Anyone who’s ever stepped into a boat and actually rowed on water, knows there’s nothing quite like gliding across the surface, oars perfectly synchronised. According to British Rowing, 700,000 people now row – indoors or in boats – in England, but you may be wondering if a rowing machine can deliver the same results as ploughing along a river can.
The good news is yes. There’s no need to jump in a boat or run the risk of capsizing in a river if you want to try rowing. You can achieve the same fitness and health benefits of rowing on a rowing machine at the gym or at home – although the views are unlikely to be as picturesque.
Rowing machine benefits
Whether you are rowing on water or using a rowing machine at home, there are plenty of reasons to take up rowing. Here, Matt Gleed, a master trainer at British Rowing, explains the main reasons rowing machine benefits.
A rowing machine provides a full body workout
It’s a common misconception that rowing is purely an upper body workout. Gleed says: “In reality, the rowing stroke works 85% of muscles in your body, across nine major muscle groups, including quads, hip flexors, glutes, abdominals, lower back, all the way up to upper back too.”
He explains the main power actually comes from your legs (or it should, if you’ve got the correct technique), followed by the core, then the arms. “Think of it as 60% legs, 30% core and 10% arms,” says Gleed. “The major muscles working in the legs will be quads and glutes, these are the most powerful muscles that help create the distance with each stroke.”
Rowing is a low impact sport
If you’ve previously run, or played other sports that are hard on your knees, you might be looking for a more joint-friendly activity – and one of the best rowing machine benefits is that it is low impact on weight-bearing joints. “That means people who may not be able to take part in other high impact activities are able to get a good cardiovascular workout on the indoor rowing machine,” says Gleed.
“For those who are new to exercise, or easing back into fitness after a period of inactivity, this makes for a great way to get started – no matter their age, size or fitness levels.
Using a rowing machine is a quick way to burn fat
“The rowing movement is great for core strength and flexibility, and the combination of cardiovascular and muscle toning means you will see changes to your health and fitness, fast,” says Gleed.
He describes rowing as a highly efficient cardiovascular and fat-burning exercise: “On an indoor rowing machine, for example, you can burn over 300 calories in 30 minutes.”
It’s also easy to control the intensity, which he says can help keep you motivated: “You can increase the intensity of a workout by increasing the stroke rate or pushing harder with your legs.”
Rowing helps develop your abs
“Your core muscles attach across a larger area than most think,” says Gleed, “from collarbone to mid-thigh.”
“This is experienced clearly when you have completed the ‘drive phase’ of the stroke and are leaning back at a one o’clock position on a clock face,” he adds. “You might feel a little shaking in the core as your body is extended and working hard to hold the position.”
So, in other words, using a rowing machine benefits your abs.
A rowing machine is just as good as the real thing
Fresh air and river or lake views are likely to be more pleasant – and it can be more motivating to row in a team – but the actual workout isn’t any better, although stability will be an additional factor on the water.
“The fitness benefits are very similar, as the action you do is the same,” Gleed explains. “On water the balance of the boat will challenge more stability, but then, in a similar way, the added stability on a rowing machine means a user could produce more power because there is less instability.”
A good rowing machine technique delivers the best results
Gleed stresses that to get the most out of an indoor machine workout, technique is key. “It’s simple to get started and is easy to master once you’ve got the hang of it.”
He says a sub-optimal technique is unlikely to lead to injury unless your knees are way out of alignment from your hips and ankles, or your back is flexing too far forward when you drive with force.
However, he says having good technique on the rowing machine will make your workout even more effective.
“The indoor rowing machine is the single most effective piece of equipment for a total body workout, especially if you are short on time,” he adds.
Have a go at one of British Rowing’s Go Row Indoor 20 minute workout videos on YouTube – just like a HIIT workout but on a rowing machine.