In a gym packed with ellipticals, treadmills and bikes, the rowing machine was once the piece of equipment you could count on to be unoccupied. Well, not anymore.
Suddenly, fitness experts are raving about the benefits of rowing machines — aka, ergometers or ergs.
So get ready to kiss spinning goodbye, ‘cuz it’s all about rowing now, baby.
All the rowing perks…
- full-body burn
- approachable workouts
- low-impact wins
- meditative moves
- buh-bye, treadmill boredom
- personal records
- to burn calories
- it’s trendy
- for fun!
- fast fitness
- cardio + strength training
- brain gains
- to shake things up
Whether you buy your own machine or hop on one at the gym, rowing offers big benefits. Keep scrolling for the deets.
1. You’ll get a full-body workout
Maybe you think rowing = ripped arms. But according to the American Fitness Professionals Association, rowing is 65 to 75 percent legs and 25 to 35 percent upper bod.
It’ll shred your upper back, pecs, arms, abs, and obliques. It’ll also strengthen those quads, calves, and glutes.
2. It’s approachable
Rowing is great for fitness newbies because the machines can be customized to your fitness level.
Rowing is also a safe, active sport for folks who are blind or visually impaired. In a 2015 study of people with limited vision, participants who rowed 5 days a week for 6 weeks decreased their total body fat percentage and gained flexibility and strength.
3. Get low… low-impact, that is
Forget the joint stress of running on hard pavement. With rowing, you get to choose your movement and pace, which is *super* helpful when you’re recovering from an injury or marathon.
Rowing can even be a great choice for folks with early osteoarthritis. In a 2014 study, peeps who rowed for 8 weeks experienced 30 percent better joint rotations in their elbows, shoulders, and knees.
4. Ommm… it’s actually pretty meditative
Whether you row on the open water or in your living room, it’ll quickly become your daily dose of Zen. The smooth, repetitive steps of the row stroke — catch, drive, finish, and recovery — become trance-like after a while.
Like other exercise, rowing releases endorphins to boost your mood kick stress to the curb.
5. Hello, cardio!
Rowing isn’t just for strength training. Ergs are *amazing* for your heart and lungs.
Cardio workouts get your blood pumping to every part of your body, which could potentially prevent heart probs down the road.
6. Goodbye, treadmill boredom!
YOLO: So many people are swapping their treadmills, ellipticals, and exercise bikes for rowing machines.
Why? Personal trainer Shane Farmer of Dark Horse Rowing says, “Because it’s complete. If you look at an elliptical, treadmill, etc., all of those work one very specific muscle group.” Meanwhile, “the big benefit of the rowing machine is that you get everything hit at once.”
7. It’s easy on the wallet 🤑
You can snag a quality machine for $100 — that’s basically less than a month of hot yoga.
Some erg prices climb above $1k, but there are plenty of simple, streamlined options in the double digits. Plus, if you’re swapping your gym membership for a machine, you’ll be saving money in no time.
8. Toned legs for days
Never skip leg day, amirite?
The rowing machine works your legs and arms in one swift move, so you can kiss your unnecessarily complicated gym schedule goodbye.
Bonus: You’ll torch your butt, too.
9. Personal records
Some people just can’t resist a challenge. If you’re the type to arm wrestle someone twice your size or strain to break your PR in a 5K, try an erg.
Though you’ll move through the same motions, you can raise the resistance and push your speed as you become a more seasoned rower. Level-up action FTW.
10. You’ll crush calories
Health experts report that a 30-minute rowing session burns up to 377 calories.
We don’t have to tell you that the number on the scale isn’t everything. But if you’re trying to lose weight for health reasons, you need to burn more cals than you consume.
11. It’s totally cool now
So, #rowing is the fitness buzzword of the moment. But it wasn’t always that way.
“I’ve been putting out videos since 2015,” Farmer says of his rowing channel. “And I started with the idea of, I’m gonna make rowing cool. Well, here we are.”
Even if you don’t care about what’s trending, at least you’re likely to have a friend or two who can compare rowing #goalz.
12. Fun fitness FTW
Since rowing works most of your muscle groups, you really have to stay engaged while doing it. Basically, it takes just enough effort to keep things challenging and fun.
You can still binge-watch “Gossip Girl” while you row — but you might be feelin’ yourself too much to notice Chuck’s antics.
13. It’s like a 20-minute gig
You don’t need to spend half your life at the gym to reap results with an erg. It’s the MVP of jam-packed schedules everywhere.
The CDC recommends at least 150 minutes of moderate aerobic exercise or 75 minutes of vigorous movement per week. Rowing sits somewhere between moderate and vigorous, so just 20 minutes a day more than covers your minimum.
14. Cardio + strength = a winning combo
In case you haven’t already heard, rowing machines knock out two birds with one stone (or two essential types of exercise with one sweet machine).
Ergs consistently strengthen your guns and pins while getting your heart pumping.
15. Brain gains
There are so many reasons to exercise — and most of them have nothing to do with a bangin’ bod. Hopping on your rowing machine could reduce stress, boost happy chemicals, and even combat cognitive decline.
16. Quarantine convenience, bby
You’re probably home a lot RN, and that could include gym time.
Unlike other exercise equipment, rowing machines fold up to easily slide under the bed or get tucked into a closet. Who needs a fancy home gym, anyway?
17. Change is good
Rowing is unfamiliar to many folks, so it takes patience and vulnerability to learn the ropes. Farmer says the slight learning curve of an erg could actually change your outlook on life.
“If you’re willing to say, ‘I need to learn this’ … you’re probably going to be willing to open up the rest of your life to say, ‘I need to learn other things. I don’t know it all,’” he says.
Say it with me: Legs, core, arms. Arms, core, legs.
Here’s your step-by-step primer to using a rowing machine:
- Lock in. Strap your feet into the pads. Make sure they don’t slide around.
- Grab hold. Next, bring your knees up and reach for the front handlebar, aka the “catch.” Your torso should tilt slightly forward, but your spine should be straight.
- Activate the leg sequence. Use your leg muscles to push off the footplate. Really power-up those hamstrings.
- Engage your core. Squeeze your abs and lean backward. Just as you’re about to hit a 45-degree angle, pull the handlebar toward your bod and lightly touch your chest with it.
- Work your shoulders. You’ve reached what’s called the “finish.” For the big finale, pull your shoulder blades together.
- Flip it and reverse it. Now reverse the movement back to the catch. Extend your arms, pull your torso forward, bend your knees, and bring your legs up top. One stroke down! 👏
Avoid injury and discomfort by focusing on perfect pacing and posture at the beginning of your #RowLyfe adventure.
Push, don’t pull
“Imagine the movement as a push, rather than trying to pull the handle,” says Farmer.
He explains that your rowing stroke should break down to about 60 percent leg work, 40 percent upper body. “If you’re thinking about pushing, odds are you’re going to use that larger muscle driving group, which is going to create a more effective stroke,” he adds.
First form, then speed. Farmer encourages thinking about the rowing movements parts and concentrating on good form throughout.
“Slowing it down gives your brain time to process that and think through each,” he says. “Sequencing is really important to getting the entirety of the stroke right.”
Farmer’s put together the perfect rowing machine workout to help you sweat it out and perfect your form.
“You never want to jump into a workout cold,” says Farmer.
Try some light moves that wake your muscles without making your heart race:
- hip openers
- a lil jog in place
Now, get your erg ready.
- Click “Select workout.”
- Choose “Single time.”
- Finally, change “Split length: to 1-minute intervals.
Let’s do this thing
Think of this workout as a ladder. You’ll work your way up to 25 strokes per minute, stay there for 2 minutes, then climb back down.
By varying your stroke speed, you get a smooth, moderately intense workout. Here’s the play-by-play.
The cool down
You did it! Now cool down for at least 5 minutes. Try lightly rowing, stretching, or walking.
Now pat yourself on the back for a job well done! 💪