Rowing Machine Benefits: What actually happens during your rowing workout

Pete Donohoe

Curious about rowing workout benefits? Wondering if rowing can help you achieve your unique fitness goals? In this post we’ll talk about everything you need to know.

We’ll cover how exercising with rowing workout benefits your overall health as well as how you can adjust your own rowing workouts to help you achieve your unique goals.

(This blog post is part 2 of our series Indoor Rowing: The Complete Beginner’s Guide. To see all posts in the series, click here.)

How exercising with a rowing machine benefits your overall health

One of the biggest reasons people choose to workout on a rowing machine is that rowing hits multiple muscle groups simultaneously. Other fitness machines or cardio workout machines aren't typically as versatile. Research shows that rowing engages 86% of the muscles in your body. That's nearly double the muscle engagement of running and cycling activities.

A full-body workout – like rowing – doesn't just address fitness and strength, it also helps improve overall circulation and heart health. In an interview for Shape, Hydrow athlete Michelle Sosa referred to indoor rowing machines as "The Swiss Army knife of the gym.”

Full-body workouts, and especially workouts that can incorporate intervals, are a rising trend. High-Intensity Interval Training - affectionately known as HIIT - has been named the #1 workout trend in past years for its ability to keep your metabolic rate up for several hours post-workout.

The problem with most intense, interval-based workouts is that they cause high impact on our joints. Sprints, jumps and thrusts can often result in unintentional injury or inflammation to our joints; if your ankles or hips are killing you, you might need to lay off those movements to prevent further injury.

Rowing, on the other hand, allows for the metabolic advantages of High-Intensity Interval Training without the disadvantages to your joints. The low-impact nature of rowing is one of its most distinct benefits compared to other forms of cardio.

Different workouts, different benefits

These days, there are so many different types of workouts, exercises, and movements. It can be hard to understand what it all means, let alone figure out what forms of exercise are right for you. Here’s a high-level overview from Harvard Medical School that divvies up working out into four categories:

Aerobic exercise - Any type of exercise that increases your heart rate and breathing, helping to improve your endurance and stamina.

Strength training - Any movement in which your muscles encounter resistance and have to contract and exert force. This effort strengthens and thickens the muscle fibers in your body, making them more resilient.

Flexibility - Movements that allow your joints and muscles to be in both open and closed joint positions, as well as some static stretching.

Balance - Movements and exercise that challenge you to stay balanced and focused on both sides of the body.

Here’s the great news: An indoor rowing routine hits all of these categories in some way. For the flexibility category, some additional off-machine stretching will help to keep you limber. 

At Hydrow, we offer On The Mat workouts – a library of yoga, pilates, and strength training workouts – to provide additional flexibility and cross-training classes from the same screen as our on-Hydrow content. The 22-inch HD touch screen pans 25 degrees to the left or right, making off-machine instruction a breeze. When it comes to having a well-rounded fitness experience, you really can get it all done with just one piece of equipment!

To maximize rowing workout benefits, define your goals 

Rowing will give you everything you need in a well-rounded fitness regime. But what types of workouts should you actually do?

That depends on your workout goals. So let’s go through a few of the most popular options now. 

Goal: Get (back) into shape

Looking to get into shape or back into shape after a break? You’ll want to start with shorter workouts to re-engage your body, start to work your way up, and explore a variety of options. The biggest villain in starting or restarting an exercise routine is often not the exercise itself, but boredom or losing interest.

Consider exploring workout formats that keep your attention. Interval workouts can challenge you and provide a great workout in a short amount of time, while low-impact steady state (LISS) workouts are perfect to zone out while also getting in some cardio and increased blood flow.

It can also help to have a community that's there to support you and provide motivation. From accountability groups to exercising along with others in real-time, studies show that working out with a group - either in-person or virtually - leads to longer and better workout performance and a stronger feeling of accomplishment.

Goal: More energy and better sleep

Want more energy and to feel more rested throughout the day? Working out is the answer.

Here’s why. According to research from Johns Hopkins University, participating in aerobic exercise during the day or early evening can lead to better sleep starting that very night. That’s because your body has exerted itself and expended energy. Aerobic exercise also elevates your body’s core temperature; as your temperature returns to normal, this falling temperature experience can help to induce sleep as the day goes on. 

Goal: Fat loss

While any kind of body transformation requires a commitment to both regular exercise and quality nutrition, interval training can help your body become more adept at burning fat for fuel. A rowing machine is one of the best pieces of equipment for doing high-intensity workouts on a regular basis without fear of impact or injury. Research shows that the more regularly you exercise, the more efficient your body is at burning fat for fuel. 

Goal: Improved Mood

Thinking about exercise as a way to improve your mood? Endorphins are said to be released in aerobic exercise at about the 20-minute mark, but a 2018 study found that feelings of bliss and an improved attitude can begin to occur after just 10 minutes of exercise. If you’re having a slow day or just need to decompress, hop on a rowing machine for a quick 10 or 15-minute workout and you’ll notice a difference in how you feel.

If you’re wanting to improve your mood naturally, a quick workout is the way to go, and a rowing machine is one of the best ways to achieve that – especially if you have one at home.

Now you have a better idea of what rowing consists of, why a rowing machine can be an all-in-one solution, rowing workout benefits, and how rowing can help you reach your health and wellness goals. But what can you do to ensure you’re getting the most out of every workout? 

Having great rowing form will not only ensure you’re getting a strong workout, but also keep you stronger for longer when you’re working out.

To discover what actually happens in your body while you row, check out the next blog in our indoor rowing series:

Rowing Machine Form: How To Row Correctly On A Rowing Machine. Find it here.