Do Rowing Machines Build Muscle?

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Technology has become a major cause of increased inactivity and a prevalently sedentary lifestyle. It almost seems like people always have something to do except for exercise.

The World Health Organization stated in 2020 that around one in four men and one in three women worldwide are physically inactive.

However, technology is also the reason for having better equipment to promote a healthier, more active lifestyle, such as the development of exercise machines. An example of that piece of equipment is the rowing machine.

But do rowing machines build muscle? Let’s find out.

What Is a Rowing Machine?

A rowing machine, also called a rowing ergometer or erg, is a device used for exercising by imitating the act of rowing through water.

This promotes weight loss, improves strength and endurance, and provides a low-impact, full-body workout that benefits the heart and lungs.

As good as it sounds, the machine might look a bit intimidating from the start.

The rowing strokes combine pushing and pulling. 

You push yourself out using the lower body, pull with your arms, gently glide back, and bend your knees to the starting position.

Rowing machines, like treadmills or cycling machines, benefit your cardiovascular health.

Still, the rowing machine can be considered safer to use for most individuals, especially for people prone to joint pains and injuries.

You can also customize the resistance limit for your rowing machine to train your muscle strength aside from your cardiovascular endurance.

The strokes performed during rowing, together with the resistance, can match the benefits of weight training exercises.

Do Rowing Machines Build Muscle?

To provide you the short answer: yes, they do, and they do it quite excellently.

According to a 2008 study, rowing is considered a high-intensity workout that targets at least 86% of the muscles in the body. Your legs’ muscles cover 65-75% of these muscles, while your upper body muscles cover 25-35%.

So how exactly do rowing machines build muscle?

It’s a workout typically demonstrated through four phases in a rowing stroke.

The Catch

The stroke starts with the knees bent close to the chest in an upright position while holding on to the handlebar. This is called the catch.

This stance works on the following:

  • arm muscles, specifically the triceps and deltoids;
  • muscles on the calves and the hamstrings;
  • back muscles, including the trapezius; and,
  • abdominal muscles (rectus abdominus)

The Drive

Extend your legs as you push yourself out. Then, pull the handlebar to your chest with your arms. This is called the drive.

This swift motion trains the following:

  • lower body, particularly your calf muscles, glutes, hamstrings, and quadriceps;
  • upper body, particularly your deltoids, biceps, and forearm muscles;
  • back muscles, specifically the trapezius, latissimus dorsi; and.
  • abdominal muscles

The Finish

While sustaining the drive, the body holds the stance as the legs extend fully. In this position, the arms firmly pull the handlebar, and the body slightly leans backward at a 45-degree angle.

This position mimics the rowing motion and exercises the following:

  • deltoids, biceps, pectoralis major, and forearm muscles;
  • quadriceps and glutes; and,
  • back muscles, including trapezius and latissimus dorsi

The Recovery

Lastly, the arms start to push the handlebar towards the front of the machine then the legs work on gliding down to the catch position.

This movement benefits the following:

  • deltoids, triceps, and wrist extensors;
  • trapezius;
  • hamstrings and calf muscles; and,
  • abdominal muscles (rectus abdominus)

A single row stroke works out most of the upper and lower body muscles with the abdominal and back muscles.

do rowing machines build muscle

Other Benefits of Rowing Machines

The rowing machine does a lot more than build your muscles. There are more reasons to use rowing machines!

High-Intensity, Low-Impact, and Full-Body Workout

Rowing might seem more challenging than cycling and running on a treadmill. However, the strokes actually have a low impact on the joints.

This means that it does not induce pain and severe stress to your joints and muscles while lessening the risk of injury.

Moreover, it even helps lubricate the joints for better movement while engaging lower and upper body muscles.

Improves the Health of the Heart and Lungs

As the strokes require the whole body to exert power, the heart should also work harder to pump blood.

This increases heart rate and affects oxygen transportation during the exercise.

Aids in Improving Posture

The rowing machine engages the core and back muscles if done correctly. This helps the body maintain a good posture, lowering the risk of spinal and other bone-related injuries.

Helps Burn Calories and Lose Weight

The exercise uses the whole body and engages the muscles, which help burn fat through the improvement of metabolism.

Prolonged muscle engagement prompts the body to burn body fat continuously after the workout.

The work exerted by the heart and lungs also contributes to the metabolism that burns the fat during and after the workout.

Relieves Stress And Improves Focus

Rowing strokes require the body to perform actions following a pattern of movements that trigger the mind to focus on repeating the motions.

This pattern causes the body to perform the actions mindlessly.

This motion also stimulates the body to release more endorphins, which can relieve stress.

Efficient Alternative To Other Cardio Workout Equipment

A rowing machine is compact and can be placed in small areas like a studio apartment or a home gym.

It can be utilized for a lesser time compared to other equipment as it is a high-intensity and full-body exercise.

Using a row machine can be a highly effective exercise with the correct form. Some use this as a warm-up before proceeding to weight training.

For some people who do not have time for long exercise routines, rowing machines can be the fitness routine itself.

Tips for Indoor Rowing Machine Workouts

The most common row machine has a damper on the fan, which sets the resistance. The dampers enable the device to mimic a rowing stroke’s natural, smooth glide.

Set Up the Machine Properly

Make sure that the strap is comfortably tight around your feet. Also, the foot pedals where your feet are placed vertically should be able to move up and down.

Dampers can also be adjusted depending on your preference.

Ensure Proper Form

The proper form and posture are as crucial in rowing as much as it is in other exercise machines.

The easiest way to maintain the correct form is to fully understand and execute the four phases of a rowing stroke (catch, drive, finish, recovery).

You may also seek out the guidance of a professional trainer, especially if you’re only starting. We recommend training this way at least until you have mastered the basic rowing stroke.

This way, you’ll be able to set a strong foundation of mastery and avoid developing bad habits.

Start From The Beginning 

For beginners, it is essential to start with 20 strokes per minute and increase by two strokes per minute, depending on your pace. Consistency of stroke rate is crucial when learning how to use rowing machines.

The most basic workout is starting a less intense 5-minute rowing warm-up at 20 strokes per minute.

Set another 5 minutes for five sets of rowing at 22 strokes per minute, followed by a 5-minute cool down at 20 strokes per minute.

The crucial factor for beginners is learning a technique and gaining momentum in intensity.

According to the guidelines set by the American Heart Association, a healthy adult should get at least 150 minutes of moderate or 75 minutes of strenuous aerobics. Combining moderate and strenuous aerobics is also a practical idea.

The duration of the rowing session depends on the person performing the fitness routine. Rowing sessions can range from 5 to 30 minutes for beginners.

Try Rowing Workouts Designed by Experts

Fitness experts and advanced fitness enthusiasts include rowing in their exercise sessions. It consists of several strength training sessions, endurance workouts, and other exercise variations.

A study from Harvard Health also found that 30 minutes of rowing performed by a 125-pound person burns 255 calories.

In contrast, the same 125-pound person walking 3.5 miles will only burn 107 calories, while a 12-minute-per-mile run only burns 240 calories.

The pacing for this exercise is vital as it would dictate the intensity of your sessions. This is similar to other workouts, which increase fitness levels if the rowing intensity is increased.

Try setting the damper to 3-5 points for moderate sessions and 8-10 for more intense sessions.

If you’re up for a challenge, you can try some of these rowing workout sets incorporated with other exercise variations:

1. The 2000-Meter Mixup

Set the rowing machine to 2,000 meters with a timer. Every minute, stop rowing and proceed to perform five hollow rocks with a weight.

Try to finish the 2,000 meters as fast as possible to perform as few hollow rocks as possible.

2. The Row and Burpee Challenge

Try to finish 5,500 meters while maintaining a pace of 40 strokes per minute. Each off-pace row equates to the number of burpees you must perform between each row.

3. The Calorie Count-Up

Set a specific amount of calories to burn per row at one-minute intervals. For example, you have to burn five calories for the first minute, and the workout will stop if you do not meet the required calories.

The goal is to finish as many rounds as possible or to complete at least 15 minutes.

Use Rowing Machines to Build Your Muscles

Rowing machines are excellent for building your muscles.

They are one of the best choices for your fitness goals. These machines allow you to engage in a more fun and less stressful way to improve mind and body health.

It works best if you find it challenging and still spend time on more laborious workout regimens.

As long as you prepare your home gym, craft your exercise routines, and follow them religiously, there’s no reason not to expect muscle development.

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