Rowing is a compound movement, and it works a multitude of muscles. There are a few muscles rowing does not work, but you cannot rely on rowing to build a complete physique or to build strength in all areas of your body.
Rowing can be implemented into all routines for any sport or athletic endeavor, but it has its limitations.
What muscles does rowing work most?
The muscles hit directly by rowing are in the arms, back, legs, and core. By looking at the motion of a row, you can see that you pull with your arms, working your biceps, shoulders, and back to a great extent and stretching the latissimus dorsi muscles (outer back muscles), rhomboids, and posterior deltoid upon eccentric contraction.
While pulling, you push with your legs strongly, using the quadriceps, hamstrings, and calves, the whole lower body. While doing this you also need to use the stabilization muscles in your core, which consist of your lower back, rectus abdominus (abdominal muscles), obliques, erector spinae, transversus abdominus, diaphragm, and the erectus abdominis to name a few.
These are the main core muscles used when rowing.
The muscles worked the most are the biceps, lats, shoulders, and quads, the other muscles help but not as much as the main muscles worked. To know exactly how these muscles function in the row movement, let us go into detail about the row stroke.
There are four phases of the row stroke, those are the Catch, the Drive, the Finish, and the Recovery. Let us start with the catch.
The catch is the start of the movement. Your knees are close to your chest, bent, and you are positioned near the front of the machine, grabbing the bar. This is the first part of the stroke.
The catch strengthens 3 muscle groups during the motion. Your triceps are used to hold the bar and all its resistance in the starting position.
Your legs are held in a vertical position, ready to push in the next part of the movement. Almost cocked up.
The latissimus dorsi, or outer back muscles are what helps with the extension of the arm and are what attaches to the shoulder, which will be used along with the lats to pull the bar towards you. Rhomboids and traps play a part as well, assisting your shoulder to be stabilized while it works. (1)
The drive is the second part of the rowing stroke. The drive is the start of actual movement.
You push your feet off the foot stretchers and fully extend your legs, but keep a slight bend in the knee. Using your core, hinge at the hips and swing the body backwards into an upright position.
Next you pull the bar towards your sternum. This is what is called the drive, and should be done all in one motion. (1)
A lot of muscle groups are worked in this phase of the rowing stroke. First, the legs push off and extend, this works the quadriceps, which does the actual pushing, and the glutes and hamstrings help with the core to shift the upper body backward and assist in the body becoming fully upright.
Your biceps and shoulders both assist in pulling the bar towards you. Your back also helps with stabilizing the upper body to keep it upright once in that position. The abdominal muscles do this also, but the abdominal muscles are worked to keep the body stabilized as you pull the bar towards you also. (1)
The movement after the drive is the finish, as you can guess it is when you finish the stroke by fully extending your legs, and pulling the bar all the way towards your sternum.
This works your abdomen muscles, the obliques, transverse abdominis, rectus abdominis, and pyramidal, to keep the body upright as you finish the movement. The pulling of the bar towards your sternum will work the biceps, which are supported by your back muscles and help pull and rotate your upper arm. (1)
This is the final part of the rowing stroke. It is the reverse of the first three steps, bringing you into the original catch position. From the finish position, you will extend your arms and hinge forward at the hips.
You will then bend your knees and pull forward back into the catch position. Control this movement and do not just release all at once.
The recovery will work the same muscles as the catch, the triceps will help with extending the arms, and the legs will help you get into the closed spring position ready to drive again.
According to Hydrow, the rowing company specialized in anything rowing, “Each of the four phases also utilizes the muscles in the neck, hands, and chest. As a result, completing just one simple rowing stroke means you’ve activated every major skeletal muscle in your body.” (1)
So, rowing is proven to work every muscle in the body, giving you a complete workout and being a great exercise, anyone can do.
Like I have said before, the row stroke will not build you a complete physique as the row does not emphasize any contraction of the chest, neck, calves, or the back, as the back needs a vertical movement along with a horizontal movement to build it completely, and the chest is worked during the stretching and contracting of the pectoral.
There is only a slight stretch of the pectoral, and the contraction of the shoulder would give some contraction of the pectoral, but it is not enough to grow a full-looking looking pectoral. Other than that, the row works every muscle in the body and is amazing at doing it.
Rowing works all the skeletal muscles in the body. It does have limitations with the extent to which muscles it works like the pectorals and triceps.
Other than the row limiting you with these muscle groups, every other muscle is worked great during the stroke. Keeping good form will give you a great workout with this exercise.
You should consult a doctor before starting any exercise regimen, and especially if you have health conditions such as heart problems or trouble, high blood pressure or hypertension, diabetes, or obesity – or if you are 40 years old or older, make sure to check with your doctor before you begin a regular exercise regimen.