What Muscles Does A Rowing Machine Work?

Before buying a fitness machine for home use, it’s important to find out which muscles are being worked by it. Rowing machines are recommended to people who want intense but low-impact exercises for the entire body.

So, the short answer is that the rowing machine works your entire body through a combination of resistance and endurance workouts. However, you have to maintain good posture and challenge yourself.

Read the article below to understand more about rowers and see how they compare to fitness machines in terms of muscles worked.

The Catch

The catch is the motion you make when you lean forward. During this part of the workout, your triceps activate so that you can extend your arms. Simultaneously, your fingers get a pretty good workout as you’re grabbing the handles. You’ll also feel quite a burn in your hip flexors because these muscles support your leaning torso.

The Drive

During this part of the exercise, you’ll push your feet away from the platform, so your quadriceps are the main muscles worked during the drive. Your upper back, shoulders, and biceps have to do a lot of work too when you pull in the handles towards yourself. Meanwhile, your gluteal muscles in your buttocks, your hamstrings, and the muscles around your spine called erector spinae have to engage as well.

The Finish

During the finish, you’re tilting your torso back and extending your legs. That’s why the primary muscles targeted here are your lower back and abs to keep your balance. You may also feel your hamstrings contracting.

The Recovery

The muscles used on a rowing machine during the recovery part are your core, triceps, calves, hip flexors, and hamstrings. As your feet get back to the platform, your core has to engage so that your back stays straight. Besides, your triceps and your legs will contract to help you get to the starting point.

How Do Rowing Machines Compare To Other Exercises?

You see a lot of fitness machines in the ads. All the commercials point out the advantages and promise you top health benefits plus an enviable body. But it’s obvious that these machines target your body differently, which is why you should ask yourself this:

What muscles does a rowing machine work when you compare it to other fitness machines or cardio exercises? 

Experts agree that rowers offer you a complete, total body workout that increases your stamina as well as your muscle mass.

By comparison, treadmills, recumbent bikes, and stair steppers don’t exercise your upper body at all, whereas upright bikes and ellipticals only give your upper body a minimal workout. Not even swimming engages your upper body as much as a rowing machine.

Besides, the rowing machine gives you a strong core workout. Only elliptical machines are almost as good as rowers for your core strength, while recumbent bikes don’t exercise your core at all. Treadmills, upright bikes, stair steppers, and swimming only give your core a mediocre workout.

Rowing machines work your lower body comprehensively too, much like elliptical machines. Treadmills and exercise bikes aren’t that good for your gluteal muscles. Swimming could exercise your quads more, whereas stair steppers mostly focus on your calves and quads.

Plus, another benefit of rowers is that they engage your entire body through a full range of motion, much like upright bikes and swimming. Treadmills and ellipticals offer a pretty good range of motion as well, but you might feel your movements restricted on a recumbent bike and stair stepper.

Here’s a quick summary below:

Upper Body

  • Rowing machine: 5/5 stars
  • Treadmill: 0/5 stars
  • Upright bike: 2/5 stars
  • Recumbent bike: 0/5 stars
  • Elliptical: 2/5 stars
  • Stair stepper: 0/5 stars
  • Swimming: 4/5 stars

Lower Body:

  • Rowing machine: 5/5 stars
  • Treadmill: 4/5 stars
  • Upright bike: 3/5 stars
  • Recumbent bike: 3/5 stars
  • Elliptical: 5/5 stars
  • Stair stepper: 2/5 stars
  • Swimming: 4/5 stars


  • Rowing machine: 4/5 stars
  • Treadmill: 2/5 stars
  • Upright bike: 2/5 stars
  • Recumbent bike: 0/5 stars
  • Elliptical: 4/5 stars
  • Stair stepper: 2/5 stars
  • Swimming: 3/5 stars

Range of Motion:

  • Rowing machine: 5/5 stars
  • Treadmill: 3/5 stars
  • Upright bike: 5/5 stars
  • Recumbent bike: 2/5 stars
  • Elliptical: 4/5 stars
  • Stair stepper: 2/5 stars
  • Swimming: 4/5 stars

In Conclusion

Rowing machines enhance your strength and endurance for your whole body through low impact exercises. So, if you have joint problems, lower back pain, or you’re recovering from surgery, rowing machines are better than, say, treadmills, to help you lose weight and recover your strength.

Speak with your doctor and your physical therapist before choosing the right fitness machine for your needs, though. Also, remember to choose a pace that challenges you and to keep a proper form if you want to see results quickly.


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