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Man working out on a rowing machine in the gym.

What do rowing machines do for the body?

Treadmills and elliptical machines get all the attention, but the rowing machine can give you one of the most efficient, effective workouts at the gym. Rowing not only torches major calories, it also tones the entire body.

If you’re ready to switch up your routine, here are some pointers from Paige Jones III, ACSM, CEP, an exercise physiologist and manager of the Piedmont Atlanta Fitness Center.

Rowing is a total body workout

Jones says the rowing machine gives you a total body strength workout and a low-impact cardiovascular workout in one because it targets the:

  • Upper and middle back as you pull the cables toward you.

  • Thighs as you push against the foot pedals.

  • Biceps as you pull the cables with your arms.

  • Core muscles as you sit upright during the entire workout.

Rowing machine for beginners

As with any new exercise, you’ll want to begin slowly to prevent injury. Jones recommends starting with five to 10 minutes at a time.

“The seat can get a little uncomfortable if you aren’t using the machine regularly,” he says. “I recommend increasing your workout in increments of three to five minutes as you’re comfortable.”

Rowing machine HIIT

Once you’ve had experience using the rowing machine, work your way up to 30 minutes. You can also incorporate the rowing machine during high-intensity interval training (HIIT) or try a rowing-based exercise class.

“There are many classes and studios that are incorporating rowing machines,” Jones says. “It’s a really versatile workout for beginners all the way to advanced athletes.”

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