Even if you’ve never rowed a single stroke, it’s pretty apparent from the motion—pushing off explosively with your legs and then pulling the handle toward your chest—that it’s an incredible workout for both your upper and lower body. It’s no wonder that this low-impact cardio machine has exploded in popularity in recent years. But even better: Rowing is an intense workout for your core, too. “You really don’t even have to concentrate on engaging your core on the rower. Your abs are automatically engaged,” says Garrett Roberts, owner and instructor of GoRow, an indoor-rowing studio in Hoboken, New Jersey. Learn how to strengthen your core with rowing the Roberts’ go-to workout.
Work your complete core.
Roberts is quick to point out that it’s not all about your abdominals. “Everyone thinks your core is just your front, but it wraps around your entire body and stabilizes your entire waist,” he says. The motion you repeat over and over on the rowing machine strengthens that whole center section of your body.
“The end of each stroke, when you’re sliding forward, works your abs like a sit-up and as you push back out, that engages your lower back,” he explains. Part of the reason it’s so effective is that you’re sitting on a small, not particularly steady seat, so your abs and lower-back muscles fire up to help keep you stable as you glide back and forth. Just the basic motion can strengthen your core with rowing.
Get the most toning power.
To get even more core-toning power from the movement, Roberts suggests leaning back a bit when your legs are fully extended until you feel your abs quiver. And, to work the sides of your midsection, pretend that you’re holding onto a canoe paddle, suggests Roberts. You can alternate pulling it to the left and then to the right in between regular strokes to target your obliques and further strengthen your core with rowing.
As mentioned before, the rowing motion itself will help build core strength, but adding in a few core-specific strength-training moves will increase the toning power even further.
This plan, designed by Roberts, combines intervals on the rower to rev your heart rate with bodyweight moves that focus on your core. Try it to burn major calories and target your entire midsection. Do each interval in order, then repeat the whole sequence two to four times.
Rowing Interval 1
- Row 1,000 meters at 70 percent of your maximum effort. (Aim for about 25 strokes per minute, inhaling as you move forward and exhaling as you push back.)
- Rest for 90 seconds.
Rowing Interval 2
- Row 750 meters at 80 percent max effort.
- Rest for two minutes.
Rowing Interval 3
- Row 500 meters at 90 percent maximum effort.
- Rest for 90 seconds.
Strength Interval 1: Push-up to Side Plank
- Do one push-up, then transfer weight to your right hand, flat on the floor, turning your body to the left and extending the left hand to the ceiling. Your body should form a straight line from head to feet. The left foot can be stacked on top of the right foot or placed in front of the right foot. Hold this position for three to five seconds, then shift back to push-up position. Repeat, alternating sides, for ten to 15 reps.
Strength Interval 2: Jack Knife
- Lie faceup, arms extended on the floor overhead. In one motion, lift your legs and torso, so that you’re balanced on your hips, and reach toward your toes. Slowly lower to starting position. Repeat for 15 reps.
Incorporate these moves into your workouts to help strengthen your core with rowing. Changing up your standard motion will also add some diversity into your routine.