How The Rowing Machine Can Boost Strength And Endurance

rowing machine

This exercise is not only for rowers and is a great boost to your overall performance.

The rowing machine often sits off to the side of the cardio machines in the gym waiting to be used. While many people are more comfortable with the treadmill, elliptical, or bike for their aerobic needs, the rowing machine is an amazing full body workout to boost endurance, strength, and performance. Switching your cardio to a variety of different machines utilizes different muscles and proves to be more effective for your training. It also makes doing cardio a little less boring.

Able to support both muscular strength and muscular endurance, the rowing machine is a staple exercise for competitive rowers during the off-season and a great cross train for other endurance athletes looking for a break from their own sport. Compared to other cardio workouts, the rowing machine is low-impact and recruits the majority of your muscles to propel you through the workout. Although a challenging exercise, once you nail down proper form you will be cruising along on this machine to increased muscle growth, endurance, and a toned physique.

A mix of both upper body and lower body muscles, the rowing machine works for your full body benefit. While working the chest, biceps, delts, and abs in the front, it will cover your lats, triceps, and upper back as well. As a push exercise, your quads, hamstrings, calves, and glutes will feel the burn to give your lower body a great workout.

Rowing classes have emerged the same way as spinning classes and with the benefits the rowing machine provides, it is no wonder this exercise has gained popularity among athletes and gym-goers alike.

Benefits Of The Rowing Machine

Burn Calories Efficiently

There are great benefits to rowing machines including the ability to burn calories efficiently for your weight loss goals. With the ability to sustain a longer cardio session, and at an easier pace, you can still burn calories to see results, but using the rowing machine as a form of high-intensity interval training can be perfect for shorter endurance work with optimal calorie loss.

Of course calorie burn depends on your level of exertion among other factors, but the rowing machine is a sure way to see progress with your weight loss goals without spending hours on a cardio machine (1).

rowing machine

Low-Impact Full Body Workout

The rowing machine uses over 85% of your muscles for a great full body workout. Mixed with upper body and lower body muscle groups, you will feel an overall burn. With your legs being the primary point of engagement for most of the stroke, it is a great way to build leg strength.

As your upper body completes the stroke, you get that well-rounded burn all the way through. As a great exercise for active recovery, you control the movement and pace without adding increased strain on your joints.

Endurance and Conditioning

Aside from the benefits surrounding strength and muscle growth, the rowing machine is a phenomenal way to increase cardio and muscular endurance (2). As an exercise that really spikes your heart rate, you can keep it well within the limits of control while also pushing your cardiovascular limit. Aerobic exercise can boost mood and overall fitness and since your heart works harder to transport blood to the body, it can increase heart strength as well.

rowing machine

Posture Support

While this exercise looks like you would be hunched the entire time, it actually forces you to keep good posture to maximize the benefits (3). By requiring you to sit upright, you are straightening the spine and allowing for repeated practice in good posture. Transition that posture to everyday life and your confidence and stability will improve greatly.

Solid Alternative To Other Machines

This is just a good exercise to add with other machines to diversify you workouts and not deal with the monotony of a cardio exercise. Whether you are an athlete looking for a cross-training exercise, or a gym-goer looking for a unique alternative to the treadmill, the rowing machine can be a fun way to add to your overall health.

How To Use It

There are four parts to a rowing stroke that are important for the rowing machine. The finish position is when your legs are flat, back slightly back, and the handle is just below your chest. The recovery is the movement towards the front of the machine with your arms extended and your knees slowly rising up. The catch position is with your knees fully bent up, your body over your knees, and your handle close to the cage at the front of the machine. The drive is the movement pushing back towards the finish position where you started.

rowing machine

This movement will start at the finish. In a slightly laid back position with the handle at your chest, push your arms away from your body, hinge at the waist while keeping a flat back, and slowly start to slide up, bending your knees as you do. Your arms will be extended in front of you the whole movement up the slide and your back will be flat and slowly beginning to make its way closer to your knees.

At the catch position, your chest will be close to your knees and the handle will be out in front you with your arms still extended. As you drive back, push through the footplate while keeping a flat back engaging your lats. Once your legs are fully extended down, bring the handle back to your chest ultimately ending at the finish position.

Wrap Up

The rowing machine can be intimidating. If you are unsure of form or how to use it, it may be one machine you shy away from. But the benefits of the rowing machine are great and you could be missing out on so much potential. As an amazing full body workout for strength and endurance, it is the ultimate exercise to save time, burn calories, and see great gains in the gym.

As a low-impact exercise, it will keep you healthy and stable and won’t sacrifice your other hard work. Add this to your workouts as a great supplement to any other cardio exercise and you will so glad you did.

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*Images courtesy of Envato


  1. Slater, Gary J.; Rice, Anthony J.; Sharpe, Ken; Tanner, Rebecca; Jenkins, David; Gore, Christopher J.; Hahn, Allan G. (2005). “Impact of Acute Weight Loss and/or Thermal Stress on Rowing Ergometer Performance”. (source)
  2. Gee, Thomas I; Olsen, Peter D.; Berger, Nicolas J.; Golby, Jim; Thompson, Kevin G. (2011). “Strength and Conditioning Practices in Rowing”. (source)
  3. Vasile, Simona; Cools, Joris; De Raeve, Alexandra; Malengier, Benny; Deruyck, Frank (2019). “Effect of rowing posture on body measurements and skin- sportswear interface pressure and implications on garment fit”. (source)
Austin Letorney
Austin Letorney is a writer, actor, and fitness enthusiast. As a former rower, he has shifted his focus to sharing his knowledge of the fitness world and strength sports with others.