Written by Juliën

Which muscles do I train on a rowing machine?

Rowing is hot. You see rowing machines in fitness magazines and on TV. How great is it that you can get one of the most intense workouts in the comfort of your own home? Most intense? What exactly makes it that? Rowing combines cardio with strength training, and that means you'll also be growing muscle. What muscles exactly, you can read about here.

Full body workout

What makes rowing so intense, is the fact that you need to use your entire body. In 1 stroke, you use more than 80% of your muscles. That's why rowing is called a full-body workout. It won't just help you get rid of those love handles and improve your stamina, but it'll also grow and help add definition to your muscles. Which muscles you train and to what extent has everything to do with a proper rowing technique.

Rowing technique

A rowing stroke can be divided into 4 phases. The catch, the drive, the finish, and the recovery. Without getting too technical, it speaks for itself that if you properly execute each phase, you'll be training your muscles as efficiently as possible. During each phase, one of the muscle groups has to work just a little harder than the rest. These are the muscles you train the most on a rowing machine.

1. Leg muscles and glutes

Rowing machine leg muscles and glutes

When you start the stroke, you mostly activate your leg muscles and glutes. You push on the pedals to move yourself and the seat rearward. This requires a lot of effort from your calf muscles, thigh muscles, and glutes. You should also be feeling your hamstrings and shin muscles after your workout, provided you do decent strokes.

2. Back and shoulder muscles

Rowing machine training back and shoulder muscles

When pulling the handles and the cord, the biggest challenge is to your back and shoulder muscles. This happens during and right after stretching your legs. Posture is very important during this phase. A bent back can quickly lead to excess strain and that's the last thing you want when trying to get fitter. Make sure to keep your back as straight as possible when stretching your legs.

3. Arm muscles

Rowing machine training arm muscles

At the end of the stroke, the focus is mostly on your arm muscles. Your biceps and triceps will be tighten, in order to – if you were in the water – launch yourself rearwards. The goal is to get as much speed out of your movement as possible. If you don't tighten your arm muscles in just the right way, you'll lose speed as well as your rhythm.

4. Ab muscles

Rowing machine training ab muscles

A good rowing technique constantly tightens your ab muscles. When you return to the starting position, your body is "pressed" forward. Particularly during this movement, your ab muscles have to work very hard to prevent you from losing your balance and speed. During other phases of the stroke, your ab muscles also have to work to maintain your balance.

Get more out of your rowing workout

A rowing machine is an awesome piece of equipment that helps you get very fit in just a short amount of time. Your rowing technique is a very important part of this and determines the level at which you're training your muscles. However, don't expect a good rowing technique to make you look like a bodybuilder. You can get more out of your rowing workout by training in certain heart rate zones or based on wattage. That way, you can train specifically to burn fat or increase your endurance. Are you looking to gain a lot of muscle mass? In that case, you'll have to hit the weights. A rowing machine provides a full-body workout to work on your general fitness.


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