No matter whether you’re rowing on open water or using a rowing machine, each stroke will work every major muscle group in your body. Most people are familiar with the cardiovascular benefits of rowing, but this low impact exercise can also be a key component in your strength training routine.
A rowing machine provides you with a whole body workout. The anatomy of a rowing stroke is comprised of four key components: the catch, the drive, the extraction and the recovery. Let’s take a closer look at what muscles are worked during each stage of a stroke:
The Upper Back
During the drive phase, you pull the rower’s handle towards your midsection. This works the muscles in your upper back and shoulders, including:
- The deltoid
- Serratus Anterior (Your “Wing” muscles)
- Anterior Deltoid
- Latissimus Dorsi
Core Muscles and Chest
With each rowing stroke, you work your abdominal muscles and your chest. Each time you pull back using your arms and back, your abdominal muscles contract to stabilize your lower back and prevent it from collapsing. These core muscles include:
- Lower abdominals
- Lower back
- Transverse abdominis
- Oblique muscles
- Pectoralis Major
Rowing will provide you with an excellent leg workout. The catch requires a powerful push from your legs. During the drive, you extend your knees and your hips to work your glutes, hamstrings and quadriceps.
Other leg muscles that you’ll work include:
- Calf muscles
- Tibialis Anterior
To move the rower handle, you’ll need to use both your upper back and your arms. Rowing will give you a good arm workout and work most of the major muscles in your upper and lower arms, including:
- Wrist Extenders
- Forearm Extensors
Your biceps help bend your elbows and pull the rower handle towards your abdominals. Your triceps work in unison with your chest and deltoids to extend your arms after each stroke.
It may seem hard to believe, but rowing also works your hip flexors. When you slide forward to perform the next stroke, your hip flexors and your hamstrings contract to help keep you stabilized. The hips flexors work with the quadriceps muscles to propel you forward and ready you for your next stroke.
Rowing machines can provide you with a great full body workout, but to really maximize the benefits, you need to select the right resistance level. The resistance level that you choose will depend on what you fitness goals are.
- Higher resistance will help you build muscle
- Lower resistance will help improve muscle tone
If your goal is to build strength or train during the off-season, higher resistance levels will help you achieve the results you want. On the other hand, if your goal is to just tone up and lose weight, lower resistance levels will suffice.
Selecting the right resistance level will help you reach your fitness goals quickly. While a rowing machine will provide you with a complete workout, you need to challenge your body to avoid plateaus and start seeing gains.