Rowing machines, also known as ergometers or ergs, use your upper and lower body on every stroke. This strengthens and tones your muscles and improves your endurance. Rowing can also benefit your heart and lungs.

You don’t have to be a competitive rower to reap the benefits of rowing.

This article takes a look at 9 benefits of rowing.

It’s a common misconception that rowing works only your arms. In reality, rowing is a full-body workout.

According to the American Fitness Professionals Association, the rowing stroke consists of 65–75% leg work and 25–35% upper body work (1).

The major muscle groups it targets are your:

  • quadriceps
  • calves
  • glutes

Rowing is also known to strengthen your upper body muscles, including your:

  • pecs
  • arms
  • abdominal muscles
  • obliques

Your leg muscles are primarily engaged during the drive part of the stroke, or when pushing off the foot stretcher.

As long as you have access to an ergometer, you can add rowing to your exercise routine.

This exercise has also been deemed safe for people with low vision and those who are blind.

A 2015 study including 24 people with low vision found that rowing 5 days a week for 6 weeks led to a significant decrease in fat mass and total body fat percentage (2).

Additionally, the participants’ cholesterol levels decreased and their back strength and trunk flexion increased significantly.

Rowing burns serious calories without putting added stress on your joints. It allows you to control the movement and pace and is a great exercise for active recovery.

It’s sometimes recommended as an exercise option for people with early stages of osteoarthritis.

A 2014 study of 24 people over 8 weeks found that joint torques, or rotations, in the elbow, shoulder, lumbar, and knee improved by 30% (3).

The same can’t be said for high impact exercises such as running and plyometrics.

There’s a mind-body connection with rowing.

While you might find the most calming benefits by rowing outside on the water, you can still achieve some level of this indoors.

This comes from the smooth, gliding motion you can create on the ergometer and the repetitive movements that allow your mind to go on autopilot.

This involves the four phases of the row stroke, which are the:

  • catch
  • drive
  • finish
  • recovery

Rowing also promotes the release of endorphins, which are those feel-good hormones that reduce stress.

As a cardio exercise, rowing strengthens your cardiovascular system, which includes your heart, blood vessels, and blood. This system is responsible for transporting important materials, such as nutrients and oxygen, throughout your body.

Since rowing is such an intense workout, your heart has to work hard to transport more blood to your body. This can improve heart strength.

This may be beneficial for those who have or could be at risk for heart problems.

Rowing’s combination of strengthening and cardio will help build both power and endurance.

Power is your ability to exert maximum force in a very short amount of time — think jumping, accelerating to a sprint, or hitting a punching bag or a baseball.

If you row correctly, you’ll use your leg muscles to propel your body back and your arm muscles to actually row, both of which require power.

Endurance is your body’s ability to sustain an activity, like rowing, for an extended period of time. Rowing checks off both forms of endurance — cardiovascular and muscular (4).

Even if you’re short on time, the rower can help you reach your goals.

Since it’s a full-body workout, you’ll hit the major muscle groups and get both a cardio and strength workout.

Plus, short bursts of intense exercise, like high intensity interval training (HIIT), are known to increase cardiac function and excess post-exercise oxygen consumption. In other words, you’ll burn more calories after your workout is over (5).

A recent study found that low volume HIIT — less than 15 minutes per session — can induce similar, or even greater, improvements in fitness level, glucose control, blood pressure, and cardiac function than high volume HIIT or moderate-intensity continuous training (6).

When it comes to exercise machines at the gym, you may overlook the rowing machine at first.

However, this may change once you compare it to other exercise machines, such as the treadmill and the elliptical.

For example, the treadmill focuses mainly on your lower body, while the ergometer provides a full-body workout.

While the rowing machine and elliptical both work the upper and lower halves of your body, the rowing machine requires more effort in your upper body and abs with each stroke.

Also, if you live in a condo or apartment with neighbors below you, a rowing machine is much quieter than a treadmill. Rowing machines also tend to be more affordable than treadmills.

A treadmill or weight rack setup can take up quite a bit of space in a home gym, especially if your living room moonlights as a workout space.

Many rowers fold up so you can stow them away when not in use — a great perk. You can even get creative and use the rower for strength workouts. Core exercise, anyone?

Shopping for a rowing machine

For a rowing machine with a solid build that also looks nice, creates a soothing sound as you work, and can be folded up, check out WaterRowers online.

If you’re looking for a standard cable rowing machine, like those often found at the gym, you can shop for one online. These machines are available at different price points.

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According to Harvard Health, a 125-pound person can burn 255 calories in 30 minutes of a vigorous rowing workout. A 155-pound person can burn 369 calories, while a 185-pound person can burn 440.

In comparison, a 125-pound person can burn 270 calories in 30 minutes on an elliptical trainer, while a 155-pound can burn 324 calories and a 185-pound person can burn 378 (7).

Combining daily rowing with a healthy, balanced diet is a great way to be active or stay in shape.

You don’t have to be a competitive rower to try this workout. These tips can help you get the most out of your time on the rowing machine.

Consider this for good technique

Poor posture, such as rounded shoulders, or incorrect form can lead to injury or strain.

Low back pain is a common concern for many rowers. Research from 2015 found that 25–81% of injuries reported by male rowers were in the low back (8).

A common cause of low back pain is not engaging your abdominal muscles during each stroke. When this happens, your lower spine is forced to overcompensate for weak abdominal muscles.

Another common mistake is pushing with your legs and leaning back at the same time. It’s important to keep these movements separate: Push with your legs first, lean back with your abs tight, and then pull your arms back toward you.

Don’t overexert yourself when you’re first starting out

To help make rowing a habit, be sure to stop exercising when you’re too tired to maintain proper form. Experts advise against completing a strenuous rowing session after you’ve tired out your arms with another intense workout.

It’s also not recommended to undertake activities such as high load weightlifting sessions before completing a high intensity workout on a rowing machine.

Does a rowing machine help lose belly fat?

Rowing can help you burn calories, which can lead to weight loss if accompanied by an overall caloric deficit. However, targeted fat loss is not controllable, so burning belly fat specifically will come down to factors like genetics, not the type of exercise you’re doing.

What can a rowing machine do for your body?

Rowing is a total-body workout, meaning it will strengthen major muscle groups in your arms, legs, and core and increase cardiovascular endurance.

In short, if you consistently use the rowing machine, you’ll notice that you’ll become stronger and less out of breath. You may even notice some muscle gain.

How long should I row?

Even a rowing workout as short as 5 minutes could have benefits, because doing some exercise is better than doing none at all.

However, the American Heart Association recommends getting at least 150 minutes per week of moderate-intensity aerobic activity, 75 minutes per week of vigorous aerobic activity, or a combination of both (9).

If you completed a 20-minute HIIT workout on the rower just twice per week, you’d be more than halfway to your aerobic activity goal.

What does 30 minutes of rowing do?

A 30-minute rowing workout will strengthen the muscles in your upper body, lower body, and core, as well as increase your cardiovascular endurance.

Also, according to Harvard Health, a 125-pound person can burn 255 calories in 30 minutes of a vigorous rowing workout. A 155-pound person can burn 369 calories, while a 185-pound person can burn 440 (7).

Rowing isn’t just for the outdoors.

A rowing machine, or ergometer, lets you reap the benefits of a rowing workout indoors. Rowing has many benefits, such as helping you build endurance and strengthen your body. Research even shows that it can improve heart health.

When compared to other exercise machines, such as a treadmill and elliptical, the ergometer packs a mean punch. If you’re new to rowing or to any fitness routine, talk with a healthcare professional to get the all-clear before you begin.