The Health Benefits of Indoor Rowing

Updated: May 22, 2020

Row your way to fitter and healthier you

Indoor rowing is one of the most effective and efficient workouts to improve cardiovascular fitness, build muscles, or lose weight.

Indoor rowing activates all major muscle groups and is a fun alternative to running or cycling.

While indoor rowing is an excellent way to reach your fitness goals, it also provides you with a wide range of health benefits.

#1 Indoor rowing can decrease your risk of cardiovascular diseases

Aerobic exercises such as rowing can improve your cholesterol profile, aka increasing the high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol, while lowering your low-density lipoprotein (LDL). This can prevent plaque buildup in your arteries and thus decrease your risk of cardiovascular diseases.

Apart from that, aerobic exercises increase the supply of oxygenated blood to your muscles. Over time, this will strengthen your heart and make it more efficient.

#2 Indoor rowing can help you to control diabetes

Diabetes has become an epidemic. According to a report issued by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) in 2015, around 30.3 million Americans suffer from diabetes and have diabetes, 84.1 million have prediabetes.

Managing your blood sugar by preventing insulin resistance is one of the keys to prevent or improve this condition. Studies have found that cardiovascular training is an excellent way to increase insulin sensitivity because it improves your muscles’ ability to absorb (excess) carbohydrates.

And the good news doesn’t stop there: another study has found that exercise can increase insulin sensitivity for up to 16 hours, which will help you to prevent diabetes.

#3 Indoor rowing can help you to lose weight

Research has shown that indoor rowing is a safe and effective way to lose weight and to improve body composition.

Whenever you exercise, your body releases the hormones adrenalin and noradrenalin, which stimulate your body to burn fat.

Of course, any type of exercise is better than no exercise, but when it comes to weight loss, exercises that activate the major muscle groups are most effective. This is why indoor rowing will outshine most other cardio workouts.

One reason for the effectiveness of indoor rowing is the nature of the recovery process: when you overload a muscle, you cause micro-tears within the muscle fiber. During the recovery process, the body requires energy (aka calories) to repair these tears. The more muscles you use during a workout, the more energy your body needs to recover from it.

Indoor rowing is a full-body workout that helps you to burn up to calories 800 calories per hour while strengthening the muscles of your arms, shoulders, back, legs, core, and hips.

#4 Indoor rowing is easy on the joints but “hard” on the muscles

Regular exercise has a positive impact on your joint tissues. However, repetitive high impact movements such as running can place stress on your joints.

As rowing involves no jumping or landing on hard surfaces, it can be an effective alternative that allows you to build strength and cardiovascular fitness.

#5 Rowing can help you to prevent muscles imbalances

Exercises that focus only on certain muscle groups can eventually lead to muscle imbalances, which increases your risk for sports injuries.

Rowing engages all major muscle groups, which makes it a great alternative to activities that are mainly focused on lower-body strength, such as running or cycling.

Indoor rowing with proper form can be especially beneficial for individuals suffering from knee pain. Regular rowing helps to build muscles around the knee, which can help to support and protect the knee joint.*

#6 Indoor rowing can improve your posture

The increased usage of mobile devices and PCs has a negative impact on most people’s health: forward-head posture has become an “epidemic” leading to neck pain, headaches, spine issues, decreased lung capacity, etc.

Rowing in proper form can combat this issue as it strengthens the back of your shoulders, as well as the mid and upper back. Strong muscles in these areas are crucial for good posture.

If you focus on squeezing your shoulder blades while pulling back, you can further capitalize on that effect.

#7 Indoor rowing can reduce stress and mental health

Exercise can help you to reduce stress by releasing calming or mood-enhancing neurotransmitters such as serotonin, dopamine, or endorphins.

While all forms of exercise have this effect, activities with repetitive movement patterns like rowing seem to be especially beneficial for stress reduction.

And according to a study published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine, engaging in 30 minutes interval cardio exercise for ten consecutive days helped patients with depressive disorders to improve their mood significantly.

Apart from that, exercise can help to grow new brain cells and thus prevent cognitive decline.

What is better: indoor or outdoor rowing?

While outdoor rowing allows you to be surrounded by nature, which can provide you with a unique mood-boosting experience, it might be hard to fit into a busy schedule.

Indoor rowing, on the other hand, allows you to perform an effective, full-body workout. Even a short 15-minute workout will provide you with the above-mentioned health benefits.

Apart from that, using an indoor rowing machine allows you to choose a resistance level, which helps to tailor the workout to your specific goals.

How much time should you spend on an indoor rowing machine?

The answer depends on your fitness level and schedule.

If you’re new to rowing, it’s a good idea to start with a 10 to 15-minute workout to help your body getting used to the new movements.

If you’re on a tight schedule, a vigorous 15-minute workout on a rowing machine can be as (or more) effective than an hour of steady-state cardio.

Generally speaking, it’s a good idea to vary between intense, low-impact, and interval workouts ranging anywhere between 10 to 60-minutes. This will help you to avoid weight loss and performance plateaus.

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*A word of warning: if you're suffering from any chronic or acute condition, please discuss with your physician if indoor rowing is a safe exercise for you.