If there’s a workout that involves a lot of upper-body muscles, it’s rowing. And it doesn’t even have to be the actual sport. Using an exercise rowing machine (also known as an ergometer) activates up to 86% of all the body’s muscles.

Aside from being a mean muscle-building exercise, rowing is also a great cardio workout. So if you’re looking for strength-building and adrenaline rush combined in one, rowing is definitely for you.

Still unsure if a row workout is worth it? Check out the 12 essential muscles that you use when rowing.

Vital muscles people use when rowing

A woman using a rowing machine at the gym


Deltoids are the muscles connecting the humerus, shoulder blades, and collarbones. They help prevent the dislocation of your humerus head when carrying something heavy. Each stroke you do in rowing activates your deltoids and gives them a pretty good workout.

Triceps and Biceps

The triceps and biceps are the major muscles that work together when you extend your arms or fold them. When bending your elbows, the triceps relaxes, and the biceps contract. In rowing, pulling the handle towards you and releasing it activates the triceps and biceps’ eccentric and concentric contractions. That’s why professional rowers always have such strong arms.

Pectoral Muscle

If you want to improve your chest’s shape and form, rowing is a fantastic choice of exercise since it also uses the pectoral muscle in every stroke. You activate the pecs when pulling the handle. For men, having a well-formed pectoral muscle is advantageous since it’s more pronounced for them.


The glutes are the muscle in the buttocks and are among the strongest muscles in the body. You activate your glutes throughout any rowing machine workout.


The quadriceps muscles are the muscles responsible for your daily movements like walking and running. Your quadriceps also help the kneecaps remain stable. You activate this muscle group when you bend your knees in every stroke.


Just like the quadriceps, the hamstring muscle also aids in walking and running. This muscle is responsible for pulling objects from the ground. You activate the hamstring every time you push your body backward in each stroke.


The calves aid in plantarflexion. Thus, enabling you to pull away in a downward motion. In rowing, you activate your calves every time you bend your knees.

Latissimus Dorsi

The latissimus dorsi works together with the pectoral muscles and teres major to help you move your upper extremities. Your latissimus dorsi activates every time you pull and release the handles. It works by controlling the extension of your arms.

Trapezius Muscles

Mainly, trapezius muscles aid in posture. However, they also support active movements like turning the head, internal arm rotation, and elevating and depressing the shoulder area. In rowing, the trapezius muscles provide support to the shoulder blades. It aids you whenever you pull the handles.


A rhomboid is a group of muscles that aids in the movement of the upper limbs. It also makes the shoulder girdle and scapula stable. Your rhomboids support the trapezius muscles. So whenever you activate the trapezius, the rhomboids provide extra support and stability to your movements.


When you push the handles and release them, the obliques play a crucial role. In general, the obliques maintain stability to your body by supporting your back and maintaining an excellent overall posture. During a rowing exercise, your obliques activate by compressing the abdominal cavity whenever you pull the chest downwards.

Abdominal Muscles

Your abdominal muscles provide support to your body as it holds them back and regulates internal abdominal pressure. Every time you straighten backward and lean forward, you activate your abdominal muscles. You can develop good abdominal muscles through rowing, helping your organs remain intact and keeping your spine safe. And overall, these muscles give you your balance.

Come check us out!

Curious about rowing and its many benefits? Let us help you do it the right way. At Live2Row studios, our indoor rowing exercise class will guide you on how to maximize every stroke. We’ll teach you everything you need to know to make your rowing exercise worth the penny. Visit us at 2783 Old Winter Garden Rd. Ocoee, FL, or call us at 407-970-1855 to schedule a virtual class.