Which Areas Do Rowing Fitness Machines Target?

Woman on rowing machine

Rowing fitness machines simulate the movement of rowing on a boat, no crew team, boat or good weather needed. Using a rowing machine is a way to engage in heart-pounding, low-impact exercise that also challenges key muscle groups in your arms, core and legs, according to the American College of Sports Medicine. By using a rowing machine with proper form, you can achieve a full-body workout. Always check with your physician, however, before beginning an exercise program to ensure you do not have medical conditions or injuries that could keep you from safely exercising.

Proper Form

You can work your muscles at your best and safest when you practice proper form on a rowing machine. Most rowing machines also have adjustable resistance settings that allow you to increase the muscular challenge. Begin with your legs bent, placed securely on the pedals with your back straight and leaning slightly forward. Your arms will be extended, palms facing down. The chief movement, known as the drive, involves extending your legs and pulling your arms backward at the same time. Your back should remain straight, but leaned slightly back. This allows you to pull your arms just below your chest. Bend your knees and straighten your arms as you return to your starting position, ready to push off again to repeat the exercise.


The rowing machine works several major muscle groups in your arms. When you are in the catch phase of rowing, you are working your biceps and brachioradialis muscles on the front of your arms, pulling back with the rowing bar or pulleys. When you return to your starting position, you are working the triceps brachii on the backs of your arms and the deltoid muscles at the tops of your shoulders.


Your legs provide the main power that keeps your body sliding forward and backward on the rowing machine. When you extend your legs, you are working the quadriceps or thigh muscles, gluteus maximus and calf muscles. Your hamstring muscles on the backs of your legs also are activated when you pull your knees up toward your chest.

Core Muscles

Your muscles in your abdomen and back also are working as you use a rowing machine. The erector spinae muscles alongside your spine responsible for maintaining posture keep your back straight as you lean forward and backward. You also work your rectus abdominis or abdominal muscles as you keep your back straight while leaning forward.