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Rowing Machine Muscles Targeted

Last Updated on October 28, 2021 by Jeff

Rowing machines are a great way to do cardio, but they exercise a lot more muscles than you think. They are wonderful exercise machines recommended by a lot of fitness professionals. The article will help to explain what muscle groups a rowing machine exercises and how to use the machine. 

If you do a full rowing stroke correctly you can engage more than nine different muscle groups. Some people may have a misconception about the rowing machine and think it is only used to tone your arms. 

But the great news is that the rowing machine works your abdominal muscles with each movement. Rowing engages your glutes as you drive back working your leg muscles as well. 

A rowing machine can be beneficial to any who would like to add something extra to their workout routine and get in shape. A rowing machine is a great addition to any home gym. They do not take up a lot of space and can easily be moved around.  

Rowing Machine Muscles


Muscle Groups Targeted by a Rowing Machine 

While rowing you can activate up to nine muscle groups in the body and utilize almost 85% of the muscles in your entire body. In addition to that, it is also cardiovascular. This is why rowing is such a highly recommended exercise by many fitness experts. 

Try to remember to keep your core engaged to have a good posture. If your posture is correct, 60% of rowing will come from your legs, 20% from your core, and the other 20% from pulling your arms. If your posture is incorrect you will not engage all of your muscles. 

A common misconception about rowing machines is that they only work to make your arms bigger or bulkier. This is not the case. Rowing is also a great way to tone your arms and get them smaller. The only way to get a bodybuilder’s arms is if you train like a bodybuilder. The rowing machine will work your shoulders but not bulk them. 

During the full rowing motion, you will engage a lot of muscles. The first part before you push off engages your core and back muscles. During the push off the pedals, you use your hamstrings, thighs, calves, and core. 

After the push comes the pull. This will engage your shoulders, arms, backs, and core muscles. After that is the recovery back to the start. This will engage your hamstrings, back, and core muscles. 

How to Use a Rowing Machine to Build Muscle 

The rowing movement can be broken down into four movements: The catch, drive, finish, and recovery. 

rowing machine muscle gain

The Catch: This is the start of the stroke. Your seat is all the way forward and you are close to the machine. Bend your knees close to your chest with your chins straight up. Hold your arms in front of you, shoulders apart. Slightly hang forward at the hips and engage your core. 

The Drive: Push yourself off the foot stretchers until your legs are almost extended. Use your core and hips to get yourself in an upright position. After that, engage your arms and shoulders and pull the handle back towards the chest. 

The Finish: This is the third phase of the row. Use your core muscles to stabilize your body while you are slightly backward. Now you should fully extend your legs. Draw the handle towards your sternum. Your arms will rotate simulating the rowing motion. 

The Recovery: This is the final phase. It is the first three steps in reverse. Put your arms in front of you, lean forward and bend your knees. Using your hamstrings to pull yourself forward. Keep going until you are in the cath position

Try to control your movement not to swing back to the start. This will help to engage the most muscle groups. All these movements are done in one fluid motion. 

Muscle Groups Used in Each Movement 

The muscle groups used to depend on what part of the row you are. 

The catch is the horizontal version of a normal deadlift. And using the same muscles. These include your triceps, abdominals, hamstrings, and lower back. The drive focuses on the posterior chain – hamstrings, glutes, calves, and spinal erectors. The pull and finish use the quads, forearms, biceps, and lats. 

what muscles does a rowing machine work

Every phase of the row movement you use your hands, neck, and chest. As a result, just one toe means you have used all the major skeletal muscles in your body. 


A rowing machine is great for working out your abs as well as your arms and legs.

Advantages for Building Muscle 

  • Offers a full-body workout 
  • Engages of 9 muscle groups 
  • Puts very little stain on your joints compared to a treadmill or elliptical 
  • Easy to use doesn’t require a lot of balance or getting used to 

Disadvantages of the Rowing Machine 

  • It is not a substitute for individual weight training 
  • A rowing machine needs to be plugged into an eclectic power source to work 

Final Thoughts on the Rowing Machine 

Rowing machines offer a full-body workout with a low impact on your joints. A rowing machine does not substitute individual bodybuilding. If your goal is to bulk up like a bodybuilder, it’s best to use weights alongside a rowing machine. 

A tip to remember is to always keep your core engaged at all times. This will help you to maintain a good posture. Without the right posture, you will work for the wrong muscle groups. Often putting too much pressure on your lower back. Spending a lot of time rowing with the wrong posture can lead to injuries. 

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