Training with the rowing machine: how to make rowing an effective whole-body workout

A young woman works out with the rowing machine

The rowing machine is excellent for an efficient whole-body workout – but only if you train with it properly. That’s why you should know what to look out for when training and which muscles are used. This is the only way for everyone to achieve the best results for themselves.

Contents at a glance

Which muscles does the rowing machine train??

Rowing is one of the few sports that uses almost all muscle groups and trains strength, endurance, coordination, circulation and heart.

All major muscle groups are exercised:

  • Shoulder muscles
  • Arm muscles (biceps, triceps, finger muscles)
  • Back muscles (trunk)
  • Abdominal muscles (upper, lateral and lower abdominal muscles, chest muscles)
  • Buttocks
  • Leg muscles (thigh, knee, lower leg, calf and foot muscles)

The focus is on the large back muscle (latissimus), which is located below the shoulder blades along the entire length of the spine, the trapezius muscle, which is located between the shoulder blades, and the lower back area. In addition, pushing off with the legs puts a lot of strain on the thighs and calves.

What should I pay attention to when training on the rowing machine??

First, when rowing, it is important to take the right position. Above all, make sure you keep an upright posture and never bend your back too much backwards or forwards: when moving, the straight upper body should not be inclined forwards by more than ten degrees. It’s best to fix your eyes on a specific point on the wall while exercising, this ensures good posture. To prevent your feet from slipping off during the exercise, always tighten the foot straps. The hips form a line with the knees and feet: make sure that the hip bones are at the same height, the knees are not turned inwards or outwards and the feet are firmly on the footboard.

You don’t necessarily need to stretch before the workout, though you should do the movements more slowly at first so your body gets used to them. After rowing, however, stretching exercises help to relax the muscles again.

Common mistakes on the rowing machine

The most common mistake when training on the rowing machine: Instead of an upright posture, the body easily falls into a hunched back, while the head is pushed forward. Causes back pain, tensions are not relieved. Therefore, especially as a beginner, you should always consciously make sure that your upper body is kept straight. It also helps to start with less weight until you have internalized the technique, and increase from there.

Another beginner’s mistake is extending the elbows outward and pulling the shoulders upward. The body automatically tenses up. Instead, you should put your elbows and bring your shoulder blades together with the pulling motion behind your back.

Rowing is all about fluid movements, not powerful snatches and releases. Forcefully pull the rowing bar toward the body and return it, never completely slackening and reapplying the force.

A group of men and women exercising with the rowing machine

How to train correctly?

If you perform the sequence a few times with concentration, you will have internalized it relatively quickly: You start by pushing off with your legs. Then lean the upper body slightly backwards. Only then pull your arms to your body and shoulder blades together behind your body. Back to the starting position, perform the movements in reverse: First stretch out your arms, then lean your upper body forward and finally angle your legs again. With a little practice, these steps merge and the movements become more fluid.

Beginners should do about 20 strokes per minute – for at least 15 minutes, three times a week. Always take a day’s rest between workouts. As with all sports, the same applies here: Do not overdo it. Start slowly and increase the intensity during the workout before slowing down the movements again towards the end. Do not forget the subsequent stretching of the muscles used!

What rowing machines are available?

You will find rowing machines in almost every gym. They differ mainly according to their resistance systems:

  • with cable and air resistance
  • with cable and magnetic resistance
  • with cable and hydraulic resistance
  • With cable pull and water resistance

If you want to buy your own rowing machine, it is worthwhile to do a test at the gym and talk to an experienced trainer. It is important for a healthy workout that you can adjust the machine individually, preferably steplessly. The resistance should be changeable, the rowing strokes should be displayed and a timer should be available.

Calorie consumption and other benefits

Because rowing uses so many different muscles, calorie consumption is also comparatively high. On average, you burn between 400 and 800 kcal during a one-hour strength training session – depending on load and intensity.

Unlike many other sports, rowing is largely without risk of injury. The steady movements put only little stress on the joints and fortunately there is no danger of a boat collision in the living room. Thus it comes mostly only to small skin abrasions at the hands or blister formation.

The training improves endurance and blood circulation, increases coordination and reduces important risk factors such as lack of exercise, obesity, high blood pressure and metabolic diseases. In addition, rowing promotes mental strength and stress reduction – whether on the water or in the living room.

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