Do Rowing Machines Build Muscle? | Comprehensive Guide

Everything You Need To Know!

man using rowing machine at East Park Gym in Berkshire

When it comes to building muscle there are countless workout routines and gym equipment available to help you achieve your fitness goals.

In this comprehensive guide we will be focusing on one specific piece of equipment that offers a variety of benefits for your overall health and fitness: the rowing machine.

Find out how rowing machines can help you build muscle and improve your fitness level at East Park Gym.

Do Rowing Machines Build Muscle?

Building muscle is important for overall health and fitness. In addition to improving physical appearance, increased muscle mass can enhance your performance in sports, daily activities, and help prevent injury.

Rowing machines have gained popularity in recent years as an effective tool for building muscle and providing a full-body workout. Let's dive into the benefits of rowing and how rowing machines can help you achieve your muscle-building goals.

Benefits of Rowing

Rowing has numerous advantages for both your physical and mental health. Some key benefits include:

1. Full body workout

Rowing machines provide a comprehensive and balanced workout that targets multiple major muscle groups. The rowing motion engages the arms, legs, back, and core muscles, which helps to build strength and endurance throughout the entire body.

2. Cardiovascular benefits

Rowing is an excellent cardiovascular exercise that can help improve heart health and overall fitness levels. It can help increase your heart rate and oxygen uptake which improves your body's ability to transport and use oxygen more efficiently.

3. Low impact exercise

Unlike running or jumping rowing is a low-impact workout that is gentle on your joints, reducing the risk of injury. Rowing machines provide a smooth and controlled motion that is less jarring on your body than other high-impact exercises.


4. Improved posture and flexibility

Rowing can help strengthen the back muscles and improve posture as well as increase flexibility in the hips and hamstrings. This can help alleviate back pain and stiffness, and improve your overall range of motion.

5. Increased endurance

Regular rowing workouts can increase your stamina and help boost your performance in other sports and activities. By gradually increasing the intensity and duration of your rowing workouts you can improve your overall endurance and fitness level.

How Rowing Machines Work

Rowing machines are designed to simulate the motion of rowing a boat, providing a unique and challenging workout. There are four main types of resistance used in rowing machines which are as followed:

1. Air resistance

Air resistance rowing machines use a flywheel that is connected to a fan. As you pull the handle the flywheel spins and creates resistance. The harder and speedier you row, the more resistance is generated.

2. Magnetic resistance

Magnetic resistance rowing machines employ a magnetic brake system to create resistance. When the magnets are positioned closer to the flywheel, it generates a higher amount of resistance. Magnetic resistance is typically quieter than air resistance and has a smoother, more consistent feel.

3. Water resistance

Water resistance rowing machines utilise a tank filled with water and paddles to generate resistance. As you row, the paddles spin through the water, creating a natural and realistic rowing feel. Water resistance is typically the quietest and most natural-feeling type of resistance.


4. Hydraulic resistance

Hydraulic resistance rowing machines use hydraulic cylinders to create resistance. These machines are typically smaller and more affordable than other types of rowing machines, but they may not provide as smooth or consistent of a workout.

Each type of resistance has its own advantages and disadvantages but all provide an effective means of building muscle.

During a rowing workout several major muscle groups are targeted including the upper body (arms, shoulders, and back), core muscles (abs and obliques), and lower body (legs and glutes).

Muscle Building with Rowing Machines.

In order to build muscle it's important to incorporate resistance training and progressive overload into your workouts.

Rowing machines provide both of these elements, as you can adjust the resistance level to increase the challenge and progressively overload your muscles.

Role of Resistance and Progressive Overload

Resistance training involves working against a force that provides resistance to the muscle.

Rowing machines provide an adjustable resistance that can be tailored to your fitness level and goals. By gradually increasing the resistance level over time, you can continue to challenge your muscles and promote muscle growth.

Progressive overload involves gradually increasing the demands placed on your muscles in order to continue making progress. As your muscles adapt to a particular level of resistance you need to increase the resistance in order to continue making gains.

Rowing machines provide a variety of resistance levels and workout programs that can help you continue to challenge your muscles and make progress towards your muscle-building goals.


Rowing Machine Exercises for Specific Muscle Groups

Rowing machines provide a unique and challenging workout that targets multiple muscle groups at once. Here are some rowing machine exercises that can help you build muscle in specific areas:
upper body (arms, shoulders, back).

  • Bicep curls: Hold the handle with an underhand grip and pull the handle towards your chest, bending your elbows and engaging your biceps.
  • Upright rows: Hold the handle with an overhand grip and pull the handle towards your chin, engaging your shoulders and upper back.
  • Reverse flys: Hold the handle with an overhand grip and extend your arms in front of you. Keeping your arms straight pull the handle towards your chest, engaging your upper back and shoulders. Core muscles (abs, obliques)
  • Crunches: Sit on the seat with your feet strapped in. Lean back slightly, engaging your abs, then pull your knees towards your chest, crunching your abs.
  • Russian twists: Sit on the seat with your feet strapped in. Lean back slightly, engaging your abs, then twist your torso to one side, reaching the handle towards your hip. Repeat on the other side. Lower body (legs, glutes)
  • Leg press: Place your feet on the footrests and push against the resistance, engaging your leg muscles.
  • Glute bridges: Sit on the seat and place your feet on the footrests. Lean back slightly, engaging your glutes, then push against the resistance, lifting your hips off the seat.


Importance of Proper Form and Technique

In order to maximize the effectiveness of your rowing workouts and prevent injury it's important to use proper form and technique. Here are some tips for proper rowing form:

  • Sit up straight with your shoulders relaxed and your chest lifted.
  • Keep your feet securely strapped into the footrests.
  • Grasp the handle with an overhand grip and keep your elbows close to your body.
  • Push off with your legs first, then lean back slightly and pull the handle towards your chest.
  •  Extend your arms fully before starting the next stroke.
  • Keep your movements smooth and controlled, avoiding jerky or sudden motions.

How to Adjust Resistance Levels on a Rowing Machine

Most rowing machines allow you to adjust the resistance level in one of two ways: by changing the resistance type (air, magnetic, water, hydraulic), or by adjusting the resistance level manually. The resistance level can typically be adjusted via a dial or lever on the machine.

At East Park Gym our personal trainers can help you adjust the resistance level on our state-of-the-art rowing machines and provide guidance on proper form and technique to ensure a safe and effective workout.

Rowing Machine Workout Programs for Muscle Building

To maximize muscle building with a rowing machine it's important to incorporate a variety of workout programs. Here are some examples of rowing machine workouts that can help you build muscle:

High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) Rowing Workouts

HIIT workouts involve alternating between periods of high-intensity exercise and rest. HIIT rowing workouts can be an effective way to build muscle and improve cardiovascular fitness. Here's an example of a HIIT rowing workout:

1. Warm up with 5 minutes of steady rowing at a moderate pace.

2. Row at a high intensity for 30 seconds, then rest for 30 seconds.

3. Repeat for 10-20 rounds, depending on your fitness level.

4. Cool down with 5 minutes of steady rowing at a moderate pace.

Steady State Rowing Workouts

Steady state rowing workouts involve maintaining a consistent pace and resistance level for an extended period of time. This type of workout can help improve endurance and build muscle. Here's an example of a steady state rowing workout:

1. Warm up with 5 minutes of steady rowing at a moderate pace.

2. Row at a moderate pace for 20-30 minutes, maintaining a consistent resistance level.

3. Cool down with 5 minutes of steady rowing at a moderate pace.


Pyramid Rowing Workouts

Pyramid rowing workouts involve gradually increasing and then decreasing the intensity and duration of your rowing intervals. This type of workout can help build muscle and improve endurance. Here's an example of a pyramid rowing workout:

1. Warm up with 5 minutes of steady rowing at a moderate pace.

2. Row at a low intensity for 1 minute, then increase the intensity for 1 minute.

3. Continue increasing the intensity for each subsequent minute, up to a maximum of 5 minutes.

4. Then, decrease the intensity for each subsequent minute, down to a minimum of 1 minute.

5. Repeat the pyramid cycle for a total of 3-4 rounds.

6. Cool down with 5 minutes of steady rowing at a moderate pace.

In addition to rowing workouts you can also incorporate other strength training exercises such as free weights or bodyweight exercises, to further target specific muscle groups and enhance your overall muscle-building routine.

Comparing Rowing to Other Muscle Building Workouts

While rowing machines offer numerous benefits for muscle building, it's important to consider how they compare to other types of workouts. Here are some comparisons between rowing and other muscle-building workouts:

Rowing vs Weightlifting

Weightlifting is a popular form of resistance training that involves lifting weights to build muscle. While both rowing and weightlifting can help you build muscle they each have their own unique benefits:

  • Rowing provides a full-body workout, targeting multiple muscle groups at once, while weightlifting typically focuses on specific muscles or muscle groups during each exercise.
  • Rowing is a low-impact exercise, reducing the risk of injury and making it suitable for a wider range of fitness levels, while weightlifting can place more stress on the joints.
  • Rowing also offers cardiovascular benefits in addition to muscle building, while weightlifting primarily focuses on muscle strength and size.


Rowing vs Bodyweight Exercises

Bodyweight exercises, such as push-ups and squats, use your own body weight as resistance to build muscle. Here's how rowing compares to bodyweight exercises:

  • Both rowing and bodyweight exercises can be performed with minimal equipment, making them accessible options for home workouts or when traveling.
  • Rowing provides a more consistent and adjustable resistance level, allowing for greater control over the intensity of your workout and more opportunity for progressive overload.
  • Bodyweight exercises may require modifications or progressions to continue challenging your muscles as you grow stronger, while rowing machines provide a wide range of resistance levels to accommodate your progress.

Rowing vs Resistance Bands

Resistance bands are versatile workout tools that can be used to perform a variety of strength training exercises. Here's how rowing compares to resistance band workouts:

  • Both rowing and resistance band exercises provide adjustable resistance levels, allowing you to tailor your workout to your specific fitness goals and progress over time.
  • Rowing machines offer a more consistent resistance throughout the entire range of motion, while resistance bands may provide varying levels of resistance depending on the band's position and tension.
  • Resistance bands are portable and affordable, making them a convenient option for home workouts or when space is limited; however, rowing machines provide a more comprehensive and realistic rowing experience.


Tips for Maximizing Muscle Building with a Rowing Machine

To get the most out of your rowing workouts, consider the following tips:

  • Warming up and cooling down: Begin each workout with a 5-minute warm-up of light rowing or other low-impact activities to gradually increase your heart rate and prepare your muscles for the workout. Similarly, end each workout with a 5-minute cool-down to help your muscles recover and prevent injury.
  • Incorporating targeted strength training exercises: To further challenge specific muscle groups and enhance your overall muscle-building routine, include other strength training exercises such as free weights, bodyweight exercises, or resistance band workouts.
  • Tracking progress: Keep a log of your rowing workouts, noting distance, time, resistance levels, and any additional strength training exercises. Monitoring your progress can help you stay motivated and ensure you continue to challenge your muscles as you grow stronger.
  • Proper nutrition and recovery: Make sure to consume a balanced diet with adequate protein to support muscle growth and repair. Additionally, allow adequate time for rest and recovery to help prevent overtraining and ensure optimal muscle-building results.

Our Thoughts On Rowing Machine Workouts

Rowing machines offer an effective and efficient means of building muscle, improving cardiovascular fitness, and enhancing overall health.

By incorporating rowing workouts into your fitness routine, you can experience the numerous benefits of this full-body exercise. Don't hesitate to give rowing a try and explore the various workout programs and resistance levels available.


Achieve Your Goals At East Park Gym

Ready to start building muscle with rowing machines? Book a FREE EAST PARK GYM DAY PASS HERE and take advantage of our state-of-the-art rowing machines, personal training services, and a variety of fitness classes.

For more information on how rowing can help you achieve your muscle-building goals contact East Park Gym by email at or by calling 01189 747 585. Our experienced trainers are ready to help you reach your fitness goals.

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Q: Can you build muscle with just a rowing machine?
A: Certainly! A rowing machine can assist in building muscle in different parts of the body, such as the arms, back, chest, core, legs, and glutes. By rowing, you engage multiple muscle groups simultaneously, making it a highly effective method for increasing strength and muscle mass

Q: Can you get in shape by just rowing?
A: Short workouts on a rowing machine are effective because rowing engages your entire body right from the beginning. It activates almost double the amount of muscles compared to activities like cycling.

Q: Does rowing burn belly fat?
A: Absolutely! When used correctly, a rowing machine can be helpful in shedding belly fat and toning your stomach.

Q: Is Rowing Better Than Kayaking for Callorie Burning?
A: Burning calories kayaking versus burning calories rowing yield very similar results depending on your effort output. Somewhere between 3 to 7 calories per minute is what you'll burn when engaging in either of these activities. Of course there are no Kayaking machines in any gym, but generally there are always rowing machines, so it's far easier to find somewhere to row than to kayak.