Rowing machines target muscle groups in your back, shoulders and arms, but most models have sliding seats that allow you to develop your lower-body muscles as well. Rowing workouts can be strenuous, so talk to your doctor before using one especially if you have joint or lower-back problems. But for most women, a rowing machine can provide low-impact yet effective aerobic exercise.
In general, rowing motions are mostly effective for muscle groups in your upper body. Specifically, pulling the handles toward your torso engages your lats and rhomboids as well as the biceps in your arms. But rowing machines aim to provide a full-body workout by ensuring that all of your body parts are involved in the movement. The sliding seat, for example, allows you to push off with your legs, which helps develop your lower-body muscles.
The Rowing Stroke
Proper form on a rowing machine goes something like this: Start with the seat in the forward position and grasp the handles. With your arms straight, extend your knees to begin pulling the handles backward. When your knees are mostly extended, bend your elbows and draw the handles in toward your upper stomach. To begin the return movement, let your arms extend. As your hands pass above your knees, bend your knees to return to the initial position. The major effect of all these movements is to develop a strong back.
Properly done, the rowing movement should be a continuous, fluid motion. Good technique is crucial for avoiding lower-back injuries. Read the rowing machine’s instruction manual carefully, and ask a certified fitness instructor for help if you have any questions. Start off with slow-paced rowing workouts until you’re comfortable with the form.
Besides developing your muscles, rowing also provides an effective cardiovascular workout. Set a pace that causes you to break out in a light sweat after about 10 minutes, which means you’re exercising at a moderate level of intensity. Row at that pace for about 150 minutes per week, and you’ll reap the many benefits of cardiovascular exercise, such as a stronger heart, fewer illnesses and increased energy. Rowing also burns a significant number of calories, making it an effective exercise for weight loss. At a moderate pace, a 155-pound person can expect to burn about 260 calories in 30 minutes, according to Harvard Medical School.
Stan Mack is a business writer specializing in finance, business ethics and human resources. His work has appeared in the online editions of the "Houston Chronicle" and "USA Today," among other outlets. Mack studied philosophy and economics at the University of Memphis.