The Top 5 Health Benefits of Rowing Machines, According to Research

Benefits of Rowing Machines

If you’ve landed on this article, you’re probably wondering: What are the benefits of using a rowing machine?

After all, with other pieces of cardio equipment like the treadmill, elliptical, or stationary exercise bike competing for your time and attention, you may be trying to figure out if using a rower is even worth it.

The short answer is it absolutely pays to add rowing into your cardio routine, and we’ll share why that is, along with five science-backed benefits and advantages of rowing machines.

If you don’t have time to read the full article, here are some key highlights:

  1. Rowing machines can help improve joint strength and decrease body fat
  2. They’re an effective total-body workout with a similar calorie burn to other cardio machines
  3. Rowing can also help you get in shape and stay active

Keep reading to learn more about the science behind those benefits of rowing machines, plus some other helpful answers to questions like:

  1. Can you get in shape by just rowing?
  2. Is 20 minutes of rowing enough?
  3. Is rowing good for belly fat?

The Top 5 Health Benefits of Rowing Machines, According to Research

Here are five great reasons why it pays to start using a rowing machine today:

1. Improved Joint Strength

Couple Exercising with a Rowing Machine

A small study with 24 participants examined the impact of rowing three days per week for eight weeks and found some incredible results.

Researchers discovered that study participants’ basic fitness significantly increased, and their muscle and joint strength – in their elbows, shoulders, knees, and lumbar (back) – improved by a whopping 30%. [1]

Since the study was so small, more research is needed, but these results are still great to see.

2. Decreased Body Fat

Woman Using a Rower to Reduce Belly Fat

Another small study, this time using 20 visually impaired subjects, also uncovered some great results using a rower for exercise.

Study participants had to be able to walk independently with supervision, they had no previous history of regular exercise, and were free from disabilities and injuries to meet the research criteria.

The researchers told the participants to maintain their current nutrition and lifestyle habits, and the only specific change was the addition of rowing, which they did five days per week for six weeks.

Each session lasted 40 minutes, including a 10-minute warm-up, 20 minutes of rowing work, and a 10-minute cooldown.

Study participants also had their body composition measured, performed a physical fitness test, and had their blood sampled before and after the study to establish a baseline for comparison and to track results.

Once the study was complete, researchers found that participants significantly decreased their body fat and improved their back strength and trunk flexion. [2]

They also discovered a significant decrease in low-density lipoprotein, or LDL cholesterol, which is often dubbed the “bad” cholesterol since high levels can increase your risk of heart disease and strokes. [2] [3]

So, using a rower for six weeks positively affected body composition, physical fitness and strength, and metabolic health.

However, similar to the first study, this one is small, so we can’t draw firm conclusions just yet, but it is promising to see.

3. Effective Total Body Workout

Man Using a NordicTrack Rower to Get in Shape

As you may have already guessed, rowing is an incredibly effective total-body workout since it engages both the body’s upper and lower muscle groups.

Using an indoor rower consists of 65-75% leg work and 25-35% upper body work, according to the AFPA, or American Fitness Professionals & Associates, and it’s one of the best exercises you can do to build aerobic fitness. [4]

So, unlike when you ride a bike or use a stair climber, which only works the lower portion of your body, you can work more muscles at once by involving the upper half of your body with each rowing rep.

4. Comparable Calorie Burn to Other Cardio Machines

Man Using Indoor Rowing for Improved Heart Health

Since you’re engaging major muscle groups found in the legs, back, core, and arms, there’s a similar calorie burn with rowing machines compared to other cardio machines.

Harvard Health Publishing of Harvard Medical School posted the average calorie burn of various exercises when people engaged in them for 30 minutes.

They published these exercises for three different weight classes so people could get an idea of what a typical calorie burn could look like.

The publishers noted that stationary rowing at a moderate intensity could yield anywhere from 210 calories (for a person weighing 125 pounds) to 294 (for a person weighing 185 pounds) for 30 minutes, depending on an individual’s weight. [5]

These figures are comparable and identical to using a stationary exercise bike at a moderate intensity. [5]

Rowing vigorously on a stationary rower could bump the calorie burn up to 255 (17% increase for a person weighing 125 pounds) to 440 calories (33% increase for a person weighing 185 pounds), depending on the individual. [5]

These numbers are very similar to using an elliptical machine, which comes in at 270 calories burned for 30 minutes for someone weighing 125 pounds to 378 calories for someone weighing 185 pounds. [5]

So, as these numbers show, rowing is comparable to these other pieces of cardio equipment when it comes to calorie burn.

One thing to note is that your individual calorie burn may differ since that figure is based on other factors such as your intensity, how much you weigh, age, sex, height, etc.

5. Rowers are a Powerful Combination of Strength Plus Aerobic Exercise

Man Rowing to iFIT Rowing Workout

Lastly, but just as beneficial, rowing is not just a great cardio workout; it also has some strength components since you’re pulling the handlebar towards your body with each rep.

This pulling motion engages your upper back, shoulders, biceps, triceps, and chest muscles and is a great way to increase your strength in these areas.

When performed correctly and positioned upright, it also strengthens your posture, which is especially important if you sit at a computer and a desk all day.

On top of these benefits, you may be wondering:

Is Indoor Rowing Good for Your Heart?

Woman Using Rower to Get in Shape


Since indoor rowing uses both your upper and lower body, it naturally gets your heart pumping and increases your heart rate, which is excellent for improving your cardiovascular fitness.

Whether you’re trying to maintain or improve your cardiovascular fitness, an indoor rowing machine can be an excellent tool to help you do so.

Plus, since you’re seated when rowing, it’s considered a low-impact form of cardio.

Despite being low-impact, as you saw a moment ago, indoor rowing still offers an effective calorie burn, making it a great choice to weave into your weekly workout rotation.

The next question that often comes up when discussing the benefits of rowing machines is:

Is 20 Minutes of Rowing Enough?

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention currently recommends that people engage in a minimum of 150 minutes of moderate-intensity activity combined with two days of strength training. [6]

However, they also suggest, as an alternative, you could engage in 75 minutes of vigorous activity each week instead, along with two days of strength training. [6]

This means you could spend 20 minutes per day rowing for at least four days per week to reach this aerobic activity benchmark.

So, yes, 20 minutes of rowing, as long as it’s done four days per week, is enough to stay active.

Can You Get in Shape by Just Rowing?

Woman Performing a Bicep Curl Next to a NordicTrack Rower

Rowing, along with many other cardio machines, can be an excellent tool to help you get in shape, but it works best when combined with strength training and dietary modifications.

For example, if you’re trying to lose weight, you’ll want to start eating in a 300- to 500-calorie-per-day deficit while adding or increasing your exercise and overall movement for the day.

Whether you use a rower, an elliptical, a treadmill, or an exercise bike, if you’re not eating a 300 to 500-calorie deficit for your height and weight, you likely won’t lose weight.

Adding strength training through lifting weights, using resistance bands, or performing bodyweight exercises can also help change your body composition or reshape your figure.

Post-workout, you also want to make sure you’re eating the right mix of healthy carbs, protein, and fats to promote muscle repair and recovery so you can prepare for your next workout.

These macronutrients are essential for all types of exercises, which makes them an ideal post-workout combination no matter what you’re doing.

All that said, an indoor rower is an excellent option if you want to get in shape to improve your cardiovascular fitness but you also want to pair it with strength training and dietary modifications for the best results.

Is Rowing Good for Belly Fat?

Man Performing a Squat Next to a Rower Using an iFIT Workout

As mentioned in a previous article on using Treadmill Workouts to Target Abs, combining dietary modifications with exercise is the best way to shed belly fat.

While you can’t spot reduce belly fat with endless amounts of cardio, cardio machines like rowers can help you burn calories, and they’re a useful tool to help you reach your health goals.

But, along with adding rowing workouts into your routine, you’ll want to eat in a slight calorie deficit and choose whole foods over processed foods as often as possible to reduce belly fat. 

You can learn more about those strategies in-depth by visiting that link when you’re done here.

Reap These Benefits of Rowing Machines Today

Now that you know the benefits of rowing machines, you may be wondering how to reap these benefits.

Start rowing to do so!

If you’re new to rowing, it pays to begin slowly and work your way up over time.

For more guidance on form and technique or virtual rowing workouts you can exercise along to, check out iFIT. This separate paid subscription service features thousands of great on-demand workouts on and off rowing machines.

And, if you don’t own a rower yet, you can browse our latest NordicTrack rower models by clicking any of the links below:

  1. RW900 Rower
  2. RW700 Rowing Machine
  3. RW600 Rower

From here, all that’s left to do is try rowing and see how you feel.

In no time, you’ll be able to reap the rewards and benefits of rowing machines.



Disclaimer: This blog post is not intended to replace the advice of a medical professional. The above information should not be used to diagnose, treat, or prevent any disease or medical condition. Please consult your doctor before making any changes to your diet, sleep methods, daily activity, or fitness routine. NordicTrack assumes no responsibility for any personal injury or damage sustained by any recommendations, opinions, or advice given in this article. Always follow the safety precautions included in the owner’s manual of your fitness equipment.