Is Rowing Good Cardio?

Is Rowing Good Cardio?


February 18, 2022

When you don’t have access to a full-scale gym, you look at getting an at-home gym. The problem is, there’s a lot of equipment and it’s all really big, and it’s all pretty expensive when you tally it all up (not to mention the setup time).

But what if you could have a bunch of exercises all roped into one? Well, that’s where rowing machines come into play. They’re designed to help you get a full-body workout, but is that something that can really replace cardio?

It’s not a direct answer, so let’s go through rowing as a form of cardio and break down where it’s strong, where it lacks, and what you should do about it.

Why is Rowing a Popular Form of Cardio?

Cardio is almost unanimously hated among those who take their health and exercise very seriously. They claim it’s boring and they would rather do anything else.

However, exercise is inherently boring. That’s why we like to switch it up with new curls, new machines, and for cardio, new bike or jogging trails.

So how did a stationary machine like the rowing machine become such a viable cardio exercise?

  • Full-Body: Your exercises on a rowing machine constitute a full-body exercise, meaning it helps just about every part of you from your legs to your abs, your shoulders to your back, all while increasing your heart rate and helping you shed pounds. That’s pretty nice for a single workout.
  • It’s Time-Sensitive: You hop on, grab the handle, push back, release, then rinse and repeat. Your rowing machine can be five steps from the foot of your bed, you can do a full-body exercise, and it’s all compact and saves you time. That’s a pretty attractive way to exercise if you ask me, especially in a world where numerous people are working from home.
  • It’s Cost-Effective: If you already don’t want to be doing cardio, then wouldn’t you want to make it as time-efficient and cost-efficient as possible? One rowing machine can last you for 2-5 years (10+ for water rowers or high-end machines), and it can replace a lot of a home gym. It saves you money on other machine types, and it doesn’t cost an arm and a leg to get one.

What Does Rowing Work On?

What Does Rowing Work On?

Rowing machines work out a startling 86% of all the muscles in your body. Instead of hardcore targeting one specific muscle group or a small cluster of muscle groups, you’re engaging nearly everything that you can.

Imagine you have a budget of muscle development, and you’re spreading out a small portion of that budget to 86% of all the muscles in your body.

With a dedicated exercise that targets one muscle or muscle group, you’re getting a stronger effect in that area, but it leaves other aspects of the body underdeveloped.

These are some of the muscle groups that you work out when you use a rowing machine.

  • Shoulders
  • Upper Arm
  • Abdominal Muscles
  • Lower Arms
  • Quadratic muscles
  • Upper Back
  • Lower Back
  • Glutes
  • Hamstrings
  • Calves

However, it’s important to note that you have to have the proper form to do all of this effectively.

There are far too many individuals using rowing machines that just don’t use proper form and end up either hurting themselves or not seeing the results that they want to.

Benefits of Rowing

Benefits of Rowing
  • Working Out All Major Muscle Groups: You may not feel it until the next day, but you’re working out so many different muscles. In fact, it’s every major muscle group that you need to work out to see toned muscles and an overall slimmer look. It’s the most comprehensive exercise you can get, even if it doesn’t fast-track your bicep growth or ab growth specifically.
  • Adaptability: Most workouts have specific parameters. You can’t lift a 20 lb dumbbell if you don’t physically possess the ability to do it. You have to start on a smaller dumbbell. With rowing machines, they respond to your input. If you need low intensity, you can do low intensity. If you want to adjust the resistance level, you only have to deal with that level of resistance. It puts you in the driver’s seat of your own workout at every step of the process.
  • Time-Effective: If you’re strapped for time, you’re not alone. Many individuals cite that time management (or a lack thereof) is the reason that they don’t put more focus on their exercise. Apart from requiring no setup time (because you just sit down and start going), rowing machines are excellent for keeping your entire workout confined to a short amount of time.
  • Accessibility: Whether you’re a bodybuilder or not doesn’t apply here. Anyone can hop on a rowing machine and begin exercising, which is one of the greatest things about it. You don’t have to meet many requirements to use one, making it the greatest way to start a full-body exercise regardless of your health or current physical activity level.
  • Low-Impact: On the side of being accessible, the lack of impact that a rowing machine offers is essential for many different physical fitness levels. If you’re worried about hurting yourself when you start exercising again, rowing machines offer one of the best ways to get started. Save for intense medical issues that require physical therapy, rowing machines are for everyone.
  • Helps With Meditation: Yes, you can actually meditate while on a rowing machine. Because it’s a rhythmic exercise, you can choose if it’s high-intensity or not. The rhythm can be meditative to some, so if you time your pulls, you can mentally get lost while rowing and focus on meditative exercises. A 15-minute rowing session first thing in the morning can actually help prepare you for your day and promote better mental health.

There are other micro exercise benefits apart from what we’ve listed here. Rowing machines can help with bone density, calorie-burning, and grip strength.

Drawbacks of Rowing

Drawbacks of Rowing
  • Leaves Little Room for Other Machines: If you’re planning on having your home gym filled up with multiple machines, a rowing machine might actually make that pretty difficult. You need a lot of room for the machine itself, but also some clearance on either side for your elbows to mov while you’re using the machine.
  • Storage is Difficult: On the flip side of the coin, you can store your rowing machine if you want. The issue with that becomes that storage options are actually pretty difficult, because you have to stand the machine upright and find somewhere to store it where it’s not going to be a safety hazard. You could get wall straps, but that’s also another installation in its own right.

Full-Body but Not Everything You Need

Rowing is an excellent full-body workout, but it doesn’t work the same way that cardio-specific workouts do.

It’s akin to splitting your time and effort between resistance training and cardio at the same time, which is excellent if you don’t have a lot of time and want a balanced workout.

There’s nothing wrong with rowing, and after reading, you can see why it’s one of the most popular forms of exercise in 2022.

You should absolutely include rowing in your exercise regimen to help balance out your exercise, but it’s not an end-all-be-all solution to cardio.

You should still hit the squat rack and run or cycle separately for higher levels of intensity in targeted areas as a way to diversify your workout.



Justin Rodriguez has spent most of his adult life inspiring people to take their fitness more seriously. He is not new to the business of providing practical solutions for those looking to set and smash their fitness goals. From sharing professional tips and tricks to recommending awesome products, Justin Rodriguez helps just about anyone who wants to get the best out of their workout routines.Having gathered a lot of experience both in and outside the gym, Justin Rodriguez uses DSW Fitness as a medium to show you exactly how to get that great-looking body with toned muscles you’ve always wanted.