowing Not Work Out?

 Written by 

Julien Raby

 Last updated on 

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Rowing is a great exercise that can help you burn calories and strengthen your muscles. People love it because you can get a great workout and it’s so easy to get a quick session in.

While rowing will work for most of the major muscle groups in your body, including the quadriceps and hamstrings, as well as your glutes and back muscles. It might surprise you to learn that rowing doesn’t fully work out every muscle group in your body.

a woman working out its muscles with a rowing machine
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It will not have the same effect on some of the major muscles when compared to other full-body workouts.

In this article, we will look at what muscle rowing does not work out and what exercise you can use together with rowing to maximize a full-body workout.

Here’s What Muscles Rowing Does Not Work Out:

Rowing does not work out your chest or top shoulder muscles as much as other body-weight exercises do. It doesn’t fully engage your abs, shoulders, or chest. That’s because it relies more on different muscle groups, including the rear deltoids, rotator cuff muscles, triceps, and biceps.

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Rowing is a great way to get fit and stay healthy. However, it isn’t a replacement for traditional workouts.

If you’re looking for complete fitness results, adding more variety to your routine by doing various types of exercise will ensure that all of your major muscle groups are getting worked out enough to give them what they need.

Exercises To Help Work All The Remaining Muscles:

Rowing is a great exercise for your back, shoulders, arms, and legs. However, it can not fully work out your whole body. That’s why it’s best to look at other exercises that can help you achieve the best results.

For example, you could combine rowing with another upper-body workout like push-ups or pull-ups. Or you could combine rowing with a lower-body workout such as squats or lunges.

You can also use this technique by pairing rowing with core exercises such as planks or crunches, which will help improve your posture and give you stronger core muscles.

We can combine the following exercises with rowing to work all the muscles in your body plus you can do them at home, at the gym, or with a partner.

Here are a few exercises to help you achieve a full-body workout when rowing:


Squats are one of the best all-around exercises because they work a lot of muscles at once; especially large leg muscles like the quadriceps and glutes.

But the benefit here is it also works out muscles like your abdominal muscles which aren’t targeted by rowing alone.

Triceps Extension

Triceps extensions work out the muscles in the back of your upper arms. You can use dumbbells but if possible, try to do tiger push-ups and diamond push-up variations instead.

These two push-up variations could fill in the gaps that rowing might leave. The bodyweight movements will isolate the chest and top of your shoulders more than doing it with weights. The added difficulty of balancing your body weight will also benefit your core muscles. 

You can also do triceps extensions with a cable machine or a resistance band. 


While the rowing machine targets the back and biceps, it does not fully engage your upper body in a way that allows you to use larger muscles for a full-body workout. Pull-ups will engage these muscles and also help your core and upper body become more stable when you row.

They can be done with different grips (wide, close), different hand positions, or even on an assisted pull-up machine if you don’t have access to an overhead bar. Some people have even used tree branches!

Pull-ups are one of the best bodyweight exercises because they can build a strong and well-defined upper body. Combining this with rowing is a great way to build a strong and hard physique.

Push Ups Variations

Push-ups are an excellent way to tone up and sculpt your chest, back, and shoulders. Push-ups are one of the most effective exercises for working out your core and upper body. It also helps with balance, coordination, and strength. You can do this exercise at home or even in the office if you have limited space.

Aside from the classic push-up, there are several variations that you can try to add some variety and difficulty to your workout. You can do them on the floor or on an elevated surface such as a bench or chair.


Planks are great for strengthening your core, improving balance and stability, and helping you lose fat around your hips and waistline.

You can do side planks, reverse planks, and even balance on one arm if you want to amp up the difficulty. The added core workout will help you achieve your full-body workout.

Inverted Rows

These are great for working your upper back, biceps, and lats. To perform an inverted row, kneel on a bench or box while grasping the bar with an overhand grip at shoulder width. 

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Pull yourself until your chest touches the bar, then lower yourself back down without allowing your body to swing or use momentum. This is a great exercise to combine with rowing.

Lateral Raises

This exercise works the side deltoids and helps improve posture by strengthening your scapular stabilizers.

You can perform lateral raises using dumbbells or cables and you should keep your elbows fixed throughout the exercise so that only your shoulders move up and down.


This simple movement strengthens the traps and allows them to contract more powerfully during rowing movements.

To perform shrugs, stand with your feet hip-width apart, holding dumbbells at arm’s length in front of you with palms facing forward. Slowly lift one shoulder up toward the ear as high as possible and lower slowly before repeating on another side. Add weights to increase your difficulty.

Superset Rowing With Another Exercise

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It’s a good idea to superset rowing with another exercise in order to really work your muscles and see the most results.

While rowing works your arms, legs, and back, it doesn’t hit all the top upper muscles in your body.

You’ll need to add another exercise or two to your routine if you want to work all the muscles in your body. But don’t worry — there are plenty of exercises that pair well with rowing and can give you an even better workout.

Here are some super set ideas:

Combine Rowing With Handstand Walk

The handstand walk is a great exercise for working the core, shoulders, and arms. Combining handstand walk with rowing will work your whole body.

If you’re new to this type of superset, start out by doing each exercise for 30 seconds before moving on to the next move. As you get stronger, increase the time spent on each exercise until you’re completing both movements for 60 seconds before moving on to the next superset.

Handstands are a fantastic workout for your abdominal muscles. When doing a handstand you are stabilizing your body using your abdomen muscles. They also target the upper body muscles that you might not work out when you are rowing.

Combine Rowing With Weighted Lunges

If you’re looking for a way to increase the intensity of your rowing workout, try adding weighted lunges into the mix.

The upright position is ideal because you are mimicking the rowing position while focusing more on the lower body movements when compared to rowing.

Lunges are already an amazing lower body exercise that strengthens your quads, hamstrings, and glutes, but adding weights increases the effectiveness of this exercise even more. Plus, the added weight will help improve your core strength and balance.

These are a great way to build lower body strength and stability. 

Combine Rowing With Burpees

If you’re looking for a full-body workout, try combining rowing with burpees. Burpees are a great exercise that can help you get fit while burning calories.

They work out your biggest muscles, like your chest muscles, abdominal muscles, and leg muscles.

Burpees can be done anywhere; even if you don’t have access to an exercise room or gym equipment. 

Burpees and rowing combined are a great way to get a full-body workout.

Combine Rowing With Swimming

Swimming is another excellent cardiovascular exercise that will help burn calories and improve your overall fitness level. It’s also a great way to strengthen your upper body while improving flexibility and balance at the same time.

It’s also a full-body workout that will help you build muscle and lose weight, so it can be an excellent addition to your rowing routine.

Try this superset:

  • Swim laps for 30 minutes or until you feel exhausted — whichever comes first.
  • Then switch to the rowing machine, which should take about 10 minutes or fewer if you’re new to this workout routine.
  • If you want more resistance, wear a weight vest while rowing or use ankle weights to increase intensity.

However, if your goal is purely training for muscles, then neither of these will benefit you. It would be better to superset either rowing or swimming with push-ups or pull-ups.

Is A Rowing Machine Enough To Get Ripped?

If you’re looking for a great full-body workout and an alternative to running, rowing is hard to beat. You can do it anywhere, including your basement or garage, in less than 30 minutes.

The biggest benefit of rowing is that it works out almost your entire body while requiring no equipment other than the machine itself.

You don’t need dumbbells or barbells or anything else, just good form and a stable routine.

That makes it easy to fit into anyone’s schedule as long as they have access to one. 

Does Rowing Work All Muscles?

Rowing is a full-body workout, but it’s not a full-body exercise. That’s because rowing works out about 84% of the body’s muscles. It does not fully work out the stomach muscles or all the upper body muscles.

This means that if you’re looking for a total-body workout, rowing may not be what you’re looking for.

It would be advised to consider adding another exercise like the ones we mentioned to your routine to hit all the muscle groups.

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Will Rowing Help To Bulk or Cut?

Rowing is a great way to build muscle, and it’s an even better way to lose weight. Rowing will give you toned arms, shoulders, back, and legs. It will also help you burn a lot of fat in a relatively short amount of time.

It can also help improve your cardiovascular health, which is great for your overall fitness level.

If you are looking to bulk up, though, rowing isn’t the best choice because it won’t build mass in specific areas like barbells or dumbbells would.

What’s A Good Rowing Schedule?

If you want to see the most benefits from rowing, it’s important that you row on a regular schedule.

If you are new to rowing, start slowly with only one or two sets per week of 30 to 45 minutes each. If you are an experienced rower, you may do more.

For example, if your schedule allows it, consider doing a high-intensity workout on Mondays and Thursdays and a low-intensity workout on Tuesdays and Fridays.

You should always warm up before exercising by spending five minutes doing light cardio such as walking or stair climbing. Then stretch for five minutes. You can also do some light cardio after exercising to cool down before ending your workout session.

The best time of day to row is first thing in the morning, before breakfast. If this isn’t possible, then try to do it at least three hours after eating. Your stomach will be empty and digestion won’t interfere with your workout.

Why Do People Love Rowing?

Here are a few reasons people love rowing:

  • One reason people love to row is that it’s a full-body and cardio exercise. This means you can get an aerobic workout and build muscle all at the same time.
  • Another reason people love to row is that it doesn’t require any equipment other than a rowing machine.
  • Rowing machines are also great because they allow you to row in unique positions thattarget different muscle groups; this helps improve strength in those areas.
  • Rowing has a low impact on your joints compared with running or other high-impact exercises like squash or tennis—which makes this sport ideal for people who have osteoarthritis or knee injuries like ACL tears.


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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