What Muscles Are Worked By A Rowing Machine?

Have you been thinking about adding the rowing machine to your workout routine? You’ve heard it’s the unsung hero of cardio, and you’re wondering what muscles does the rowing machine work if you take the plunge.

Look no further. Here we’ll look at what muscles you’re working and how they function together during a rowing workout. We’ll also touch on why that’s good for your health and weight loss journey.

When it’s all said and done, I’m pretty sure you’ll agree with me about rowing machines. You just can’t go wrong with using one in your fitness routine.

Why Should I Row?

In case you’re having doubts about the rowing machine, you can go ahead and put those aside. A rowing machine is a pretty great thing. Here’s why.

Besides being a full-body cardiovascular exercise that works your major muscle groups, rowing is low impact. It’s non-weight bearing, meaning it’s great for rehabilitating injuries or easing back into exercise after time off.

Rowing machines give you that cardio workout you need to build stamina. Building stamina means you’ll be able to work out for longer periods of time, allowing you to lose more fat. The best part? You’ll continue burning calories afterward.

That’s it in a nutshell. If you use your rowing machine properly, it’s going to show. We’ll get to that next, when we talk about how the muscles work during a rowing session. You’ll be able to see for yourself what the buzz is all about.

How Muscles Work While Rowing

We’re going to get into the nitty-gritty of the rowing machine and what muscles you’re using. But, first, let’s take a little detour through a broad overview.

You can expect to work all six of the major muscle groups while working on a rowing machine. You won’t use them all at the same time, but we’ll get to that next.

There are four unique parts to a single row stroke. Each part works different muscles, and that’s what makes rowing so effective. One fluid movement provides a workout for muscles all over your body.

The very beginning of the stroke is known as the catch. The middle of the stroke is called the drive. Then you have the finish, and finally, the recovery. Here’s the breakdown of what you’re using during each portion of the stroke.

The Catch

The catch is where you are up at the front of the machine, knees drawn up to your chest. Your legs are fully bent, your arms are extended forward, your body is tipped just slightly forward.

During the catch you are actively using your triceps and deltoids in your arms. Through your back you are using your traps and erector spinae in the lower back. In your legs, you’re working your quads, calves, and hamstrings.

Of course, your abs are in on the action, too. Remember to keep your abs engaged throughout the entirety of the stroke. An engaged core will give your abs a better workout while protecting your back against undue stress or injury.

The Drive

The drive begins when you push back away from the front of the machine. Your legs are extending, your arms following the motion of your body. This portion of the stroke stops when your body is fully vertical, before you tip back and enter the finish portion.

The drive is the most intense part of the stroke. It’s where you’re doing the bulk of the work. The drive can be further broken down into three segments: leg emphasis, body swing emphasis, and arm pull through emphasis.

The leg emphasis portion of the drive is the beginning, where you first push off and move backward. During this portion of the drive your arms are still extended. You are working your deltoids, traps, upper back, glutes, hamstrings, quads, and calves.

As you move into the body swing portion of the drive, your body is beginning to tip back. Your arms are pulling in to your center. Your legs are beginning to extend. Here you are using your biceps, forearms, middle back, calves, hamstrings, abs, glutes, and quads.

The final portion of the drive is the arm pull through emphasis. This is where you are tipping back, your arms coming into your chest. During this portion of the drive you are working your biceps, forearms, delts, traps, lats, and quads.

The Finish

The finish happens after your body has tipped back beyond the vertical point. You are leaning back, legs are fully extended, your hands are at your chest. During this portion of the stroke you are using your traps, delts, biceps, forearms, lats, glutes, and quads.

The Recovery

The recovery is the final part of the stroke. It brings you back up to the catch in reverse order. Once you are at the top of the machine you will repeat the movement, exercising every one of those muscles another time.

During the recovery you’ll be utilizing your traps, hamstrings, calves, delts, triceps, forearms, and abs. Slide on back to the catch and do it all over again.

Rowing and Your Body

Now you know what muscles are involved in using the rowing machine. But you might be wondering what that translates to for your body.

Your body is a finely crafted piece of machinery. It’s all well and good to break down the aspects of the stroke and assess what you’re using when. But what’s going to get you places in the big picture?

In this case, the big picture is that those individual muscle groups add up to 84 percent of your musculature. That’s a whopping majority of the muscles you have in your entire body.

As you can imagine, working that way sets you up for tremendous calorie burn. An average rower can expect to burn 400–800 calories in an hour of rowing.

Whether you want to tone your arms, strengthen your core, or increase leg strength, you can do it with rowing. Incorporate rowing into your regular exercise routine—you’ll have a killer cardio activity that also builds muscle strength and endurance.

Remember, if you’re new to rowing or exercising, respect your body’s boundaries. It’s great to push yourself to do more. But, you need to know where the line is between doing a good workout that leaves you tired, and really needing to stop.

If you have any doubts or concerns, first speak to your doctor. Then stop by your local fitness center for a one-on-one session. They’ll have you sorted out and rowing again in no time.


There’s just no arguing with the physiological and health benefits that can come from rowing. There are few full body activities that engage the number of muscle groups the way rowing does. You might as well take advantage of it!

Do you row? How does it fit into your routine and what changes have you seen in your body? I’d love to hear your stories. And, as always, if you have questions please feel free to post them in the comments section.

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