The rowing machine may not be the first machine you think of when it comes to cardio. They’re most known for working the lower body—focusing on the quadriceps, glutes, and calves. However, this machine offers more than just a lower body workout. In fact, it’s one of the most versatile machines in the gym. To prove it to you, we asked fitness professionals to share some of the biggest benefits of the rowing machine. Read on to learn how to use the machine in a variety of ways.
Cardio and Strength Combination
The rowing machine is the ideal machine for building both cardiovascular and muscular strength. “Just 20 to 30 minutes on a rowing machine will strengthen the legs, core, upper body, and condition the heart,” explains Amie Hoff, NYC-based certified fitness professional and founder of FitKit. “Very few machines match the rowing machine, when it comes to calorie burning, cardiovascular work, and toning all wrapped in one.”
Regularly incorporate rowing workouts into your routine to build overall stamina and strength. This, in turn, will allow you to perform other cardio and strength workouts with more power.
The basic rowing motion involves pushing through the legs, engaging the core, and pulling with the arms in one fluid motion. But there are a number of other ways to use the machine to target different areas of the body, including with strength training. “One unique way to use the machine is to work the upper body,” says Annie Mulgrew, vice president of programming at CITYROW. “To work the biceps flip your hands on the handlebar to an underhand grip, elevate to elbow level, and curl towards the chest like a bicep curl.”
Another one of the benefits of the rowing machine is that you can intensify your workout the same way you would with any other cardio machine. Interval training and HIIT-based routines will get your heart rate up and increase muscular endurance. “You can make your workout on the machine high intensity [as it] is appropriate for you,” says Mulgrew.
Rowing workouts are low-impact by nature, which is ideal for beginners, older adults, or anyone recovering from an injury. “Rowing is incredibly low impact on the body and joints, yet somehow [it] makes the cardio burn so real,” says LIT Method Co-Founder Taylor Gainor. One of the major benefits of the rowing machine is that you can see similar benefits to weight-bearing workouts like running and hiking without the impact.
“The rowing machine is perfect for all ages and fitness levels,” says Hoff. “You can adjust the intensity based on your comfort level and increase slowly as your fitness level improves. I have clients in their 80s and 90s who use the rowing machine. It allows them to be stationary and work their entire bodies, yet feel secure and balanced.”
Lower Back Strength and Support
If you’re desk-bound during the day or suffer from lower back pain, the rowing machine may be your go-to machine. “It really activates and strengthens the posterior chain—these are the muscles running up and down the back of your body,” says Mulgrew. “Often times, these muscles are very weak from sitting at a computer all day.”
The core plays an integral role in the basic rowing motion, too. These muscles work together with back muscles to provide support for the lower back. “Eighty-five percent of your body’s muscles must activate in order to perform the rowing stroke properly. Your core must be engaged to provide stability for the entire body,” adds Mulgrew. So, if you’re injury-prone or want to strengthen these muscles, this is one of the major benefits of the rowing machine.