Rowing machines, ergometers, or “ergs” (as they’re known to the international rowing community), have become a popular option for fitness-minded people around the world. While they were originally designed to help competitive rowers and crew teams when they couldn’t train on the water, rowing machines are now a staple in most gyms and fitness centers.
If you’re looking to get fit and trim, you’ve probably seen plenty of rowing machine before and after photos on the internet. But, are these rowing machine results legit?
Up next, we’ll discuss what a rowing machine is and highlight the benefits of integrating rowing into your training plan. We’ll give you the low down on whether using a rowing machine results in actual performance and fitness gains or if it’s just a bunch of hype.
From there, you can decide if training on an erg is right for your needs!
What Is A Rowing Machine?
A rowing machine, properly called an ergometer or an indoor rower, is a fitness machine designed to mimic the rowing motion used while rowing a boat.
Some sources, including historian John Hale’s Lords of the Sea: The Epic Story of the Athenian Navy and the Birth of Democracy, claim that the first rowing machines were built as early as the 4th century BC. These early rowing machines were designed to teach new oarsmen proper rowing techniques to be proficient in their craft before getting on a ship.
More recently (in the mid-20th century), coaches of crew teams worldwide sought to create rowing machines that could help their rowers train, even when they couldn’t be on the water. One of the earliest patented models was the Concept2 Model A, which hit the market in 1981.
The Concept2 indoor rower, designed by two Olympic rowers, Dick and Pete Dreissigacker, relies on an air-resistance flywheel to simulate the conditions that rowers experience on the water. Although Concept2 is just one company out of dozens that currently make rowing machines, pretty much every other model follows a similar design.
While rowing machines used to be a specialty training machine used only by rowing teams, it’s now a popular training tool for athletes and non-athletes alike.
In fact, you’d be hard-pressed to find a quality gym or fitness center that doesn’t have at least 1 rowing machine for customers to use.
NOTE: Technically speaking, there’s a difference between an ergometer and an indoor rower. An ergometer is a machine that measures “work” output. However, most indoor rowing machines worth using will measure your work output, so you can also call them ergometers, or “ergs.”
Rowing Machine Benefits
While rowing machines are plenty popular, they’re still nowhere near as common as treadmills or stationary bikes. However, they can provide a whole host of fitness benefits that you can’t get on other exercise machines.
Here are some of the main benefits of using a rowing machine:
- Full Body Workout – Rowing machines, unlike other exercise machines, provide a full-body workout. While people mistakenly think that indoor rowers are designed only to improve their upper body strength, your lower body is just as involved when rowing (if you do it properly). In fact, rowing incorporates all of your body’s larger muscles, including your hamstrings, quads, lats, biceps, and core.
- Aerobic Exercise – Again, if done properly, rowing should be an aerobic activity. Competitive rowers can keep up a truly impressive pace for long periods of time. Even a modest pace that makes you breathe heavily and break a sweat is likely to provide some aerobic benefits.
- Cross Training – Even for people who don’t row competitively, using a rowing machine as part of your fitness routine can greatly improve your training program. By varying your exercise plan to include rowing, as well as running, swimming, cycling, walking, or any other activity you enjoy, you can decrease your risk of injury and boost your metabolism.
How Good Is A Rowing Machine Workout?
These days, many before and after pictures show the amazing weight loss and fitness results people get from using a rowing machine. But, are these rowing machine results legit, or are they just another fitness fad?
The good news is that a rowing machine can be a great part of any workout, regardless of your overall fitness goals. That said, there are many misconceptions out there about what kind of results you can get by incorporating rowing into your daily workouts.
Up next, we’ll fact check some of the most common questions that people have about rowing machine body results so you can better understand the benefits of using this exercise machine.
Can You Lose Belly Fat On A Rowing Machine?
One of the most common questions people have is if a rowing machine can help you lose belly fat.
The answer? It depends.
Answering this question is a bit tricky because, yes, a rowing machine can help you lose belly fat. But, there’s no exercise or fitness plan in the world that’s going to specifically target belly fat or any other area of fat on your body.
According to Rush University Medical Center, there’s no single exercise that you can do to eliminate belly fat. Instead, losing weight and body fat is a full-body process. As you lose weight, your body will burn through fat stores located throughout your body, which, yes, can include the extra fat around your belly.
However, losing weight – and keeping it off – requires a combination of a healthy diet, plenty of exercise, regular sleep, and other lifestyle changes. The good news is that rowing can be part of a healthy weight loss plan.
As such, rowing machine weight loss results are certainly possible. This means including high-intensity rowing (with appropriate technique) can enhance your workouts.
Is A Rowing Machine Better Than A Treadmill?
Whether rowing machines are objectively better than treadmills is difficult to say because it all depends on your overall fitness goals.
If you’re looking for an aerobic workout as part of your training regime, both are great options.
Running is perhaps more instinctual to us humans, while rowing is a technique that needs to be learned and perfected. Some people find that using a rowing machine involves a steep learning curve.
When it comes to an indoor rower’s advantages over a treadmill, the most important consideration is the full-body nature of rowing machines.
Rowing involves all of the body’s major muscles, which just isn’t possible while you’re running. Running is much more focused on your lower body, which means you aren’t building up much muscular endurance in your arms, shoulders, or back.
While rowing machines target a wide variety of muscle groups, it’s important to note that rowing on an erg will only build up your muscular strength to a certain point. While it is certainly exhausting to the muscles, rowing is more of a cardiovascular activity than a strength-building workout.
So regardless of whether you’re running or rowing, you’ll still want to supplement your aerobic exercise with other strength-targeted exercises.
Does Rowing Tone Your Arms?
Rowing has the ability to tone your arms more than other aerobic exercise equipment simply because it is a full-body workout. Unlike other machines, like treadmills and stationary bikes, your upper body is fairly involved in each rowing stroke.
With that in mind, we have to remember that rowing is mostly an aerobic pursuit rather than a muscle-building exercise. Additionally, rowing can’t target body fat on your arms any more than it can target belly fat.
In reality, rowing is a good exercise to incorporate into your fitness routine, but it isn’t going to miraculously give you toned arms. It will certainly help build muscular endurance in your upper body and improve your overall fitness when done properly.
If you want to tone your arms, combining regular rowing-based workouts with a strength training routine and a healthy diet is essential.
How To Properly Use A Rowing Machine
Any discussion of the benefits of using a rowing machine to get fitness or weight loss results should also talk about how to use a rowing machine properly.
Like all exercise machines, misusing an indoor rower can limit your overall fitness progress and cause injury. Needless to say, perfecting your technique is critical.
Unfortunately, very few people actually know how to row properly unless they were on a high school or university crew team. If you take one look around a commercial gym, you’ll almost certainly find that every person that uses an indoor rower has a completely different technique, most of which are just plain incorrect.
While it may seem like we’re splitting hairs here, knowing how to row properly is just as important as knowing how to properly squat or deadlift. If you truly want to maximize the benefits of using an indoor rower, perfecting your technique is your first step.
Thankfully, the great folks at Concept2 created this helpful video which perfectly illustrates quality rowing technique:
If you’re new to rowing, we highly recommend hiring a qualified trainer or instructor who can watch your technique and offer specific guidance. Mastering the fundamentals of rowing technique will better set you up for success down the line.
Are Rowing Machines Worth It?
At the end of the day, a rowing machine can be a great part of nearly any fitness program. While there’s no guarantee that you’ll get the rowing machine results that you often see in people’s before and after pictures, rowing is a great full-body exercise that can help build cardiovascular and muscular endurance.
Before you integrate rowing into your workout routine, take the time to perfect your technique. Consider hiring an instructor to get you started so you can train confidently as you work to achieve your fitness goals.