When you visit a gym or a rehabilitation center; you may notice whole sections of treadmills, ellipticals, stationary bikes and way off in the corner is maybe one or two rowing machines.

Well, why is that? It is probably due to the rowing machine being the most difficult to use of the cardio machines because it requires the most coordination and concentration.

You walk without thinking, arms on the ellipticals move in conjunction with the feet, but the rowing machine requires your arms, legs, back and breathing to work in unison.


So even though it poses more of a challenge, try to

Remember these rowing machine benefits

Efficiency -The rowing machine incorporates the heavy breathing and heart rate of cardio with the pushing and pulling effect of strength training.

Using the rowing machine, especially those with a sliding seat, is a great way to have a synergistic effect on the muscles. Let me explain, a recent study demonstrated that untrained rowers who used the sliding seat covered more distance, exerted greater power, and attained a higher maximum heart rate than those on a fixed seat.1

Effective – Although a lot of cardio equipment is very similar in terms of calories burned, most of them are well, boring.

I like to do exercises where my whole body is involved instead of feeling like a hamster on a wheel.

To give you an idea of calories burned on the rowing machine, I will use myself as an example. A 6’1, 230lb adult male at moderate intensity (50-70% max HR) is about 12 kcal per minute or 560 kcal over a 45 minute session.

This is very similar in terms to kcal burned on a stationary bike at the same intensity, but you get your whole body moving.

rowing machine benefits2

rowing machine benefits

Muscular development – A rowing motion coupled with resistance will provide muscular benefits as it is similar to the movement on a seated row. However, this is a push/pull movement.

Instead of countering the movements with the opposing muscle group, you will be pushing and pulling in the same direction (synergy).

With your feet strapped in, slide down the rail until your knees are in your chest. Engage your core, then drive your heels into the foot rest (this mimics the squat motion) while pulling the handle towards your chest.

You should be doing the majority of the pulling with your upper back and pushing with all of your leg muscles. Instead of pulling just with your arms, think of your hands as hooks and your arms as levers with your back doing the work.

Squeeze your shoulder blades together, bringing the handle to your chest to complete the movement and then return to the original position. Feeling good? Excellent! Because that was one, you’re going to be on here for a little while

Versatility – Some rowing machines have the ability to increase the tension on them, giving you more of a challenge to your workout. I get asked quite a bit which is better to do, high intensity interval training or steady cardio? Well, depends on your goals.

Steady cardio is important for cardiovascular health while HIIT is great for burning calories throughout the day. One of the benefits of the rowing machine is that you can do both.

For example, if you are doing a 30 minute session, increase the intensity for 2-5 minutes once you hit the 10 and 20 minute marks while ending at your original pace.

Don’t forget to cool down!


As with any exercise program, consistency and variability are the keys.

Being consistent will provide you with long term benefits in better weight management, development and health, in addition to immediate benefits like reduced anxiety, increased concentration and a feeling of well being.2,3

Variability will prevent the program from becoming boring and keep your body from adapting to the exercise, thus increasing the effectiveness.

The efficiency and versatility of the rowing machine are just a few of its many benefits. Next time you feel like doing some cardio, give it a try. The results may surprise you.


Shaharudin, S., Zanotto, D., & Agrawal, S. (2014). Muscle Synergies of Untrained Subjects during 6 min Maximal Rowing on Slides and Fixed Ergometer. Journal of Sports Science & Medicine, 13(4), 793–800.

Vina, J., Sanchis-Gomar, F., Martinez-Bello, V., & Gomez-Cabrera, M. (2012). Exercise acts as a drug; the pharmacological benefits of exercise. British Journal of Pharmacology, 167(1), 1–12. doi:10.1111/j.1476-5381.2012.01970.x

Sharma, A., Madaan, V., & Petty, F. D. (2006). Exercise for Mental Health. Primary Care Companion to The Journal of Clinical Psychiatry, 8(2), 106.

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