What muscle groups get worked when you row?

We know that rowing is an excellent exercise to ensure a whole body workout. This goes for training on open water on any type of rowing machine. Your back, legs, arms, and core are all required at different stages of the rowing movement. In this article we will take a better look at what stage of the rowing movement particular muscles are required. Understanding this can help you to improve your stroke. For example if are only feeling a burn in your arms during the drive phase and not using your back and large leg muscles back it means that your technique needs correction.

  1. The Catch

Main muscle groups required: Triceps, Deltoids, and Calves.

During the catch the legs are compressed with the shins vertical. As the foot is flexed there is some contraction in the calves and quadriceps,

The deltoids in the shoulder allow the arm to extend. The back muscles and abdominals should also be relaxed in this position.

  1. The Drive

Main muscle groups required:  Quadriceps, Hamstrings, Calves, Hip flexor, Glutes minor and max, scapula, biceps, triceps, Deltoids

This part of the rowing moving sees a number of the large muscle groups engaged and the level of exertion is significant.

The drive is initiated with the large muscles of the legs (Quadriceps). While this is happening all the shoulder and upper back muscles will contract.

As the legs extend

Finally as the drive finished and the hand come towards the torso all of the upper body muscles become engaged with high force. For the shoulders, biceps, scapula and pectorals this is the most significant part of the rowing movement.

  1. The Finish

Main muscle groups required: Abdominals, Triceps, calves, and Biceps.

The finish sees the body stabilise and prepare for the recovery. At this stage the many of the major muscle groups worked during the drive are contracting

At the finish, the abdominals stabilise the body, and the glutes and quads are contracting. The biceps and many of the back muscles are also contracting to help keep the torso in the finish position,

  1. The Recovery

Main muscle groups required: Anterior deltoids, hamstring, abdominals, and triceps.

The triceps engage to push the arms forward and away from the body. The abdominals flex the torso forward, and the hamstrings and calves contract as you slide up to the catch.

 

For a detailed breakdown on the rowing movement check out: http://www.concept2.com/files/pdf/us/training/Training_MusclesUsed.pdf 

Rowing Workouts for Beginners

Before you begin your rowing workout you should make sure you have a basic grasp on good rowing technique (link).

 

Everyone knows that the quickest way to get injured is to begin exercising in a new way and at a pace that your body cannot handle. Start off slow and get familiar with the machine over a few weeks and gradually increase the resistance. Every beginner will have a different base level of fitness but starting off slow in any new exercise is good practice. Rowing is relatively easy, but it is also easy to get hurt if you go too fast too soon . So why not start off with this simple workout:

Warm up: Do some light stretching before you sit into the rower.

Intensity: Slowly build up to a maximum intensity of 45 – 50%

Length: 4-5 minutes

Try and focus on the following in your initial workout:

  • Posture – Try to maintain good posture as described in our how to row article. As you tire it gets harder to maintain but good posture ensures that you are rowing efficiently and that you are hitting the right muscle groups as you row.

  • Consistent pace and even stroke – Maintaining a consistent pace ensures that you can row for longer. Try to make each stroke similar in terms of the strength you use and the length of the entire movement.

  • Breathing – Breathing is a key part of any endurance sport and is a vital part of rowing. Try to inhale in the recovery section of the rowing movement and exhale during the drive. Once you get the hang of this you will notice maintain good posture, an even stroke and consistent pace becomes much easier and you will soon be able to go harder and for longer.

After you have completed, stand up and walk around for a couple of minutes. After completing a couple of times try to slowly increase the intensity and gradually add 1 minute to the length of each session. Once you are over the 10 minute mark you should begin looking some of the more advanced rowing exercises.

How To Row Properly

For many years I went to the gym and would begin and finish my workouts on the rowing machine. Typically I would jump on a rowing machine and hit the quick start button and row for about 5 minutes or until I began to fatigue.

It was not until years later after reading about the UK Olympic teams training regimes that I figured out that if I put a bit more structure on my rowing workout I could get a lot more out of them. By making some small changes and implementing the correct technique I quickly saw significant improvements. Within a short period of time I found that I had reached new levels in my endurance, strength/power, and overall fitness.

Like any sport, perfecting the technique to a high level can be very difficult and can take many years. However it is relatively easy to get a handle on the 4 primary movements of Rowing and once you have a good understanding of each step you can work on slowly improving your technique over time.

This video from the guys at Concept2 is an excellent place to start:

 

Part 1: The catch

This is the part of the row where you first meet the resistance. Your arms are straight but not rigid and should be reaching in front of you with your shoulders relaxed and in front of your hips.

At the catch your shins should be vertical, and the chest should come to meet the thighs. You should be light on your feet with weight balanced between both left and right.

Part 2: The Drive

The drive begins in the legs and moves through the body and then the arms. These three body parts work together to create the force that propels you backwards and provides maximum power against the resistance.

As the legs are straightening you should be opening up your back while at the same time using your arms to pull the handle towards your solar plexus. At the end of the drive you should find yourself with your torso leaning back, hands drawn into to the body, and legs fully extended

Part 3: The Recovery

The recovery is the part of the rowing action where you get your body back into position and ready to go again. It is important to ensure that the transition between the drive and the recovery causes as little disturbance to your momentum as possible.

Once your hands have cleared your knees, allow your knees to bend and gradually slide the seat forward again. At the end of the recovery you should find yourself returned to the catch position with shoulders relaxed and shins vertical.

Best Rowing Machine

Best Rowing Machine

How to choose the best rowing machine in 2018

Finding the best rowing machine can be difficult.

There are lots of different options and it can be easy to make the wrong decision. If you end up with a machine that does not suit your needs you are more likely to use it less and it will more than likely end up on the scrap heap very quickly.Best Rowing machine 2018

However, if you find the correct one it can become a cornerstone of your workout routine.

If you keep reading, I will guide you through 3 simple steps to guarantee that you find the perfect rowing machine for you. The steps below are designed to help people buying a machine for the first time but there are lots of tips and info for prospective and experienced rowers alike.

I have lots of other tips and advice that would take you hours to find, but if you work through these 3 steps you will see it’s actually quite straightforward:

  • Step 1- Choose the size.
  • Step 2- Choose the resistance type.
  • Step 3- Choose your price range.

In Step 1 we’ll work out what kind of machine suits the space you have. In this step we will also consider what body type you have as this directly effects what size machine you may need.

In Step 2 I’ll introduce the various type of resistance available and match that to the type of workout that you are seeking.

And in Step 3 I’ll go through the different price ranges and will provide you with a brief summary of what brands and types of rowers you can expect to find in the different price groupings

It is as easy as that. So what are you waiting for? Keep reading below and figure out what type of rowing machine best suits your needs!

Step 1- Choose a rower size

It is important to consider the space you have in your home before purchasing a home rower. Rowers can be awkward to ship and the last thing you need is to order a rower that won’t fit in your workout space.

Rowing machines can be up anywhere from 6 -8 feet long and are typically 2 feet wide. Most rowers can be stored by standing them up vertically. These machines usually have transportation guide wheels on the top of the machine which allow you to easily wheel the machine into a cupboard or store up against a wall.

Other machines can be folded in half or split into two sections which makes it more convenient for storage.

Your body

In terms of machine length, it is important to consider the amount of the leg room that you may require. Most machines cater for people with long legs but I would advise any tall person to check the reviews, especially for some of the smaller machines. Some people find themselves unable to get a full extension on their row which can be frustrating. See the table below for more info on the machine best suited to those of you that are built longer than most!

The height of the chair on the machine varies between brands and resistance types. If you are a person with limited mobility you may find it difficult to use a lower chair. Many rowers come with an adjustable chair height which can help but some of the more professional rowing machines tend to be quite low in order to accurately simulate boat rowing.

 

Weight of the machine

It is also important to consider the weight of the machine before you make your purchase. Some of the cheaper machines have a weight limit of around 90kg. However, most machines will support well over 120kg with many machines easily able to handle 200kg+.

As a general rule of thumb the heavier machines tend to be sturdier and are more likely to be a permanent fixture as they stand up well to the wear the tear that is experienced with an normal level of use. Just like an exercise equipment the cheaper options tend to be lighter on materials and have a shorter lifespan as a result.

Finally, it is also worth consider what type of floor you plan to use the machine on. If you have an expensive wood floor you need to be careful in ensuring that the floor is not marked when moving the machine.

 

Step 2- Choose the type of resistance

Choosing the type of resistance you want basically means choosing the type of rowing machine that you want.

Rowing is a resistance based exercise. It is similar to weight lifting in that you are moving against an impeding force which causes you to fatigue quicker but helps you build strength. The difference with rowing is that the harder and faster you row the greater the resistance. This is what makes it such a brilliant exercise for building strength and endurance.

In general rowing machines can be divided into 4 different resistance types: Water, Air, Magnetic, and Hydraulic, and each type has different advantages and features. Here follows a brief description of the main features of each type.

 

Water rowers

Water rowers have a round tank filled with water at the top of the rower. Within this tank there is usually a set of paddles or rotating fins. When you begin rowing these paddles rotate within the tank and the water acts as the resistance against the paddles.

The level of resistance provided by the water increases with the speed of the pull which simulates the way an actual boat moves through water. The machine is relatively quiet compared to other resistance types with the swooshing of the water simulating the ambience that once might experience when rowing on a river.
Water rowers typically have a more luxurious feel to them when compared to other resistance machines and they often come in beautifully stained hardwood with perfectly symmetrical lines on the wood and tank. These stylish machines look great in dens and workout spaces when lying flat or stored vertically and are appealing to people who are looking for a high end fitness equipment that will fit with the aesthetic of their house. The tank at the top of the machine acts an anchor when placed vertically which ensures safe storage.

WaterRower is the dominant brand in these machines but several competitors have emerged over the last few years.

Best Water Rower

The WATERROWER GX Home ROWER is a beautifully crafted rowing machine that provides the simulation of rowing on water better than any other machine on the market. In my opinion it is also the most stylish water rower available and the beautiful hardwood frame compliments any living space.

It is not the cheapest machine on the market but if you have the budget and the space, then this is the machine for you. 5 stars!

 

Waterower Natural

WaterRower Natural 
Height211 cm Length x 40 cm width
Max Weight350kg
Price
Score

Air rowers

Air rowers are probably the most popular type of indoor rowing machine and come in many different sizes and styles.

They create resistance through the use of a flywheel which spins when you row. The flywheel has small fins attached which create resistance when the wheel spins. The faster you row the faster the flywheel spins which in turn creates a greater resistance.

You can alter the level of resistance through the use of a damper (lever on the side of the flywheel). The damper allows you to control how much air is inside the flywheel casing. The more air, the harder the resistance and vice versa. This ability to easily alter the level of resistance makes them very good for a HIIT (high intensity interval training) type workouts.

Air rowers are favoured by professional athletes for their indoor training sessions as it provides the best simulation of rowing a boat on water and provides a overall smoother experience than many other types of rower.

Air rowers are typically offered in many different price ranges which makes them popular with everyone from first time home rowers to professional athletes.

Most air rowers come with some kind of Tachymeter and screen which tracks various other aspects of performance/body metrics.
The Flywheels in air rowers tend to make quite a bit of noise so they are not ideal if plan to use in an apartment or while watching tv!

Best Air Rower

The Concept D may be the world’s most famous rower and is easy to see why. It is the machine of choice of rower for both beginner and professional rowers alike.

The Concept2 offers an intelligent resistance system that can easily be adjusted to suit any level of experience. The machine offers a smooth rowing stroke and is relatively quiet compared to other air rowers.

It comes with a slick backlit performance monitor interface which offers key statistics, games, pre-set workouts, and wireless connectivity.

Finally, it is easy to transport using the guide wheels at the front of the rower and can be easily folded in two which makes storage easier.

In my opinion the best rowing machine on the market!

Concept 2

Concept2 Model D 
Dimensions243.8 x 61 x 113 cm
Weight26kg (Max user weight 150kg+)
Price
Score

 

Magnetic Rowers

Magnetic rowers use small electromagnets within the flywheel to create resistance. This magnetics never actually touch the flywheel and can be moved closer or further away depending on the amount of preferred resistance. To increase the resistance, you would adjust the machine so that the magnet is closer to the flywheel.

Unlike many other rowers the level of resistance on magnetic rowers is set at a fixed level and the resistance does not increase as the pace of rowing increases. This is because the magnetics position is constant and they consistently deliver the same pulling force on the flywheel no matter what speed it moves at. This makes the simulation of rowing very different to rowing on water but many people prefer the consistent resistance as they can easily track and see strength gains similar to the way you might do when lifting weights in a gym.

Magnetic rowers are typically quieter than most air rowers as there is no friction or moving substance within the flywheel and are often preferred for home use as a result.

Best Magnetic Rower

The JLL R200 is a solidly built rowing machine which is suitable for beginner and mid-level rowers. It offers 10 levels of magnetic resistance and boasts an LCD screen which tracks key metrics such as Time, Distance, and calories burned.
The magnetic resistance means that the machine is significantly quieter than other types of resistance. The machine itself is only 23kg in weight and can be easily folded for storage.
The machine is regularly discounted and is excellent value for money if you are seeking an entry level light weight machine that will provide you with a solid rowing workout.

JLL R200

JLL R200 
Dimensions180 x 52 x 49 cm
Weight23 Kg (Max user weight 100 kg)
Price
Score

 

Hydraulic Resistance

Hydraulic rowers use pistons (small cylinders filled with hydraulic fluid) to create resistance. These pistons are usually connected to the handles and the amount of resistance can usually be adjusted with a dial.

Many of the hydraulic rowing machines on the market have a fixed seat position which makes it a workout for the upper body only. This eliminates the leg press part of the row which is one of the key features of rowing which makes us wonder whether these machines can even be defined as ‘rowers’.

Hydraulic rowing machines are typical the cheapest option available on the market and are very much targeted at the budget conscious.

With hydraulic rowing machines, it is very much a case of buyer beware as they can be unreliable as the pistons used are often of low quality and can leak or need frequent replacement. In addition, the level of resistance offered by these machines can be very uneven and can often stick at different spots during the rowing motion.

On the upside, hydraulic machines do not make as much noise as other types of machines so may be suitable for people living in apartments or in places where loud rowing would be an issue.

Best Hydraulic Rower

The BR1000 is an upper body only rower that is suitable for beginners or intermediates .

The BR1000 is only 13kg and its light frame means it is easy to transport but may not be suitable for people over 6ft tall or 100kg in weight.
It is not the easiest machine to store as the handles are fixed. The built in display provides metrics such as calories burned, count, scan, strokes per minute and time.
If you are looking for a simple piece of kit to exercise your upper back then this may be the product for you.

Read the Full Review

Body Sculpture BR1000

Body Sculpture BR1000 
Dimensions138.5 x 42.5 x 40 cm
Weight13kg (Max user weight approx 120kg)
Price
Score

Step 3- What’s your budget?

Price

The good news is that you can get your hands on a rowing machine for as little as £25. However a top end rowing machine can cost up to £1500.

Some rowing machines double up as feature pieces and are stylish feature pieces which are often bought to complete the look of a room.

How much you spend is really up to you and depends on your budget. From my experience rowers tend to fall into the following 3 price ranges:

  • Less than £150
  • £250 – £750
  • £750+

Here is what you can expect to find in each of these ranges:

Less than £150

In this price range, you will find the entry level rowing machines designed to provide the basic rowing workout.
There is some value to be had in this range but buyers need to be wary as there are a lot of poor quality machines that will require frequent repair and maintenance even with a relatively low level of use. Hydraulic rowers and rowers that double up as multi-purpose “home gyms” are common in this range and should be approached with caution.
In general, machines at this price range tend to be lighter and therefore less sturdy so if you are of a larger frame / have long legs you should look closely at the specifications to ensure that the machine is of sufficient size to cater for your bod

£250 – £750

In this price range, you will find a mix of machines. Air and magnetic rowers dominate this price range with many of the lesser known brands offering options for consumers that are looking for a solid piece of work out equipment but are not prepared to pay a small fortune.
The main difference in this category really comes down to branding. The brands at this level are competing on price with some of the more well-known machines in the upper ranges. These machines offer many of the same features and are typically built solid.
Most of the rowers on offer at this range offer warranty’s of 2 years+.

This range can also be the trickiest range at which to make a good selection and it is worth doing the research to ensure that you get value for your money. Lucky for you we have done all this research for you so keep reading!

£750+

This is range where you will find the premium and professional rowing machines and you will even see the same type of machine that may be in your local gym. Water rowers and the high-performance air rowers tend to dominate this price range with models such as the Concept 2 Model D and the WaterRower Natural available being two of the most popular machines in this range.

The machines in this range are typically very well built and sturdy and tend to perform very well. While they are often preferred by experienced rowers, they also just as easily used by novices and mid-level rowers. They are typically bulkier in size and take considerably more time to put together than most of the budget rowers.

You will also find extra features available in the monitors of these products with metrics such as range, stroke rate, intensity, watts and calories per hour offered in different displays. Products such as the WaterRower Classic allow you to connect to your PC and download your workout which allows you to get better insight by tracking your workout and progress.

At this range, you will also find some of the more stylish machines. As mentioned previously, some of the WaterRower ranges come in beautiful stained hardwood and work really well as feature pieces when styling a room. It can be easy to see why some of these machines were featured in the London Museum of Design and the Museum of Modern Art in New York City.
(If you have seen the Netflix hit “House of Cards” with Kevin Spacey you may have noticed that he likes to blow off steam on a WaterRower)

The Warranty

Rowing machines are not cheap and if you are planning on shelling out your hard-earned cash you need to be sure that the product you are getting is going to work as promised. You should always closely read the warranty on each machine as different companies offer different types of guarantees.

Many of the budget options do not come with a warranty but most of the mid- high range machines will offer one. Typically, the frame will have a longer warranty than the parts but this is not the case for all machines.

You should also be mindful of what type of use the warranty covers as some warranty’s specifically cover home use which means that you will not be covered if you are buying the machine for commercial use.

Summary

So there you have it. If you are still reading you should have a pretty good idea of what is available on the market in 2018 and what is the best rowing machine for you.

Here is our summary: