Is Rowing Good for Muscle Gain?

Pete Donohoe and Peter Donohoe

We live in a world that is arguably busier than ever before, which is probably why 77% of American adults don’t get enough physical activity. 

Plus, going to the gym can be boring, time-consuming, and inefficient. You have to hop around from one machine to the next just to get in a decent balanced workout, and in many cases, it can take some time to warm up. In a world full of busy bees living life on the go, exercise that can offer a quick full-body workout in a short period of time for any fitness level is of the utmost importance — but does this even exist?

If you are looking for a fun, fast, full-body workout that builds strength and endurance all in one, rowing just might be your answer. 

An indoor rowing machine, such as Hydrow, mimics the smooth motion of rowing on the water and can help you increase your metabolism, burn fat, and build and tone overall muscle. In addition, rowing is an effective, low-impact option for cardiovascular fitness, helping to maintain a healthy heart and lungs. 

Rowing for muscle gain: What you should know

Rowing has been hailed by many as the “perfect exercise” because of the high-intensity workout it provides for multiple groups of body muscles. Unlike other popular machine-based exercises like the stationary bike or treadmill, one rowing stroke targets nine different muscle groups. 

In fact, according to a study from the English Institute of Sport, researchers found that these nine muscle groups include 86% of the body’s muscles, making the rowing machine an exceptional option for those looking to build muscle.

The beauty of a rowing stroke is that it activates the lower body (like your quadriceps and hamstrings), upper body (like deltoids and lats), arms (including biceps and triceps) and core muscles (the glutes, hip flexors, lower back, and coveted abdominal muscles) all at once. Contrary to popular belief that rowing is primarily an upper-body exercise, the activation of all these muscles suggests otherwise. 

The benefits of rowing for muscle gain

Cardio and strength training at the same time

Building strength isn’t the only benefit from rowing — your cardiovascular system gets a great workout, too. Since rowing uses your entire body, it does a wonderful job of keeping your heart rate elevated and lungs working hard. This type of important exercise is known as aerobic exercise because it strengthens your body’s ability to use oxygen efficiently. 

While many people are in favor of either one or the other — strength training or aerobic exercise — research has found that neither type can reduce the risk factors for cardiovascular disease on its own. However, when resistance training and cardio workouts are combined like in a rowing workout, risk factors for cardiovascular disease may improve in as little as eight weeks

Keeps impact low

In addition to being a great way to incorporate aerobic exercise into your fitness routine, an indoor rowing machine is also ideal for those suffering from joint pain or injuries. 

Unlike other types of cardio machines like climbing stairs, jumping, and running, rowing is virtually zero-impact and non-weight-bearing. This provides those dealing with pain a way to get their heart rate up without having the aches to go with it. 

Helps to burn calories 

Activating all of your major muscle groups through rowing won’t just increase your calorie burn as you work out, but it also helps you to build more metabolically active (i.e., fat-burning) tissue. At the same time, it also amplifies the “afterburn effect,” which is the number of calories that your body continues to burn following a vigorous workout. 

With that in mind, it goes without saying that rowing is a true full-body workout, engaging your muscles from head to toe in continuous movement. In order to meet the energy demands of all the muscles being utilized, your cardiorespiratory system has to shift into overdrive. 

During a strenuous rowing session, you can burn around 300 calories in just 30 minutes for an average 155-pound individual, making rowing workouts an attractive option when it comes to boosting metabolism and burning fat.

Is rowing good for muscle gain? The bottom line.

A rowing machine engages all of your major muscle groups during each stroke, making it an extremely effective way to train your cardiovascular system and improve strength, resulting in an effective and efficient calorie burning workout. 

On top of being a good workout to improve your cardiovascular system and build strong lean muscle, an indoor rowing machine is low-impact and non-weight-bearing, making it the perfect solution for those looking to exercise but are restricted due to joint pain. 

If you are considering an indoor rowing machine, it’s important to keep in mind that not all machines are created equal. You’ll see different kinds of resistance mechanisms, different sizes, features, and more. 

Hydrow rowers are designed to create a compelling pathway to whole health for individuals of all fitness levels, providing a means for everyone to access the soothing experience and holistic benefits of rowing without actually having to get into a boat. 

With world-class athletes to provide authentic at-home immersive workouts, Hydrow's rowing machine workouts make it easy to stay on track to reach your fitness goals.

Peter Donohoe

Peter is our head strength and movement specialist. As an Olympian, conditioning coach, and corrective exercise specialist, Peter’s methodology continues to influence the movement of athletes from many sports. Join Peter for On the Mat workouts and benefit from increased mobility and enhanced performance.