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How Does Rowing Build Muscle?

How Does Rowing Build Muscle?

Rowing is believed by many to be one of the perfect exercises for working the cardiovascular system, but what about muscle building? Below is more information about how rowing can help you build your muscle mass. And if you want your children to get fitter and stronger, consider a youth rowing camp. 

The Muscles That Rowing Works

Some fitness enthusiasts say rowing is the ideal exercise; it offers an intense workout and works many groups of muscles. Unlike running or biking, rowing targets up to nine groups of muscles. 

One source, the English Institute of Sport, states that those nine groups of muscles total 85% of all of the body’s muscles. This makes rowing a fantastic option for people who want to build muscle mass. 

What’s great about the rowing stroke is that it works the glutes and quadriceps, deltoids, and lats, and abdominal muscles simultaneously. 

Many think that rowing is mostly leg strength, but this isn’t so. 

To understand the muscles that rowing works, it’s essential to review the four parts of the rowing stroke. 

The Catch 

This is the beginning of the rowing stroke, where you’re positioned as far forward as possible on the seat. You bend your knees up to the chest and keep your shins vertical to the water. 

This movement builds: 

  • Triceps: The triceps extend the elbows and arms as you hold the oars. 
  • Legs: The glutes, hamstrings, and calf muscles all are worked as the shins stay vertical. 
  • Back: Your back muscles also are used during the catch, especially the latissimus dorsi. This vital muscle involves extending the arms, and the trapezius operates the shoulder blades. 

The Drive

The drive pushes the feet from the floor of the boat until the legs are practically fully extended. You engage the core muscles and use the hips to swing the body upright. Next, use your shoulders, back, and arms to pull the oars to your chest. All of these steps need to be done in one smooth motion. 

This movement builds: 

  • Legs: The leg muscles, especially the glutes and hamstrings. The leg muscles will contract during this motion as you extend the hips and the upper body goes into a 45-degree angle. 
  • Shoulders: As the legs push the body back, the shoulder muscles will contract. 
  • Biceps: As the oars are pulled to the chest, the abs will contract to keep your body stable. 
  • Back: The upper and lower back muscles will stabilize the upper part of the torso. They are activated when the oars are pulled into the lower ribs. 

The Finish

During the finish, you engage the core to stabilize the body as you lean back from the hips. You use this momentum to extend the legs, which brings the oars to your chest. The upper arms rotate inward. 

This movement builds: 

  • Torso, which consists of five muscles. Every muscle that comprises your torso will be activated during the finish, so your body is stable. 
  • Biceps: These muscles contract in this phase, so your back is stabilized and supported. 

The Recovery

The final motion of the stroke is recovery; this is essentially the initial three steps done in reverse. To begin, extend the arms in front and keep them parallel to the water. Lean forward from the hips and bend the knees with the hamstrings to bring you forward. Continue till you’re back at the original ‘catch’ position. 

This movement builds: 

  • Triceps: These muscles activate to extend the arms in front of you. 
  • Calves and upper legs: These muscles will contract when you slide back to your initial position. 


All four phases use muscles in your hands, neck, and chest. So, with one stroke, you’ve used all of the major muscles in the body! If you row regularly, you’ll notice that you are stronger and trimmer than ever.