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 

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.