What is a Rowing Machine? [Benefits | Types | Workout]

By | September 21, 2017

A Rowing Machine (aka. Indoor Rower), is a workout machine designed to simulate the action of rowing. Although they are commonly used by competitive rowers, you can also find them in most commercial gyms and use them for your cardio and strength workout routines. You have a better chance of working your arms, legs, core, and back at the same time when you make a good use of one.

A modern rowing machine consists of 5 major parts alongside the frame:

  • A Sliding seat (and its rail).
  • A Digital monitor: on most modern machines, it can show the calculated speed (strokes/minute), distance, energy usage, and more statistics.
  • An Energy Damper: The most important part, it’s literally the “engine” of an indoor rower because it generates resistance.
  • A Handle (or two handles for the piston-resistance indoor rowers).
  • Footplates with adjustable straps: if these straps are broken, the machine is useless for rowing workout.

rowing machine parts


Types of Rowing Machines

There are 4 types of the indoor rowers. What differentiates them is how their “energy dampers” generate resistance.

1 – Air-resistance

The resistance generator, in this case, is a flywheel that looks like a fan with wide blades. Obviously, it spins when you pull the handle. The level of resistance generated is determined by the spin speed, which is controlled by the intensity of the stokes.

Simply put: the harder you pull, the higher the resistance gets.

For many models of this type, You can also adjust the resulting resistance by changing a lever that limits the airflow to the flywheel.

Air-resistance is Probably the most popular type of indoor rowers thanks to concept2 rowing machines (It’s really rare to find a gym with no concept2 machine).

The drawback of this type is the really high noise level. With high-intensity strokes, it can get unacceptably loud.

concept2 model D indoor rower

2 – Water-resistance

This type of indoor rowers has a tank of water with paddles inside. Again, These paddles spin when you pull the handlebar, and the water is what provides resistance in this case.

And just like the air-resistance type, the harder you pull, the heavier it gets. Also, adding and removing water can change the resistance level.

Water-resistance machines are what rowing professionals use, simply because they provide the realistic feeling of sweep rowing. Also, they are less noisy than air-resistance models.

Their only disadvantage is their big and rigid frames.

water rowing machine

3 – Magnetic-resistance

This one uses electromagnets to provide resistance on a flywheel. What makes magnetic-resistance rowing machines popular is because they are quiet and smooth compared to the previous types.

They are also accurate since the resistance is adjusted using electronic components. That being said, constant resistance set by the user makes the rowing experience on this type not much like “real rowing” compared to air and water resistance.

magnetic rowing machine

4 – Piston-Resistance (Hydraulic piston)

This type can be in 2 forms: first one, and most common has pairs of hydraulic pistons connected to separate handlebars. The other form looks like typical rowing machines, but it has one hydraulic piston connected to a horizontal handlebar.

double hydraulic piston rowing machine   one hydraulic piston rowing machine

Hydraulic piston based rowing machines are compact and less expensive than the flywheel-based types. But unfortunately, it’s the least effective type.

Rowing Machine Workout Benefits

Rowing is an amazing sport because it uses all major muscle groups. That means all the benefits of full body workouts, namely: fat loss, muscle toning, improved cardiovascular fitness, strength, and endurance.

Muscles used with rowing machine

Muscles used when using a rowing machine correctly.

Rowing is also a low-impact physical activity, so you can work really high intensities or go for extended periods (endurance), without feeling so beat up after you’re done (not like high-impact sports like running for instance).


How to Use a Rowing Machine

The beauty of the rowing machine is in its simplicity. it’s really easy to get going with it even for beginners.

All you need to do in order to get yourself in the starting position for a rowing workout is:

1 –  Adjusting your foot stretchers: you need to make sure your feet are securely fastened with the strap going over the ball of your foot (not the toes nor the heel).

2 – Turning on the monitor to keep track of your stats.

Then grab the handle and you’re good to go!

Hold on,

You need some tips to do your workout correctly.

Tips and shortcuts are always helpful, especially if they’re from world-class experts!

3 Pro Tips to Row the Correct Way [by World Champion Rower, Josh Crosby]

Now that you are in the starting position on your rowing machine, you need to use it correctly.

Here is the deal:

Using a rowing machine effectively is simply 3 things done correctly: order, power, and timing.

Tip #1 – Ordre

Rowing is a sequence of 3 moves with 3 different parts of the body. Remember these words in this particular order: legs-core-arms, arms-core-legs.

here’s what does that mean. Legs-core-arms:

  • First, push your legs down,
  • Lean back second,
  • Aaand pull the handle (using only your arms) right to your chest.

And as you’ve probably guessed it, moves are reversed on the returning phase:

  • First, arms come out,
  • Second, body come forward,
  • Finally, legs come up so you’re now in the starting position again.

Thus rowing is not a “pull as hard as you can” exercise as lots of people think. it is instead a process of “pushing (with your legs), leaning back (with your core) and pulling, then reverse the sequence to recover”.

Tip #2 – Power

Most people think rowing workout uses only the upper body. This is NOT true. It’s actually more about the lower body. In figures:

  • 60% of the power should come from your legs.
  • 20% from the core (leaning back)
  • And the remaining 20% from pulling with your arms.

Tip #3 – Timing

When you’re rowing, every stroke should be a two-phase movement. Timing ratio should be 1 count in, 2 counts out.

The legs-core-arms phase is one count. It’s generally called the power phase.

The arms-core-legs phase should be double the count of the power phase, and it’s called recovery phase.

As Josh suggests, you need to think of it this way:  Power-Patience-Patience.

Phase one (the pull-process) is Power, phase two (recovery) is Patience-Patience.