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Rowing Machines for Bodybuilding

Last Updated on October 28, 2021 by Jeff

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The rowing machine is well-known for its cardio benefits, but it packs a double punch: it aids in bodybuilding, too. 

In addition to this, the best rowing machines work the entire body, meaning that you strengthen all major muscle groups simultaneously with just one movement. 

Using a rowing machine for highly effective bodybuilding requires you to work out in a specific way, to maximize these benefits. We explore how to best use a rowing machine, including workout examples, to achieve your body-building goals. 

Can a Rowing Machine Build Muscle?

You can use a rowing machine to get in shape and effectively build muscle. While you may think of the lower body when you think of muscles worked on a rowing machine, this is not all it does. While the rowing machine is a leg workout, it also works all the other major muscle groups throughout the body. 

The rowing machine mimics the motion of rowing a boat, and that motion targets the lower body (glutes, hamstrings, calves, and quadriceps), and upper body (biceps, triceps, back, shoulders). Finally, the rowing machine is good for abs, engaging the core (abdominals, hips). All in all, this is a whopping 86% of the body’s muscles. 

It is important to remember that reaching fitness goals requires more than just exercise. A good diet should accompany your workout routine, which might range from a calorie deficit to lose weight, to a calorie excess to gain muscle – this can be determined through research and/or a dietary professional. 

It also cannot be used to target a specific muscle, such as using a rowing machine for shoulders, as it is a total-body movement. The muscle group you target will be strengthened, but so will the rest of the body.

Sufficient sleep and reduced stress levels are also factors that contribute to a successful fitness plan and healthy lifestyle. 

rowing machine benefits bodybuilding

How to Use a Rowing Machine for Bodybuilding

While simply rowing at a moderate pace will result in your muscles being strengthened over time, if you have a clear goal to build muscle, you will need to tailor your workouts to achieve this. 

Resistance Level

A rowing machine is fitted with a resistance adjuster, allowing you to increase the resistance to make the workout more challenging. 

Increased resistance is a surefire way to increase muscle building, as the body is forced into a more strenuous workout. You can gradually increase the resistance as your fitness levels increase, as the workout should always feel challenging to achieve optimal results.

Resistance levels can also be used creatively, during High-Intensity Training Interval workouts. 

HIIT Workouts

High-Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) refers to exercise that alternates high-intensity periods of movement with moderate periods of movement, for anywhere between 10-30 minutes. 

HIIT workouts are ideal on the rowing machine for toning and weight loss due to the increased calorie burn that comes with a continuous rising of the heart rate but is also beneficial for muscle building. It leads to greater muscle fatigue, which is what results in muscle building. 

Workout 1

On a rowing machine, you can monitor the meters that you have completed with rowing. 

For this workout, you will row at a high speed for 300 meters and then row at a low speed for the same time that it took you to complete the 300 meters. The time of each interval might vary between 40 seconds to 80 seconds, depending on your height and fitness levels. 

Begin by repeating this interval four times (4 x 300m), and try to increase your workout by adding intervals every week or two, as your fitness levels build. You can also increase the resistance over time to challenge yourself further. 

Workout 2

While the first workout focused on distance, this workout focuses on time. 

Set yourself a goal for a one-minute duration. For this example, we will say 400m in one minute. Work towards that goal for one minute, and take note of how far you get. Then attempt another minute, and try to beat your distance in the previous minute. 

Even if you do not immediately reach 400 meters in a minute, you will try to beat the distance covered in previous minutes while working towards it. Once you have reached 400 meters in a minute, increase the overall goal by 20 meters each time, and then work towards it. 

Continue this pattern for 15 minutes. It may seem short, but each minute will be done at an intense speed, which will result in a tough workout. 

Add other Moves

Rowing alone results in muscle strengthening, but you might be asking: “Will the rowing machine make me bulky?”. If your bodybuilding goal is a bit more extreme, you can incorporate other weight exercises into your rowing routine to maximize building muscle. 

Workout 1

This workout incorporates one other strength exercise movement into your rowing workout. 

You will alternate between tracking calories and repetition. Row until you have ten calories burned (indicated on your rowing machine), which will be around 40-60 seconds. Then hop off the machine, grab some weights, and do weighted ten weighted squats. 

Then you will get back on the rowing machine, burn twenty calories, and then do twenty weighted squats. Continue with this until you reach 50 calories and 50 weighted squats, or push yourself even further if desired. 

If you are a beginner, you can stick with ten calories and ten weighted squats, just repeat it between 6-10 times. To make it even more moderate, lose the weights and switch to bodyweight squats. 

This can be tailored by doing a different strength movement every day: think pushups, burpees, lunges, and so on.

Workout 2 

The first workout used one other exercise movement, but you can mix it up even further by adding multiple movements. 

Start with one minute of rowing, followed by 15 push-ups. Get back on the machine and row for two minutes, then do 10 burpees. Row for another minute then pushes through 25 weighted squats. Do a final two minutes of rowing, and finish off with 50 crunches. 

This can be tailored in several ways. To decrease the intensity, lower the repetitions of the non-rowing exercises. To increase the intensity, add resistance to the rowing, and/or increase exercise repetitions. 

You can also play around with the exercises done, to change up the routine daily. 

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