Fitness Tips

The Rowing Machine Engages 86% of Your Muscles—Here’s How It Benefits Your Fitness Routine

Tehrene Firman

Photo: Getty Images/skynesher
I always feel bad for the rowing machine. The treadmills are always packed, the ellipticals are never lonely, and the stair climber stopped counting flights. Yet the rowing ergometer always seems to collect dust. But that's just because not everyone has experienced its true potential.

The benefits of a rowing machine are impressive. In a study from the English Institute of Sport, researchers found that the rowing machine engages 86 percent of the muscles in your body—not just your legs, as many people believe. (Take that, treadmill.) Aside from toning your legs, arms, core, and more, it's also low-impact and great for all fitness levels. I mean, even astronauts are doing it; research has found that rowing for just 30 minutes a day is as effective as 90 minutes of cycling when it comes to keeping hearts healthy in space. And on Earth, incorporating the benefits of a rowing machine into your workout routine is easy.

How to incorporate the benefits of a rowing machine into your routine

1. Do it as a warm-up

If you like to get in a little cardio before your workout as a warm-up but don't like the treadmill, hop on the rowing machine instead. Even five minutes will get your heart rate up.

2. Use it as your workout

Instead of using the rowing machine as a warm-up, spend a little extra time on it to get in a full workout. Libby Peters, the former associate head coach of the University of Pennsylvania women’s rowing team, says you can get in a killer quick-hit cardio session in just 12 minutes by doing intervals. Complete one minute of slower strokes that focus on form and strength (which equals around 16 to 18 strokes per minute), then spend the next doing more casual strokes, alternating until your time is up.

3. Use it for active recovery

If you want to get in some active recovery after an intense workout, the rowing machine can help out in that department, too. Instead of going all out like you would during a rowing sweat session, do a few minutes of more casual strokes, says Peters. It's a great way to wind down while still doing your body good.

But first, make sure you're doing it right

Before you start using the rowing machine, make sure you're using proper technique. Not only is it important to master the parts to proper rowing—the finish, the catch, and the drive—but also make sure you're not making some of the most common mistakes such as using your arms too much and not engaging your core. In order to work 86 percent of your muscles, you have to strive for 100 percent accuracy with your form.

The best at-home rowing machines to buy

1. Concept2 Model D Rower, $900

best rowing machine

If you want to buy a rowing machine that’s a favorite of Olympic rowers and coaches, this is it. It’s compact, affordable, and uses a performance monitor to measure your progress.

Shop now: Concept2 Model D Rower, $900; also available immediately from Amazon, $1,300

2. Hydrow Rower, $1,995

The high-tech Hydrow rower provides an immersive experience. Because the instructors are filmed in an actual rowing boat on the river, you’ll feel like you’re rowing right there along with them.

Shop now: Hydrow Rower, $1,995

3. WaterRower Natural Rowing Machine, $1,285

This water rower gives you a smooth rowing experience thanks to a special paddle that cups the moving water and reduces slippage.

Shop now: WaterRower Natural Rowing Machine, $1,285

4. Ergatta Rower, $2,199

Anyone who needs a little extra motivation to work out will love Ergatta, which has gaming-inspired content that keeps you moving. (Side note: As you can see, it's also really pretty.)

Shop now: Ergatta Rower, $2,199

5. NordicTrack RW900 Rower, $1,600

This rowing machine comes with a unique 22-inch rotating touchscreen, 26 resistance levels, and manual air resistance.

Shop now: NordicTrack RW900 Rower, $1,600

Keep your core strong with this 15-minute ab workout:

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