Indoor Rowing Machines: Are they as good as rowing on the water?

Pete Donohoe

Is rowing on an indoor rowing machine really the same as rowing on the water? How do competitive rowers use rowing machines to keep themselves in tip-top shape, and how do they modify their workouts? 

The answer might surprise you when it comes to indoor rowing machines versus water rowing. In this post, we’ll take you through everything you need to know.

Indoor Rowing Machines: How do they differ from rowing on the water?

Rowing is a sport that allows athletes and hobbyists to connect with nature and the joys of the great outdoors. But there are many factors that leave your boat docked, including inclement weather or even simply too much traffic on the water.

That’s where an indoor rowing machine comes in. What’s great about Indoor rowing is that the movements perfectly emulate the four components of the rowing stroke:

- The Finish, in which the blades on your oars are lifting up out of the water,

- The Recovery, in which you’re guiding your oars through the air and resetting for your next stroke,

- The Catch, in which the blades on your oars pierce the surface of the water, and

- The Drive, in which you engage both your lower and upper body to pull your oars through the water’s natural resistance.

Here’s the good news: The power, endurance, and technique you need to row successfully on water is exactly what gets worked on when you’re rowing indoors as well. The resistance you pull against when moving the blades of your oars through water is incredibly similar to the feeling of pulling a handle against resistance; this is exactly what you do on an indoor rowing machine with each and every stroke! 

As Hydrow member Bryan White noted recently in our Behind The Oar member spotlight series, indoor rowing machines often provide the exact training you need to develop your outdoor rowing skills if and when you want to explore the original sport in the future. 

And as many elite rowers note, you often can get a better workout on an indoor rowing machine than on water because you’re not distracted by trying to survive the elements and stay afloat.

Indoor Rowing Machines: Why rowing is superior

We now know that indoor rowing can be as effective as rowing out on the water. But can it really stand tall as your lone form of exercise? As it turns out, the answer is yes. Rowing is surprisingly universal and effective as a lifelong hobby; here are a few reasons why. 

Rowing meets you where you are

As your rowing form improves and you become increasingly skilled with your stroke, your speed, power, and endurance will go up with every workout. Although, the movements you do in every session remain largely the same. 

This is what makes rowing a great option for all levels of fitness. Whether you’re just getting back into the swing of things after taking some time off, or are in the best shape of your life, rowing meets you exactly where you are.

Rowing is a full-body workout

Rowing works nearly every major muscle group in the body with almost every stroke. This makes rowing a terrific option if you often find yourself in a time pinch; whether your workout is 10 minutes, 45 minutes, or anything in between, rest assured you’ll be hitting all the major muscle groups in your body.

Since rowing recruits so many muscle groups, it’s one of the best workouts you can do minute-for-minute to build endurance, burn calories, and develop a strong, balanced body.

Rowing is low impact and stable

If you’ve ever pulled a muscle or twisted an ankle from contorting yourself the wrong way, you know that it’s easy to injure yourself when being physically active – even when you’re being careful and cautious. Activities that involve jumping, running, or other complex movements can wear at your joints over time. With rowing, you don’t have this issue. 

In rowing, you’re stable – really stable. You’re sitting for the entire duration of the workout; this is why rowing is often recommended to people who are recovering from an injury or concerned about falling and need activities that can keep them moving for decades to come. 

Hydrow: The ultimate indoor rowing machine

If you’re convinced that rowing is the way to go, and you’d like an indoor rowing option that gives you everything you need to be set up for success, Hydrow is a great fit. In addition to a library of thousands of rowing workouts for you to choose from, here are a few of the other features we’ve put in place to ensure you have an engaging, exciting experience.

Live Outdoor Reality™

At Hydrow, both Live Rows and recorded classes are filmed using our Live Outdoor Reality™ technology. This brings the splendor of the great outdoors directly into your home in real time. Browse a library of workouts using our built-in filters. Sort by Athlete, workout type, or duration, or tune in to one of our Live Rows and race in real time alongside your peers. It’s live – anything could happen!

World-class coaching

Hydrow’s Athletes include nationally ranked competitors and Olympians. As you row, the Athlete leading your workout gives you form cues, reminders, and motivation to keep you long and strong throughout your session. And hey, they might throw in a story or three along the way to help the time pass. 

Receiving cues and corrections in real time – and then putting them into action – is one of the best ways to improve and get better over time. At Hydrow, you’re part of our crew and we’re with you every step of the way.

On The Mat

Hydrow features a variety of rowing workout lengths and intensities to keep you engaged. Additionally, we also have in our library our On The Mat workouts; a selection of strength training and mobility workouts designed to complement your rowing routine. No extra monitors are needed here; Hydrow’s 22-inch touch screen tilts 25 degrees in either direction, making it easy to complete an On The Mat class directly next to your Hydrow. 

On The Mat’s offerings include strength and mobility classes with our strength expert Peter, Pilates workouts with Christie, and Yoga workouts with Channing and Owen. Mix up your routine and develop total body strength with Hydrow.

Final takeaways

Whether you’ve rowed on water your whole life or never even set foot in a boat, Hydrow has something for everyone. And thanks to features that help, it can look and feel like the real thing! Learn more about some of Hydrow’s other features and benefits by clicking here.