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What Muscles Does a Rowing Machine Work?

Guest post written by Bishnu Pada Das, NASM Certified Personal Trainer and the founder of CrazyAthlete.

If you’re looking for a low-impact exercise or a full-body workout, the rowing machine can be your one-step solution! 

Whether you’re an athlete or just starting out, understanding the muscles that work during rowing exercises can help you maximize your workout results and crush your fitness goals more efficiently. 

In this article, we’ll take a closer look at muscles that work during rowing exercises. I will also share the benefits of using a rowing machine and some tips for using it safely and effectively.

What Muscles Does a Rowing Machine Work?

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Rowing is a compound exercise that involves multiple muscle groups at a time. The primary muscles worked during rowing are:


Like any walking equipment, rowing machines extensively focus on the legs as they are responsible for driving the machine back and forth. During rowing, all the lower body muscles (i.e., quads, hamstrings, and glutes) are activated. As you push back with your legs, your quads contract to extend your knees while your glutes and hamstrings work together to extend your hips, and the calves are also involved in stabilizing the lower leg during the drive phase.


The core muscles are activated during rowing motion to maintain proper posture and balance of the body. The core muscle, such as rectus abdominis, transverse abdominis, obliques, and erector spinae muscles, are all involved in keeping the body stable during the motion. They are also responsible for transferring power from the legs to the upper body during the exercise.


Rowing is an excellent exercise for building back strength and muscle. The upper and mid back muscles, including the latissimus dorsi, trapezius, rhomboids, and rear deltoids, are all fired up during the pulling motion of rowing. They mainly work to pull the handle towards the body during the drive phase, and then they contract eccentrically during the recovery phase to control the handle’s return.


The biceps, triceps, and forearms are all involved in rowing. The arms are responsible for pulling the handle toward the body and extending it during recovery. The forearms also play a role in making the grip firmer and holding the handle secure.

Secondary Muscles That Work During Rowing

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While the primary muscles work at a greater degree, several other muscle groups are also activated during the exercise. They are:

Shoulders: The shoulder muscles are activated during the pulling motion of rowing, especially the posterior deltoid. As you pull the handle towards your body, your shoulder muscles work to stabilize the shoulder joint and control the movement.

Chest: The pectoral muscles are also involved during rowing. They work to stabilize the shoulder joint during the pulling motion and contribute to the pushing motion during the recovery phase.

Hips and Glutes: The hip muscles, including the hip flexors and adductors, stabilize the hip joint during the drive phase and contribute to the power generated by the legs. And the glute muscles work together with the hamstrings to extend the hips during the drive phase, generating power and propulsion.

Tips for Using a Rowing Machine Safely and Effectively

Follow the following tips to get the most out of your rowing machine workout and avoid injury:

1. Use Proper Form

Using a proper form is crucial whether you’re on the rowing machine or on the treadmill. Here’s how to exercise on a rowing machine:

  • Start by sitting on the machine with your feet securely fastened to the footrests. 
  • Your knees should be bent and your shins vertical to the floor. Sit up straight and hold the handle with an overhand grip. 
  • To begin, push back with your legs, lean back slightly, and pull the handle towards your body. 
  • Reverse the motion to return to the starting position. Repeat.

2. Choose Resistance

Adjusting the resistance on your rowing machine is essential to ensure that you are getting an effective workout without putting too much strain on your body. Start with a lower resistance level and gradually increase it as you gain strength and become more comfortable with the movement.

3. Don’t Forget to Warm-Up and Cool-Down

Before starting your rowing or any workout in general, it’s important to warm up your body by doing some cardio and light stretching exercises. After your workout, take 2-5 minutes to cool down with gentle stretching exercises to prevent injury and reduce muscle soreness.

4. Listening to Your Body

Whether you’re using a rowing or any running machine, listening to your body is crucial. Stop immediately and seek medical advice if you experience pain or discomfort during the exercise.

Benefits of Using a Rowing Machine

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Using a rowing machine offers numerous benefits, including:

1. Full-Body Workout: Rowing is a full-body exercise that engages multiple muscle groups simultaneously. This means you can get a complete workout in a shorter period than you would with other exercises that isolate specific muscle groups.

2. Low-Impact Exercise: Rowing is a low-impact exercise that puts less stress on the joints than running or jumping. This makes it an excellent option for people who are recovering from an injury or have joint issues.

3. Increased Cardiovascular Health: Exercising on a rowing machine helps elevate your heart rate and improves your cardiovascular health. Regular rowing can also help lower blood pressure, reduce the risk of heart disease, and improve overall cardiovascular fitness.

4. Helps with weight loss and toning: Because rowing engages many different muscle groups, it can help you burn calories and lose weight more effectively than exercises targeting only one or two muscle groups. Additionally, rowing can help to tone and sculpt your muscles for a leaner, more defined physique.

5. Relieves stress: Like most forms of exercise, rowing can be a great stress reliever. The repetitive rowing motion can be meditative and calming, helping reduce stress and improve your mood.

Final Thoughts On Rowing Machines Workouts

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Rowing machines are an excellent option for people seeking a full-body workout that improves muscle strength, endurance, and cardiovascular health.

You can reap the most of your workouts by understanding the muscles worked during rowing and following the tips for using the machine safely and effectively. 

So, the next time you hit the rowing machine, build the muscle-mind connection with the working muscles to reap the most of your workout.

Author Bio
Bishnu Pada Das is a NASM Certified Personal Trainer and the founder of CrazyAthlete, where he helps people to crush their fitness goals and feel amazing from the inside out.

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