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.

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 recovery is the part of the stroke where the ease the back towards the starting position to prepare for the next stroke.

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