Fitness Tips

Most Surprising Science Back Benefits of Indoor Rowing – & My Favorite Rowing Machine

If you have been considering adding indoor rowing to your workout routine, or making it your only workout routine, there are some things you should consider pertaining to what you want out of your workout routine and why you should (or shouldn’t) consider using an indoor rowing machine.

What is Indoor Rowing?

what is indoor rowing

Indoor rowing is exactly what it sounds like. Rowing on a machine.

The machine, sometimes referred to as an ergometer that mimics the motion of rowing a boat, activating the same muscles that would be used for rowing a boat in the water.

The muscles that are engaged mostly focus on legs, core and arms in that order, then arms, core and legs in that order.

Indoor rowing is a low impact full body workout machine that seems to have more pros than cons. We’ll get to those later.

The Benefits Of Indoor Rowing

It’s indoors

You don’t have to go outside so bad weather is not a hindering force that could negatively affect your workout routine.

You can do it at home!

Obviously this would only apply to someone who has chosen to actually buy an ergometer machine. However this may be more common now than ever considering the circumstances going on in our world today.

I am personally an at home workout type of person anyway, but I do use the gym for certain workouts so at least during a lockdown I know at least most of my workout routine is mostly unaffected.

It’s a full body workout

A benefit for obvious reasons. It is my personal opinion that the best exercises are compound exercises, meaning they workout many muscle groups at the same time. Not only does it improve muscle mass and strength but additionally provides a cardiovascular workout as well.

It’s a low impact, high intensity workout

Low impact means less stress and strain on your joints and ligaments. This workout is a godsend for me because I suffer from pretty bad joint pain from years of active sports and a lack of knowledge about proper technique working out in my younger years.

It is the perfect exercise for people with joint issues, and according to HealthLine is often referred to for people with osteoarthritis and in addition is also a great way to continue getting exercise while in active recovery.

It’s great for burning calories and losing weight

According to Harvard Health Calories burned on the rowing machine in 30 minutes are as follows:

A 155 pound person can burn 316 calories in 30 minutes of a vigorous rowing workout or 260 with a moderate rowing workout in 30 minutes, while a 185 pound person can burn 377 calories in 30 minutes of a vigorous rowing workout or 311 calories with a moderate rowing workout.

Add in a healthy diet along with a consistent routine you’re surely going to shed off some weight at the same time you are toning up.

It is cost efficient and time efficient

This too is an obvious benefit to having workout equipment at home. You spend no money for transportation which not only saves you money but also the time it would take to get to the gym and back.

It’s compact and easy to store

Clearly this machine is not the smallest piece of home gym equipment, but out of all the available at home exercise machines available this is the one machine that can do more for you than larger machines like treadmills, exercise bikes, or elliptical machines.

I mean heck some weight bench setups can have the same footprint as many rowing machines and the good thing about rowers is that they fold up and can be stored away out of sight when you are not using them.

Convenience and flexibility

The most common responses from people when you ask them what it is exactly that prevents them from working out are typically answers that fall under 3 topics:

  1. Inconvenient access to equipment
  2. Not enough time
  3. Lack of motivation.

Having your own indoor rowing machine obviously tackles the first 2 top excuses for the lack of a good workout routine. As for number 3……well that’s up to you to figure out and a whole other topic in itself. However I highly suggest a re-evaluation of your current diet as a good starting point.

Which Muscles Does Indoor Rowing Workout?

indoor rowing muscles worked

While this particular workout can provide some drastic results in strength in your legs, core and arms, it actually works out a lot of your other muscles.

Most enthusiasts insist it works out over 80% of the muscles groups in your body and quite honestly I have no problem believing this.

To get a little more specific indoor rowing can strengthen these muscles:

  • Quads
  • Hamstrings
  • Gluten
  • Core
  • Forearms
  • Biceps
  • Lays
  • Upper back.

As I have said before this is basically a full body workout. I only say “basically” because standard rowing techniques workout a little over 80% of your body, but there are even more techniques with the indoor rowing machine that will allow you workout the remaining muscles for a true full body workout all without using a different piece of equipment.

My Favorite Indoor Rowing Machine

The Concept2 Model D

best indoor rower

You can check out the one that I got and see the reviews and ratings on amazon by clicking here.

This is by far my favorite rowing machine and for good reason. We just recently did a pretty in depth test comparison between the Model D and the RW900 rower (Nordictrack’s Best Model) and found that the Concept 2 was far better than Nordictrack’s best rower.

The Concept2 Model D indoor rowing machine is pretty much the golden standard from which most, if not all other models are compared to. I’ve been using this rower for the past few months and it has become my favorite for a number of reasons:

  1. The build quality is superb, it is a built to be a heavy duty rower able to support all user weights and heights.
  2. It moves and flows very smoothly with each push and pull stroke
  3. It is well designed with a very ergonomic design including sturdy foot pedals that look to be able to easily fit any shoe size and a comfortable contoured seat.
  4. The display lights up as soon as movement is detected when you begin your workout
  5. It can be stored vertically saving space and is surprisingly lighter than it looks.
  6. The air resistance adjust itself depending on how much force you put into your strokes
  7. It doesn’t need to be plugged in
  8. Is affordable considering it’s exceptional build quality

best indoor rowing machine

You can see the reviews and ratings of the Model D Version on amazon by clicking here.

Want To Buy An Indoor Rowing Machine? Here is what to Look For:

What Type of Rower Do You Need to Get?

There are 3 main types of Indoor rowing machines and quite honestly I think it is mostly a matter of personal preference. While there are rowing machines that are better than others, there are also rowing machines that suit specific body types and workout goals slightly more favorably from one person to another.

Types of Rowing Machines:

Magnetic Rower

magnetic indoor rowing machine

These use a magnetic break in the flywheel to generate resistance. Because there is no physical contact friction they are also the quietest of all types. Additionally they are typically the cheapest rower type.

And with newer models providing easy resistance adjustment, they are perfect for at home use for people that would like to keep noise to a minimum so as to not disturb any other members of their household.

Water Rower

indoor water rowing machine

As I’m sure you have guessed these rowers use water resistance via a reservoir of water containing several (or just a few) paddles that spin within the reservoir creating real water resistance with smooth consistency. These paddles essentially replace the flywheel that other rowing machines use for resistance and fluidity.

Many athletes prefer these models because they feel more real in correlation to actually rowing a boat. This may not be the best type of rower for beginners considering its caveats. The water reservoir adds more weight and usually length too, so they will take up more space and would likely need a fixed dedicated place for use if you wanted to get one for your home.

This is definitely for the more serious athlete

Air Rower

indoor air rowing machine benefits

Surprisingly more similar to the water rower than one might think, the air rowing machine uses the same concept as the water rowing machine except the flywheel uses fins shaped similarly to a ceiling fan contained by a housing with “dampers” that can adjust the air flow around the propelling fins, creating more resistance when more force used applied on each stroke.

These rowers have amazing advantages including a natural feel of movement, smooth continuous resistance, it’s not as bulky as many others and is usually accommodating to a taller body type allowing for a full extension. However they are not also without their caveats.

They tend to take up more space, are the noisiest rowing machines on the market, and there are not a lot of budget options due to the added complexity and build quality needed to make the air resisting flywheels working with prolonged functionality and very little maintenance.

What Will Your Workout Routine Look Like?

Admittedly I wrote this article with a bias towards speaking to beginners and mostly average healthy people who already have a workout routine, but would like to explore something different that may help to accommodate their lifestyle in a way that may be a little less involving without losing the benefits of a varied workout routine.

Regardless, whether you happen to be a more serious athlete or a novice,  I highly recommend you get out there and just try as many models as you can to see which one fits your needs and body type.

I personally get a pretty good cardio workout at work on most days, but I work 4 days a week and have 3 days off, so I use my rowing machine on my days off early in the morning for about 45 minutes, sometimes and hour, but not usually.

Figure out what works for you and seek advice from experienced users.

Cost of The Indoor Rower

This is up to you to figure out what you’re willing to spend for a decent rowing machine. The costs range from around $150 or so for a really crappy junk one to $850+ and some go well over a grand.

You do get what you pay for, but I will say that no matter what rowing machine you get (as long as it’s a decent quality rower) you can still get a great workout as long as you really take the time to learn proper form and technique.

The downside to the lower cost models is that the cheaper models tend to have more design flaws that sometimes don’t work very well with the fluid movements of the body, so I would suggest you take that into consideration and just get the best rowing machine that you can afford.

Indoor Rowing FAQ

Should I use the rower every day?

Yes, of course you can. Everyone is different but anyone that wants to improve their health can absolutely use the rowing machine every day. Although it is important to know since this is a full body workout, if you plan to row with high intensity, it may be best to do this every other day as doing a high intensity full body workout every other day will allow your body time to recover.

As you get more experience on the rower and your body gets used to the motions you can workout 7 days a week with no problem.

Also, remember that the most important part of this exercise is proper form and execution of the row stroke:

  1. Catch
  2. Drive
  3. Finish
  4. Recovery

I personally find that recovery and preparation for the next stroke is more important than the actual stroke itself because if that part isn’t perfected then everything else will be flawed.

How long should my rowing sessions last?

As long as you want, But I highly suggest beginners start with 20 minutes of perfecting form and posture. Avoid intensity in the beginning because this leads to bad habits related to form and technique. Proper form is not usually intuitive. The human body tends to naturally take the path of least resistance and this is exactly what we are trying to train our body to avoid doing so we can build strength where we are weak.

Can I use the rower if I’m injured?

While rowing machines are virtually low impact and often used for the sole purpose of rehabilitation of certain injuries you should ALWAYS check with a professional if you want to continue working out with an injury. In most cases it is the best workout for people that are currently recovering from an injury, but always seek advice from a professional first.

Can using a Rower do the job or do I need other equipment?

Essentially, yes, a rowing machine alone can in fact be enough to stay in shape. You really would not need any other equipment unless you were looking to build more mass in specific parts of the body, so this essentially depends on what you want.

I do lift weights here and there within my workout routine but more often than not I find it mostly unnecessary considering I mostly care about maintaining my health and muscle mass, not growing muscle mass as much as I can.

But that is only because it can be quicker to throw up a few reps than running a session on the rower. Personally I think it is plenty enough to help keep me in shape all by itself. And it does.

If you want to get a bit of strength training in with your rower workout you can always get a pair of cheap dumbbells and throw in a couple sets before, during, or after your workout.

How do rowers compare to treadmills or ellipticals?

Rowing machines are better! No treadmill or elliptical could compare to a rowing machine simply because the rowing machine removes the major flaws of the treadmill by providing the same cardio workout without the impact of running on the treadmill deck. Even if you have a treadmill with a cushioned deck it still causes your whole body to jolt through each and every step.

It is just the same compared to elliptical because it also provides that same cardio exercise the elliptical provides, but corrects your posture and helps you to use those muscles that help to keep your back straight and your shoulders held where they should be.

Ellipticals are a great cardio machine for losing weight and toning up but they can be hard on your posture especially if it is a pre-existing issue. The rowing machine can actually help to correct your posture.

I personally believe that indoor rowing machines are the best possible option for an at home workout because they can give you exactly what you need and are suited for all types of people. The rowing machine is the perfect way to compromise your workout routine to more easily blend into a busy lifestyle without having to compromise the benefits of a more involving workout routine.

I honestly can’t think of many reasons to not add a rowing machine to your home gym setup. Should you choose to incorporate this exercise into your life I guarantee you will be glad you did. Sometimes you have to do less to gain more.

So you can stop googling indoor rowing articles and reading about all the benefits because the internet is flooded with them and they mostly say the same things.  Now go experience the benefits yourself. You won’t regret it I promise.

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Ben Mayz

Hi there! I'm Ben, main author and chief editor at Fitlifefanatics.com. I have been obsessed with Strength Training and Fitness for 16 years now. My passion for living a happy fit lifestyle is what made me realize that fitness is what I wanted for my future. I went on to earn my Masters in Sports Training & Biomechanics. My passion for Strength training & fitness and my love of helping others is what made me start Fitlifefanatics. Here, myself, and a team of specialist aim to provide the most accurate, and actionable information possible in hopes to help foster the fitness community forward. You can learn more about Fitlifefanatics on our About Page