How Does Rowing Change Your Body?

Sera Moon Busse

If you’re looking to get into a fitness routine or change up your go-to workout, you’ve probably heard some buzz about rowing. It’s true — rowing is great for your body! It’s a time-efficient, low-impact, and full-body workout. Rowing is also unique because it is both a strength and aerobic workout, which means it will give you strong lungs and a strong body. 

You exercise because you want to be healthy and live your best life. But let’s be honest, it would be nice to see some new muscles from your work, too, right? We get it! 

So, let’s look at:

Let's dig in!

How does a rowing machine change your body? 

First things first, it’s important to note that rowing, like running or cycling, can be done in different ways to achieve different physical and physiological results. 

In the same way that a 100-meter sprinter and a marathon runner have different body types, someone who only does HIIT rowing workouts versus someone who only does 60 minutes of endurance rowing every day will also have physical differences. 

That’s because there are two distinct ways our bodies change in response to exercise:

  1. Fat loss: This is achieved through long, low-intensity workouts that trigger your body to draw from its fat stores.

  2. Muscle gain: This is achieved through short, high-intensity work fueled by our body’s fast-access sugar stores. These workouts cause little tears in our muscles that later trigger muscle repair and growth. 

Importantly, there are not very many workouts you could do that would only burn fat or only build muscle. Since rowing is both a strength and endurance sport, it is especially easy to get the benefits of both. Depending on your fitness goals, you can skew your training to focus on longer or shorter rowing workouts to achieve the results you are looking for. 

Whether your workout is short or long, with good technique, a rowing machine will always hit the same muscle groups. Let’s go over the changes you might see to different parts of your body as you incorporate rowing into your fitness routine.  

How rowing changes your upper body

If you’re looking to target and strengthen your upper-body muscles, rowing consistently can have an impact on your arms and shoulders, lats and back, and core. Learn more about rowing’s effect on these areas of your body below: 

1. Arms and shoulders

Rowing is not an arm sport — if you’re looking to get massive biceps, you’d be better served doing some curls. However, it does use your arms and shoulders, and you will still see and feel them working. 

Rowing is great for activating your arms and shoulders since they are constantly in motion but aren’t working hard enough to build significant muscle. Some time on the rowing machine will likely give your arms and shoulders a strong, toned effect. 

2. Lats and back 

Rowing will also build up your back muscles. Good rowing technique means good lat engagement — your lats are those muscles that wrap around your back from your armpits. You might not have paid much attention to them before rowing, but after your first few workouts, you’ll definitely know they exist. 

While you might not notice the physical effects of these, your rhomboids (the muscles between your shoulder blades) will also get stronger than they’ve probably ever been, which is great news for your posture! 

3. Core

Your core is so important for rowing. You can think of it as the glue that holds your stroke together. With good technique, your abdominal muscles and obliques should be working hard with every stroke to support your posture and protect your lower back. 

The rowing machine alone might not give you shredded, six-pack abs, but it will strengthen your core, which will improve your posture and protect you from injury in other parts of your life. 

To get the most out of your rowing workouts, supplemental core work is invaluable. A stronger core will give you a stronger stroke, and a stronger stroke will give you a stronger core! 

How rowing changes your lower body

Rowing might be a full-body workout, but the true power behind your stroke comes from your legs and glutes. Of all the areas of your body most likely to change from rowing, your legs are No. 1. Every stroke works your glutes, quads, hamstrings, and calves. 

With some consistent time on the rowing machine, you’ll almost surely see some newfound lower-body strength and definition. 

How rowing changes your overall health  

At the highest levels of the sport, rowers are some of the fittest athletes in the world. They have recorded VO2max and lung capacity values nearly 100% larger than that of the average human. If you want it to, rowing has the potential to make you stronger and more aerobically fit than you have ever been, and you don’t need to have Olympic dreams to make it happen. 

Rowing is also one of the most time-efficient ways to improve your overall health and fitness. Because it is low-impact, it’s accessible to you even if you suffer from pain while running or cycling, and with good technique, it’s safe to do frequently. With consistent work, you can expect rowing to increase your lung capacity and muscle growth, as well as boost your mood, energy, metabolism, heart health, and bone density.

As the cherry on top of a healthy body, when you tailor the types of workouts you do to the goals you set for yourself, you can expect to see muscle growth or fat loss in everything from your arms, to your back, core, glutes, and legs. Rowing could be the key to achieving the health and fitness goals you have been working for. 

Related blog: Is Rowing Hard?

Interested in a rowing machine?

If you are looking to incorporate rowing into your fitness routine and invest in an at-home rowing machine, be sure to check out Hydrow. Our state-of-the-art rowing machines are the perfect addition to any home gym, giving you an immersive and total-body workout in just 20 minutes a day. 

Hydrow’s extensive library of workout content is led by our team of world-class and Olympic Athletes and filmed in stunning locations around the world. Whether you’re looking to do a rowing workout or cross-train with yoga, Pilates, and circuit training, you’ll be transported to stunning global destinations that keep you motivated to come back again and again. 

Learn more about the benefits of a Hydrow rowing machine today! 

Sera Moon Busse

Drawn to physical challenges, Sera walked onto her college crew team as a sophomore. Sera is as tough as they come, but also knows what it feels like to want to quit. While Sera has suffered a number of setbacks due to injuries, she has found the will to get back in the boat. She knows everyone has their ups and downs – when you have yours, she wants to help you power through.