Does a Rowing Machine Build Muscle?

Building Muscle with a Rowing Machine

Treadmills, ellipticals and stationary bikes are history—the rowing machine is the exercise equipment of the future. Not only since the TV series “House of Cards” drew attention to at-home rowing workouts, this piece of exercise equipment has experienced an increasing popularity.

But what makes rowing machines so special? And how effective are rowing machines really? This article deals with the question of whether a rowing machine is suitable for building muscle and what you should consider. Have fun! 😉

The Benefits of a Rowing Machine

Let me briefly explain why rowing machines are so effective.

In contrast to running, cycling or other popular sports activities that mainly train the lower body, rowing is a full body workout.

When I talk about full body workout here, I really mean what I’m saying! With a rowing machine you can train up to 80% of your muscles at the same time. 80 PERCENT!

To illustrate this, here you will find a list of the main muscles targeted with a rowing machine:

  • Large Back Muscle (Latissimus)
  • Back Extensor
  • Trapezius Muscle/Neck
  • Rear Delts
  • Front Thighs
  • Hamstrings
  • Glute Muscles
  • Calves
  • Ab Muscles
  • Biceps
  • Forearm Muscles

If that isn’t an impressive list, I don’t know what is… 😉 The best thing is that all these muscles are trained at the same time during a rowing workout!

Muscular Man on Rowing Machine

The leg and back muscles in particular are strengthened by exercising on an indoor rowing machine. These muscles make up a large part of our entire musculature and the strengthening of these muscles is therefore very important, especially when looking at the ever-increasing lack of physical activity in our society.

In addition, in contrast to many other sports, rowing has the huge advantage that it is very easy on the joints. Neither our joints nor our tendons are worn out and in general, it is almost impossible to injure yourself on a rowing machine.

Is it Possible to Build Muscle with a Rowing Machine?

Rowing Machine in the Gym

Ok, so a rowing machine is very effective and helps you to train 80% of your muscles at the same time. But is it possible to build muscles with a rowing machine?

To keep it short: yes and no. But since you’ve certainly come here looking for a more detailed answer, I’ll now explain in more detail.

Rowing is generally considered a cardio workout. The focus is clearly more on building strength endurance and less on hypertrophy, i.e. muscle mass building.

At this point you have to ask yourself what kind of muscle building is important to you personally. Because there are different types of muscle building. Is it your goal to build up as much muscle mass as possible, to gain weight and simply to become thicker and wider?

Or would you rather build an athletic body with powerful and enduring muscles?

In the latter case, rowing machines are ideal, but for the former there are definitely better options. I’m afraid to tell you that you won’t become the next star in the bodybuilding world when you just exercise with a rowing machine.

But what you certainly can achieve is what I like to call quality muscle. Quality muscle is characterized by the fact that it strengthens our body as a whole and simply makes you feel fitter in your daily life.

To sum it up: Up to a certain point, it is possible to build muscle with a rowing machine, yes! However, if your primary goal is hypertrophy, i.e. the increase in muscle mass, then you should focus more on traditional weightlifting.

In my opinion, a combination of strength and rowing training is optimal. This is the fastest way to build a well-balanced, muscular, powerful and athletic body that improves all the aspects of your physical fitness (strength, endurance, coordination, etc.).

Tips for Building Muscle with a Rowing Machine

Rowing in the Gym

A workout on a rowing machine can take part in different forms depending on your goal. If you want to focus on building muscle within the scope of the rowing machine’s possibilities, then you should take note of the following tips.

The Resistance

In general, you should choose high resistances for the purpose of building muscle, so that you can set the necessary stimuli that will ultimately make your muscles grow.

There are different resistance mechanisms for rowing machines. Two well-known options are rowing machines with water and air resistance. These are generally known to provide a rowing feeling that is the closest to real rowing on a lake or on the river, because just like rowing on water, both devices adapt their resistance to the power of your own rowing strokes.

The stronger and faster you pull, the greater the resistance.

On the other hand, this also means that there is not a very high maximum resistance. Rowing machines with water or air resistance are therefore more suitable for a cardio workout.

Rowing machines with a magnetic braking system work differently. Here, the resistance does not adapt to your own rowing power and can be set up manually. This also allows you to set a higher total resistance, which helps you to build muscle.

For this reason, basically, I would advise you to use a rowing machine with a magnetic braking system. Even if the rowing feeling is not quite as realistic as with other machines, the training effect is better suited for building muscle.

The Workout Routine

You should divide the workout into several short, high-intensity sections. Do the rowing motion slowly, so that there are about 15–20 rowing strokes per minute.

Choose a resistance level that leaves you exhausted after five minutes, so that your muscles will need a break. You can aim for a break of about 2–3 minutes before starting again with the same procedure.

Repeat these short, intensive sets three or four times in total and you are on the right track!

Heart Rate Monitoring

Not only for the purpose of muscle building, but really for all fitness goals, heart rate plays a major role. And yet, unfortunately, monitoring and measuring one’s own heart rate is neglected far too often.

If we control our heart rate during exercise, we can take our workout to a completely different level and reach our goals much faster.

For building muscle, for example, exercising in a heart rate zone between 80 and 90% of the maximum heart rate is optimal. This is because our body can no longer meet its oxygen requirements in this range (also known as the development zone or anaerobic zone), which is ultimately beneficial for muscle growth.

Either way, I strongly recommend you to delve a little deeper into the topic of heart rate monitoring during exercise.

The Proper Rowing Technique

To get the most out of every rowing session and to ensure a healthy workout, learning the proper rowing technique is extremely important. I think that pictures are better suited in this case and that’s why I’ve dropped a very good video for you below that explains proper rowing form in detail. 😉

The Best Rowing Machine for Building Muscle

This article primarily deals with building muscle with a rowing machine. Because I know that many of you are looking for the best machines to buy, I would like to introduce you to what is probably the best rowing machine you can currently buy if you’re looking for a model to build muscle.

The Xterra Fitness ERG200 Rowing Machine comes with a magnetic braking mechanism which means that the resistance is adjusted manually and can therefore also reach high values suitable for building muscle.

Furthermore, machines with a magnetic resistance system are known for being very quiet and also very affordable compared to other options.

Either way, you certainly won’t go wrong with this rowing machine. It is of very high quality and has an amazing price-performance ratio.

I suggest that you just take a look at it for yourself. You will find the product here.

Conclusion: Do Rowing Machines Build Muscle?

Athletic body? Yes! Bodybuilding: Less so.

Building muscle is certainly not the main focus of a rowing workout. It helps way more with building enduring, powerful muscles that strengthen us for our daily life and simply make us fitter (quality muscle). Rowing machines are ideal for this purpose!

I hope I helped you with this article. If you have any further questions or suggestions on building muscle with a rowing machine, feel free to write me an email or just leave a comment below.

If you are interested in rowing machines and would like to learn more, you can have a look at my rowing machines category, where I have many more interesting articles.😉

Benny Laker

I am the owner of High Tech Fitness. I love testing any kind of exercise equipment and enjoy sharing my insights with you.

Recent Content