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What Are The Benefits Of Rowing?

Group of people on rowing machines
(Image credit: Getty Images)

When we asked world champion rower Matthew Tarrant why people should opt for the rowing machine in a gym over other options, his first answer was impressively practical.

“The big advantage of using a rowing machine at the gym is that there’s never normally a queue!”

Of course Tarrant, who is the founder of rowing training platform RowElite (opens in new tab), went on to give a whole load more reasons why you should give rowing a try once gyms reopen – or buy one of the best rowing machines rather than an exercise bike or a treadmill – along with some tips on how to get started with it if you’re new to the sport.

Why should people use the rowing machine?

Once you try the rowing machine you’ll quickly notice that it is the most effective tool for calorie burn. It’s low-impact and offers a full-body workout. You'll be working your quads, glutes, core, back, shoulders and arms to name a few of the muscles involved. By switching up the resistance levels – the drag factor – and playing around with different stroke rates and durations you can quickly create hundreds of interesting rowing workouts that target areas such as, but not limited to, aerobic fitness, power development and lactate tolerance.

You can use the rowing machine to hit any number of fitness goals then?

The rowing machine is a great tool for gaining general fitness, losing weight, strengthening your core, increasing mobility especially around the ankles and hips, increasing muscular endurance and generating power, and it can also help you become more dynamic and explosive.

How often should you use the rowing machine if you’re new to the sport?

I'd suggest starting at three sessions per week. As with all things, when trying out a new exercise you’ll usually feel stiff and sore the following day because you’ve worked the body in areas that haven’t been worked before. Three sessions per week allows you at least one day of rest between sessions to recover and hopefully put you in a position where you may want to gradually increase the duration that you spend on the machine. I’d suggest that you only increase the duration of the sessions by a maximum of 50% at a time.

How can people vary their training on the rower?

If you just jump on the machine and row until the timer runs out then the best place to start is with some structure. The two main areas of focus should be the stroke rate, as in how many strokes you take per minute (s/m), and the split, as in time per 500m. You want to learn how to control both these elements to get the most out of your training. Typically, the higher the s/m the faster you should be covering 500m. A low stroke rate typically improves power and general fitness, and a high stroke rate works on your explosive, dynamic movements and lactate tolerance.

Nick Harris-Fry is a journalist who has been covering health and fitness since 2015. Nick is an avid runner, covering 70-110km a week, which gives him ample opportunity to test a wide range of running shoes and running gear. He is also the chief tester for fitness trackers and running watches, treadmills and exercise bikes, and workout headphones.