What Muscles Do You Work on a Rowing Machine, and Can You Gain Muscle While Rowing?

Main muscles used on a rower

So it’s decided: you want to get rid of love handles, small belly, and flabby arms? Well, using a rowing machine might be one of the best pieces of equipment to help you achieve that.

Inspired by the movements of rowing, the rowing machine was designed to allow athletes to train in winter or in bad weather. It has since become one of the most popular pieces of fitness equipment due to the many benefits it brings to our bodies.

A rower is THE product of choice to strengthen your body at home. You will strengthen your whole body as you have more than 84% of your body muscles working!

What parts of the body does the rowing machine work? In this article, you will find the different muscles that a rowing machine works.

All Muscles Used While On a Rowing Machine

The lower body muscles

We start the rowing machine with the attack phase and then the propulsion phase. You will push with your legs to bring the sliding seat towards the back of the rower. In doing this movement, you will be working primarily your lower body:

You’re not familiar with the different phases of rowing? Then discover our article on how to properly use your rowing machine.


The hamstrings are located at the back of the thigh. They are large stabilizing muscles. They will help you keep your balance while performing squats or jumps. Working the hamstrings will ensure your balance in the overall leg muscles. You will be able to avoid knee strain and prevent future pain.

The hamstrings will work both during the propulsion movement and when you bend your legs.

The Quads

The quadriceps are located at the front of the thighs. They are the ones that will support most of the body weight and will allow you to move. The quadriceps will work as well during the propulsion phase as the return/recovery phase. 

Did you know? Depending on the position of the legs, the quadriceps and the hamstrings will not be used in the same way.

If you choose a rowing machine with the footrests positioned relatively low, you will work the quadriceps more. On the contrary, if the legs are high, it will be the hamstrings that will work more.

With an apartment rower where the footrests are located at the height of the buttocks, you will have the quadriceps working more during propulsion and the hamstrings working more when you bend your legs and return to the initial position.


The calves will work with each impulse. They are involved in the plantar flexion of the ankle. The calves will stabilize the knees and protect the joints.

The Anterior Legs

It is located in front of the tibia (main leg bone of the lower half of the lower extremity). This muscle is used to control the descent of the foot during walking after the heel touches the ground.

The Glutes

The glutes are made up primarily of the gluteus maximus, which is composed of 3 layers: the gluteus maximus, the gluteus medius and the gluteus minimus. The gluteus maximus is the largest and most powerful of the body. The middle gluteus maximus is located below the gluteus maximus. And finally, the gluteus minimus is located deep in the body and is not very developed.

These muscles connect the pelvis to the femur. They will be involved in the rotation of the pelvis and in its balance and will allow the movement of the legs and thighs. They will be used when you perform an oar stroke.

Midline and Abdominal Muscles 

The abdominal muscles allow you to keep a good posture and to avoid injuring yourself while rowing. The abdominal muscles will work especially after the propulsion phase when your back is inclined at 45 degrees. During this phase, you will be sheathed to keep your balance.

Working the abdominal muscles will not only allow you to have a nice flat stomach or beautiful chocolate bars! The abdominal muscles are involved in almost every movement as they serve as the connection between your upper and lower body.

It is essential to have strong abs because you will develop stabilization of your torso and improve your balance. You will reduce the risk of injury in any sport or physical activity and even get better performance. You will even prevent back pain because the main cause of back problems is a weak core.

With strengthened abs, you will improve your posture, burn belly fat, improve your respiratory functions and enjoy better transit.

All arguments to strengthen your abs!

If you are a woman, remember to tighten your perineum during your workout.

The upper body muscles Worked on a Rower

The triceps

Located in the posterior compartment of the arm, the triceps are particularly solicited at the time of the restraint (at the time when you will return to the initial position).

The triceps are larger muscles than the biceps. They constitute more than half of the volume of the arm. By strengthening them, you will prevent elbow injuries and increase the muscular appearance of your arms.


The biceps are located between the shoulder and the elbow. They will contract as you bring the rudder toward your chest. The biceps are polyarticular muscles that cross both the elbow and shoulder joints. Elbow flexion is its primary function.

Dorsalis major

This is the largest and widest muscle in the back. It is the muscle that gives your back its V shape. The lats work on all phases of rowing. The lats will ensure good posture.


They, too, are stressed throughout your workout on the home rower. The lumbar muscles play a major role in maintaining the spine. A muscular back helps prevent but also relieves tension in the bones and joints of the spine. Working the lumbar muscles is a great way to prevent back problems!


The trapezius muscles are used to control the movement of the neck and shoulder blades. They are in charge of stabilizing them. They are used to lower or raise the shoulders, to turn, tilt or extinguish the head backwards and on the ribs or to bring the shoulders back. You might as well say that the trapezius muscles work throughout your session on an exercise rowing machine.


They are located in the middle of the back and come in two muscles named the small and large rhomboids. If you have a hunched back, it is very likely that your rhomboid muscles are responsible. These muscles must be worked to improve your posture.

The deltoids

It is especially the posterior deltoids that will be solicited on the rowing machine of an apartment. By working the deltoids, you will prevent very frequent injuries such as shoulder tendonitis. The deltoids will work as you perform the backward propulsion movement. The deltoids will also work when you have your back and are holding the load to perform the return movement.

The heart muscle

The rowing machine is a perfect device for cardio training. You’ll get your heart pumping in no time. You will solicit your cardiovascular system by rowing. As you train, you will improve your endurance and gain in performance. You will also see an improvement in your respiratory capacity in addition to your cardiovascular capacity.

How to use a rowing machine to build muscle?

Even if rowing is effective at generating muscle mass, you need to use it properly. First of all, you must warm-up and stretch to prepare your body for the effort. The risks of a bad warm-up can have consequences, you could injure your muscles and get tired more quickly.

Next, your position on the rowing machine is also very important. You need to position yourself thinking about the paddling movements you will perform with the paddle. Your back should be straight and not bent while pulling your elbows and shoulders back. This position allows you to work your muscles and relieve back pain at the same time.

Also, at the level of the legs, they must be constantly flexed during the back and forth movement in order not to tire you and avoid damaging the knee joints. But above all, remember to contract your abdominal muscles to solicit the muscles of the back, because they contribute to the good stabilization of the bust and the abdominal belt.

If you want to practice this sport at home, remember to be well equipped. Whether you’re a competitive Crossfit Athlete or a weekend warrior, the are great rowing options for you (from a high-end rowing machine to an affordable – and small – rower).

Can I lose weight on a rowing machine?

Yes, the rowing machine is a fitness machine and a cardio machine. Especially since muscle strengthening is a key element in weight loss. The more a muscle is developed, the more energy it will consume and even at rest.

To help you lose weight, the major fitness brands offer you connected rowing machines. These are rowing machines that allow you to access training programs on video! You can then access workouts perfectly suited to your goal!