What Muscles are used when I row?

Rowing machines are known as a full body workout because they exercise every major muscle group and provide a fantastic cardiovascular workout. Rowing is a coordinated muscle action that involves every large muscle group in the body. The user can expect to burn anywhere between 400-800 calories an hour on average based upon their current fitness levels. Mixed in with weights and other methods of training, this may be one of the best cardiovascular training tools on the market!


With that being said, we get asked at Rowclub about the muscles being used when on the rower. We usually respond briefly back with “It’s a movement that requires you to use your whole body”. That is the short answer. Below, I will briefly go over the primary muscles used during each movement of the rowing stroke. I will go more in depth on covering the muscles used in each of the rowing phases over the next few weeks. For now and to give our readers an intro of the rowing mechanics and the muscles being used, please read below.


The Catch

At the catch, your legs are compressed and your shins are vertical. Your triceps work to extend your arms, and the flexor muscles of your fingers and thumbs grip the handle. Your back muscles are relaxed and your abdominals are flexed to keep your torso hinged forward.


Muscles worked:  Erector Spinae, Gastroc and Soleus, and Hamstrings.


The Drive

Start the drive with the powerful muscles of your legs. As you work through the drive sequence, your biceps contract to pull the handle toward your abdomen. your back muscles engage as you swing your torso open, and your glutes and hamstrings contract to extend the hip. As the drive finishes with the arm pull-through, nearly all the muscles of your upper body are active.

 Muscles worked:  Erector Spinae, Rectus Abdominus, Triceps, Rhomboids, Deltoids, Trapezius, Pectoralis Major, Wrist Extensors and Flexors, Quadriceps, Glutes, Hamstrings, and Gastroc and Soleus.


The Finish

At the finish, the abdominals, glutes and quads are contracting to stabilize the body. The biceps and the back muscles are also contracting to help keep the torso upright in the finish position and to internally rotate the upper arms.

Muscles worked:   Erector Spinae, Wrist Extensors and Flexors, Triceps, Biceps, Deltoids, Pectoralis Major, Rectus Abdominus, Internal and External Obliques, Quadriceps, and Hamstrings.


The Recovery

The triceps relaxes to push the arms forward and away from the body. The abdominals pulls the torso forward, and the hamstrings and calves contract as you slide up to the catch.

Muscles worked:  Erector Spinae, Tricep, Abdominus, Internal and External Obliques, Gastroc and Soleus, and Hamstrings


I hope by skimming through this article you have gained a better understanding about the muscle groups used during the row. Stay tuned for other entries about how to improve your strength and mobility within these muscle groups as well as a break down of each phase of the row.

Until next time,



 (Images credit:  Concept2 UK, http://concept2.co.uk/rower/muscle_groups)