Benefits of Rowing Machines

A full explanatory guide on what rowing machines can do for YOU

Cardio, the enemy of the people. Powerlifters, bodybuilders, crossfitters, the average gym goer, they dread doing it. However, everyone knows how beneficial it can be. So what are your options to choose from in order to get it done? 

We have all heard it before, “I want to lose weight, but I hate running.” Luckily, running is not the only option there is for cardio. You actually have a few options as far as cardio equipment, but they all certainly have their pros and cons. 

Walking on the treadmill can be boring, but running on the treadmill can be hard your shins or knees. The stationary bike seats aren’t always the most comfortable things to sit on. Then there’s the Stairmaster, the true villain of every gym. What do these all have in common? They focus mainly on your lower body.

But, what about a type of cardio that does not just work the lower half? The rowing machines. These tend to be heavily overlooked and under-appreciated. There are so many benefits of rowing machines. Let’s dive in.

Editor’s Note: Generation Iron’s content is meant to be informative and should not take the place of advice and/or supervision from a medical professional/trainer. The articles and opinions on this site are not meant to be used as diagnosis, prevention, and/or treatment of health problems. Speak with your physician/trainer if you have any concerns.

Bodily Benefits of Rowing Machines

Rowing machines can be extremely beneficial to the body. Engaging you from head to toe, building up endurance, providing a variety of training, and much more!

  • Total Body Engagement
  • Endurance and Strength From Rowing Machines
  • Versatility
  • Fat Loss

Total Body Engagement 

Hopping on the stairs, treadmill, or bike for your cardio definitely gets the job done, but as stated before, mostly work only your lower body. The rowing machines on the other hand bring your whole body into play. Rowing machines utilize more than just your arms or just your legs, as some people may think. 

Your back, shoulders, and biceps are all being contracted during the pulling motion, while your legs (specifically hamstrings and glutes) are being used to perform that driving motion. All the while you’re bracing your core during the movement.

You are getting all the cardiovascular benefits, all the while developing your muscles at the same time.

Endurance and Strength From Rowing Machines

Just like any other type of cardio, the rowing machines build up your cardiovascular endurance. Whether you are doing high intensity interval training (HIIT), low intensity endurance training, or just casually rowing, you’ll find that the more time you spend on it, the easier it gets.

Not only does cardiovascular endurance improve, but also muscular endurance and strength. Being that the rowing machines engage the whole body and your muscles are being worked, plus it is like doing repeated repetitions, your muscles are really being put to work the entire time you are on the rowing machine. 

The range of motion for movements on a rowing machine is also large. Think of it like doing repetitions of squats or a leg press while rowing at the same time, repeatedly. This builds up both the strength, and endurance of the muscle groups being worked! 


HIIT training, distance training, you name it, it can be done on a rowing machine. No matter what training style you are utilizing, your cardiovascular fitness is improving during it.

Fat Loss

As with almost any cardio, the rowing machine can be beneficial for fat loss while still preserving and even possibly increasing muscle. It is an aerobic exercise, meaning it uses the body’s carbs and fats for fuel.

Rowing Machines vs. Other Cardio Equipment

There are plenty of benefits to every piece of cardio equipment, so how does the rowing machine stack up against them?

Rowing Machines are Low-Impact

Compared to other pieces of cardio equipment, such as the treadmill, the rowing machine is low-impact. This means you do not have your joints pounding on the ground as you would with something such as a treadmill. Rowing machines being low impact makes it easier for people with disabilities or other health conditions to do their cardio.

For example, someone with a spinal condition or things like shin splints would possibly be able to benefit from a rowing machine rather than something such as a Stairmaster. This is due to the rowing machine being a low impact piece of equipment! They may be able to even strengthen those weakened areas of the body. 

Full-Body Engagement

As stated before, you are being engaged from head to toe when on a rowing machine. This differs from things like the treadmill, Stairmaster, or bike, that only engage mainly the lower body. Now the elliptical also engages the upper body, but the rower forces more abdominal engagement.

With the full body engagement, you are also seeing full body coordination. Everything needs to work together to perform the movement on a rowing machine, as opposed to equipment like the Stairmaster where your legs are the only thing being utilized.

Rowing Machine for Recovery

Believe it or not, rowing machines can actually be used for recovery, specifically after lifting. After intense strength training, the rowing machine can be used as a cool down tool. This is due to the low impact aspect, and during the movement you are stretching out your whole body. Even on a rest day, if you are up for it, you can hop on the rowing machine.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Now that you’ve read through all of the good things the rowing machine has to offer, you may have a few questions! 

  • How do I use the Rowing Machine?
  • When Should I use the Rowing Machine?
  • Should I use the Rowing Machine Over Other Cardio Equipment?

Let’s answer these!

How do I use the Rowing Machine?

This is one of the biggest reasons people do not try out new equipment, they are unclear on how to use it. So let’s go step by step just to make sure you got the hang of it! 

Set the Drag: This is the level of resistance, and typically can be found on the screen next to the flywheel. 

Place Hands/Feet: Strap your feet in, grab the handles with both hands, keep wrists straight.

Lean Forward: Shoulders should in front of your hips.

Leg Drive: Drive feet down, push with your legs. This is done in a similar movement to that of the squat or leg press.

Lean Back: Lean your torso back, but only slightly, you do not want to go so far that you are parallel to the floor.

Pull: With your hands, pull the handles towards your body.

Advice From the Pros: If you want some visual instruction, check out this video from Deadspin where United States Olympians demonstrate the rowing machine:

When Should I Use a Rowing Machine?

Rowing machines can be thrown anywhere in your schedule, whenever you are up for it! That is another benefit of rowing machines, it can fit anywhere you want.

Utilizing a rowing machine can be done before you lift, as a warm up. This gets the blood pumping throughout the body and gets you ready to go for your lift!

The rowing machine can also be utilized after a lift, as a recovery/cool down movement. Some people prefer to do their cardio after they lift, and if you fit that category then feel free to throw it in at the end!

Active rest days are also a good time for the rowing machine. It is low impact, you can go at your own pace, do whatever type of workout you want. This makes rowing machines a perfect option for an active rest day.

Should I use a Rowing Machine Over Other Cardio Equipment?

The answer to this is all up to you. If you are able to and have access to a rowing machine, why not switch it up every now and then? At this point, you have read about all the benefits of rowing machines compared to other pieces of cardio equipment, why not give it a try?

Wrap Up

There are so many benefits of rowing machines that were discussed. It is low-impact, fit for versatility in your training, and can be used to build strength and endurance along with being beneficial for recovery. There are numerous reasons to give it a try. If you know where to place it in your workout routine, know how you want to use it for your training, and are willing to put the work in, there is no reason to not try the rowing machines!


(31 January, 2012). “Tips for choosing the right exercise equipment” (Source)

(28 December, 2019). “Rowing Machine Workouts: Are They Good for Recovery?” (Source)

(18 February, 2020). “Rowing Machine for Weight Loss: Does it Work, and How?” (Source)

Firman, Tehrene; (14 April, 2021). “The Rowing Machine Engages 86% of Your Muscles—Here’s How It Benefits Your Fitness Routine” (Source)


Dylan Wolf
I work mainly in content writing, focusing my free time on bodybuilding and strength sports. I was introduced to fitness in high school and after watching Generation Iron movies. I love to train. I have competed multiple times, even winning a junior title in classic physique. I have a bachelor's in criminal justice and business obtained through Alvernia University. When I am not focused on work or training, I enjoy watching films or reading about anything and everything.