What Muscles Does a Rowing Machine Work?

Last updated April 11, 2022
What Muscles a rowing machine works

A session on the rowing machine can give you a good full-body workout, and use almost all of the muscles in your arms, shoulders, back, core and legs. Each of the four phases of rowing uses different muscles, resulting in a full-body muscle workout.

Does a Rowing Machine Help You Gain Muscles?

Yes, the rowing machine will help you to gain muscles. The rowing machine is a highly efficient exercise machine and helps you to gain an almost full-body workout. It is also able to give you a good cardio workout on top of your strength training.

Main muscles used while rowing

main muscles used while rowing

The Four Phases of Rowing in detail: Which muscles are engaged in every phase?

There are four different phases of the rowing stroke, and you will work different muscles in each phase.

Phase 1: The Catch

This is the beginning position when your knees are bent, near your chest, and your arms are holding the handle.

Used muscles:

  • Deltoids
  • Triceps
  • Lattismus dorsi
  • Trapezius
  • Serratus anterior
  • Erector Spinae
  • Rectus Abdominus
  • Hamstrings
  • Tibialis Anterior
  • Gastrocnemius
Muscles used while rowing: The Catch
Muscles used while rowing: The Catch

Phase 2: The Drive

In this stage, you push back from the footrest, and your legs are fully extended. 

Used muscles:

  • Biceps
  • Rotator cuff
  • Deltoid
  • Trapezius
  • Pectoralis major
  • Lattismus dorsi
  • Serratus Anterior
  • Erector spinae
  • Quadriceps
  • Gluteal muscles
  • Hamstrings
  • Gastrocnemius
  • Soleus
  • Abdominals
Muscles used while rowing: The Drive
Muscles used while rowing: The Drive

Phase 3: The Finish

Your arms are now fully retracted into the body and your legs are fully extended.

Used muscles:

  • Biceps
  • Brachialis 
  • Brachioradialis
  • Forearm extensors
  • Latissimus dorsi
  • Trapezius
  • Quadriceps
  • Posterior deltoid
  • Gluteus maximus
Muscles used while rowing: The Finish
Muscles used while rowing: The Finish

Phase 4: The Recovery

This is now the reverse of the first 3 stages, as you bend your knees, hinge forward from the hips, and pull forward until you reach the starting position.

Used muscles:

  • Trapezius
  • Rectus abdominus
  • Hamstrings
  • Anterior deltoid
  • Triceps
  • Wrist extensors
  • Gastrocnemius
Muscles used while rowing: The Recovery
Muscles used while rowing: The Recovery

Can you get in shape just by rowing?

If you are looking for bulky, large, body-building muscle bulk - then, no the rowing machine won’t get you into that kind of shape. 

However, if you are wanting to build strong, lean muscle and improve your cardiovascular capacity, then yes the rowing machine is a good choice.

What muscles does a rowing machine not work?

 A rowing machine will give you an almost full-body workout, but one of the main muscle groups that won’t be overly worked is your chest. This is because your arms, abdominals, legs, and back will be doing most of the work, rather than your chest muscles.

This may mean adding some push-ups to your workout to get more muscle building in your pectoralis muscles.

How long should a Rowing workout be to see results?

It is recommended to build up to doing four to five workouts a week of 30-minute duration to see real results over a few weeks. As with any exercise, starting slowly is important, and then build up to a consistent number of workouts a week.

How long does it take to build muscles with rowing?

It can take a few weeks to build muscle and to start to see results from a new workout, like the rowing machine. Consistency is key, and even two workouts consistently every week can help to start to build muscle and improve your cardio capacity.

To help to improve your overall strength and cardio it is important to change your workout on the rowing machine. You shouldn’t do the exact same workout each time you exercise, but rather do some interval training, some resistance training, and some endurance, This will help with building muscles.

How long should your muscles rest after a rowing workout?

It is important when you first start to not overdo it with any new exercise. If you do too much too soon, it can result in an injury. Initially, it is best to have a rest day in between each day of rowing, and then to listen to your body. If your muscles are sore, but good muscle tires sore, you could start to do two days in a row of rowing and then a rest day.

It is always good to have one full day a week of rest where you aren’t doing any rowing, but rather doing something like a gentle walk or swim.

Conclusion

Rowing machines are a good way to work the muscles in your body and build muscle in many areas of your arms, legs, core, and shoulders. It is important to start slowly and progress your workouts slowly, but to work out consistently to get the best results.

About Sarah Engelbrecht
Sarah Engelbrecht is a practicing physiotherapist with over 18 years of experience in healthcare and helping patients with their health, fitness, and wellness. She works in private practice in the UK. Her writing has been featured on various websites in the UK and the US.
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