Rowing machine benefits: 56 health benefits of rowing

Posted on 27 March, 2024 by Nicholas Rizzo


Different forms of exercise benefits your health in different ways. One unique form of exercising is rowing. In order to demonstrate the benefits of rowing and why using a rowing machine is such a great form of exercise, we spent 70 hours, analysing over 160 studies to provide a comprehensive review of the benefits of rowing, broken down into the following sections:

Heart health

Decades of studies have shown being more active through even simple activities like walking benefits your heart health and can even reduce the risk of developing heart diseases by 36%. All forms of cardio benefit your heart health; as a type of aerobic exercise, rowing can help lower your risk of developing or dying from heart disease, improve blood pressure, and lower your total cholesterol, LDL, and triglyceride levels.

  • Plasma free fatty acid (FFA), which in high concentrations can increase the risk of heart diseases, was lowered by 2.6% in type 2 diabetics who did rowing machine workouts for 8 weeks.
  • Six months of aerobic workout, which included the use of a rowing machine, resulted in a 9.2% decrease in systolic blood pressure.
  • Meanwhile, the diastolic blood pressure was reduced by 9% during the 6-month study.
  • After 6 weeks of indoor rowing, cholesterol levels went down by 3.5%.
  • Triglyceride levels decreased by 1.3% after 6 weeks of indoor rowing training.
  • Low-density lipoprotein was reduced by 8.9% in those who underwent 6 weeks of rowing training.
  • The mortality rate of rowers due to cardiovascular diseases is 59% lower than non-rowers.

Physical fitness, strength, muscle, and conditioning

The unique movement of rowing makes it a great total body workout. It’s been shown to activate and engage the muscles in the legs, back, chest, arms, and abs. While also being a phenomenal form of cardiovascular exercise, it has also been shown to effectively build muscle, increase strength, conditioning, and endurance. 

  • Using an exercise machine like a rower engages about 86% of a person's muscles. 
  • Rowing uses 65-75% of the lower body, making it an ideal workout for those who want to improve their leg muscles.
  • 25-35% of the upper body is used during rowing workouts.
  • Just 6 weeks of rowing can increase back muscle strength by 33.9%.
  • After 8 weeks of using rowing exercise equipment, participants in a study saw their grip strength increased from 11.1% to 36.6%.
  • Back muscles strengthened by 10.4-37.8% after 8 weeks of using a rowing machine.
  • Trunk flexion improved by 104.3% by doing 6 weeks of indoor rowing.
  • Rowing exercises increase trunk extension by 23.7% in just 6 weeks.
  • Vertical jumps increase in height by 19.4% in doing 6 weeks of rowing.
  • According to physical therapists, the combined force of arm pulling and leg pushing makes rowing ideal for people looking for a total body workout.
  • Participants of an 8-week study were about to increase the number of sit-ups they can do by 5.1-22.7%
  • Meanwhile, the lactate threshold increased by 11.8% after 12 weeks of low-intensity rowing, meaning endurance is increased.

This is also a great option for older adults as well, with similar benefits of strength training for seniors

Weight loss

The benefits of rowing also include being great for weight loss - one that rivals the benefits of HITT or even sprint interval training. By burning a great deal of calories in a short period of time, studies have shown it to be effective at significantly lowering body fat percentage and total body fat, while maintaining and building muscle. 

  • Total body fat percentage was decreased by 5.4-16.1%, after 4 weeks of using an indoor rowing machine.
  • 30 minutes of rowing per day for 3 months resulted in an average weight loss of 3.6 kg in men who are overweight.
  • Total body fat decreased by 4.5% after 6 weeks of indoor rowing.
  • 30 minutes of rowing at a moderate pace burns 210 to 294 calories.
  • Rowing vigorously burns 255 to 440 calories per hour.
  • 30 minutes of rowing at a moderate intensity burns 2.72% more calories than indoor biking at the same pace.
  • Leptin, the fat hormone that controls satiety, is reduced by 35.4% after 8 weeks of diet and exercise which included rowing, cycling, walking, and the use of a stair climber.
  • A combination of diet and exercise, which included rowing, cycling, and walking, for 8 weeks resulted in weight loss with 58% and 88% coming from body fat reduction in women and men, respectively.


According to the World Health Organisation, over 442 million people worldwide have diabetes. There are also 1.6 million deaths associated with diabetes. Aside from altering diet, one of the best defences against diabetes is through increased physical activity. 

  • People with type 2 diabetes who used an indoor rowing machine for 8 weeks experienced an 8.5% decrease in their blood glucose levels.
  • The HbA1C, or average blood glucose reading of those with type 2 diabetes, was decreased by 3.9% after 8 weeks of rowing machine workout. 

Mental and emotional health

Our mental and emotional health directly impacts our physical health. For example, high levels of stress can lead to increased levels of cortisol, the hormone responsible for your fight or flight instinct. 

Chronically elevated levels of cortisol can be bad for your health; leading to an elevated heart rate, blood pressure, and increasing fat stores in the body, which in the long run can lead to cardiovascular diseases.

  • To combat stress, doctors recommend 30 minutes of daily exercise, like using a rowing machine. Exercise battles stress by helping it release endorphins, which is a chemical that makes people happy.
  • Both outdoor and indoor workouts prove to be effective in reducing feelings of anxiety and depression. The positive effects of exercise are amplified when you workout with friends or your team.

Brain health

Almost 8 million Americans suffer from Alzheimer's disease. To combat this, and other issues of cognitive decline, doctors and experts recommend increasing physical activity to protect your brain from the effects of ageing. 

  • After 12 weeks of doing aerobic exercises like rowing, subjects of a study showed a 2-3.2% increase in their total hippocampal volume, which is associated with one's ability to retain information.
  • Studies have shown that 6 months of aerobic workout like rowing elevated serum BDNF which resulted in a 45% increase in concentration.
  • 8 weeks of rowing can improve a person's reaction time by 12.4-24.2%

Bone health

Improving and maintaining the health of your bones can help prevent injury, maintain healthy muscle function, and maintain quality of life later into your life. Rowing benefits your bones by preventing the loss of and significantly improving levels of bone mineral density and bone mass density. 

  • Numerous studies have shown that older people increased physical activities slowed down bone mineral and density loss.
  • After 7 months of rowing for almost 8 hours each day, the bone mass density of the lower lumbar spine increased by 2.9%
  • The bone mineral component of rowers who trained for 7 months improved by 4.2%.

Many see similar improvements in their bone health similar to the benefits of skipping rope provides. This is due to being a higher load-bearing exercise from the repeated jumping.

Joint health

Rowing is a great exercise for those with joint pain as it is low-impact and doesn’t require you to bear heavy weights.

  • Rowing has been shown to help reduce join pain and joint stiffness.
  • Sports medicine physicians recommend non-load-bearing exercises like rowing for people who have joint pains who wish to increase their physical activity.
  • After 8 weeks of using rowers, elbow joint torque increased by 68.7% to 109.3%, depending on the rowing machine used.
  • Lumbar joint torque increased by 31.2-43.5% after 8 weeks of using a machine for rowing.


In 2020 alone, there were 20 million deaths associated with cancer. Although exercise is not a cure for cancer, by increasing physical activity with exercises like rowing, studies suggest you can reduce your cancer risk and improve your quality of life post-cancer. 

  • According to a recent study, the risk of developing at least 13 types of cancer, is significantly reduced in people who do aerobic exercise at least 3 times a week.
  • In a study of women with breast cancer that did felucca rowing once a week for 4 months, disabilities of the arms, shoulders, and hand were decreased by 19.5%.
  • Breast cancer survivors experienced a 17% increase in quality of function in their upper limbs after 4 months of rowing.


What is proper rowing machine form?

To start with proper rowing machine form, your head in a neutral position, shoulder back, and back straight. With feet places secure on the machine, your shins should be vertical. Keep your arms straight as you grab hold of the rower. With the right setup, you can begin the correct rowing machine technique by engaging your core and pushing back with your lower body first. When your hands are above your knees, begin pulling your hands to your chest. 

What muscles does rowing work?

Studies have shown that the major muscles used in rowing are trapezius (upper back), lats, pectoralis major and minor (chest), triceps, biceps, and deltoids (upper arm), rectus abdominis (abs), and the obliques. Rowing also strengthens muscles of the lower limbs which include the quadriceps, hamstrings, calves, and glutes.

How does rowing transform your body?

Rowing machines can change your body due to its full-body workout being a great strength training and cardio exercise. A rowing body transformation typically includes trimming the fat from your arms, legs, upper back, chest, and abdomen. On top of that, the pushing and pulling movements help tone the muscles in your core and limbs. In addition to the full-body transformation when regularly use a rowing machine, there are many benefits that involve improving your physical, mental, and emotional health. 

Can rowing help you tone your belly?

Does rowing tone your stomach? One of the core muscles engaged during rowing is the muscles of the abdomen, especially when you have the proper rowing form. The way your torso moves during rowing is similar to when you’re doing sit-ups, thus resulting in a stronger core So yes, rowing will help you burn belly fat and develop your abs to help you produce that toned stomach physique you desire. 

What’s the downside of rowing workouts?

As with all exercises, rowing workouts have their own pros and cons. The most common drawback of rowing training is lower back pain. This is typically caused by poor form or a rower’s weak abdominal muscles. When you use a rower, you must remember to push with your legs, then lean back with the ab muscles tight, then bring your hands to your chest. If you push your legs and lean back at the same time, your lower spine overcompensates, thus resulting in lower back pain. Despite this problem, the pros of rowing far outweigh the disadvantages.

Is rowing for everyone?

Is rowing for everyone? Yes, rowing is great for anyone and everyone looking to improve their overall health and fitness. From people with disabilities, to seniors, to elite athletes, everyone can benefit from including outdoor rowing or an indoor rowing machine in their exercise routine.

Can rowing replace your entire workout routine?

Whether you can replace your entire training routine with rowing workouts depends on your overall fitness goals and your exercise schedule. With that said, focusing your training programme around rowing, rather than other exercises, is an effective strategy. First off, rowing provides an awesome cardio workout. Second, your entire body is getting a full-body workout with rowing. However, if you want to really bulk up, you need to mix in some strength training to really target muscles that you want to bulk up.

Can people with osteoarthritis benefit from rowing?

Yes, if they practice proper form and not over-exert themselves. Improper rowing form can worse existing joint problems.

Is rowing good for seniors?

Yes, there are several reasons why rowing workouts are good for seniors. First, it is not weight-bearing so it's easy on their joints and bones. Second, it delays bone mass density loss brought about by ageing. Third, it helps improve posture especially when rowing is done correctly. Fourth, as a full-body workout, it helps strengthen the core, the upper back muscles, and the extremities.

Can rowing help you sleep better?

Yes, but only if you don't vigorously row. Studies have found that the most effective exercises to relieve chronic insomnia are moderate and high-intensity workouts. When using a rowing machine, you can use it for longer periods, but not increase the speed of rowing if you want to sleep soundly at night.

Are rowing machines or exercise bikes better for weight loss?

It is estimated that rowing burns fewer calories in comparison to the number of calories burned biking. With that said, it is likely that rowing machine workouts of the same intensity would likely outweigh the benefits of cycling for weight loss over time, due to it also being a full-body strength workout and likely producing a greater "afterburn effect", where you burn additional calories for 24-48 hours after the workout. 


An indoor rowing workout is a great way to shake things up if you’re tired of using the treadmill, elliptical, or stationary bike. Not only will it give you a great cardio workout, but rowing machines can also help you tone muscles. On top of that, with a good indoor rowing machine, you won’t have to worry about the weather affecting your exercise regimen.

About RunRepeat

RunRepeat tests all the shoes in the gym and in the lab. Our in-house testing allows us to subject all the shoes to the same tests which result in 20+ data points. Everything that we do in the lab, from cutting the shoe in half to measuring every little thing, ensures that our reviews are as objective and unbiased as possible. 

The question now is, what shoes do you wear while using your indoor rowing machine? Most would say that just use whatever trainer feels comfortable to you. It can be your running shoes or a pair of classic Converse shoes. You just need to remember that when you're at the catch phase of rowing, you need your knees bent and your shin is perpendicular to the floor. If your shoes prevent you from doing this, then it's time to change your footwear.

However, if you are doing high-intensity workouts that involve rowing, wearing CrossFit shoes would be your best bet. CrossFit shoes like the Nike Metcon 9, NOBULL, and Reebok Nano X3 have firm sole units that facilitate better transfer of power from your legs to the machine, and their outsole is very grippy so you won’t have to worry about slippage.

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Nicholas Rizzo
Nicholas Rizzo
Nick combines 10+ years of experience in the health and fitness industry and a background in the sciences in his role as the Fitness Research Director. During his competitive powerlifting years his PRs have him sitting in the top 2% of bench presses (395 lbs), top 3% of squats (485 lbs) and top 6% of deadlifts (515 lbs) for his weight and age. His work has been featured on, LiveStrong, Healthline, WebMD, WashingtonPost, and many more. Along the way, collaborating with industry leaders like Michael Yessis, Mark Rippetoe, Carlo Buzzichelli, Dave Tate, Ray Williams, and Joel Seedman.