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Hi everyone! It’s Petra, and today, I have a really interesting and controversial subject on my hands—can you count a rowing workout as strength training?
As you may already know, rowing is a full-body workout that helps you build new muscle mass and strength. So, yes, rowing is strength training to some degree but not in the same level that weight training or weightlifting improves strength and endurance.
Is rowing the same as strength training? Or does a rowing workout include strength training?
These are interesting and controversial questions because the answers to them will depend on whom you ask. Most people believe that rowing workouts are only cardio workouts, but that isn’t really true.
So does this mean that rowing workouts ARE also strength training? The answer to this question is “yes, to a point.”
If you’re confused, then this article is for you.
Grab a cup of your favorite beverage, and I’ll explain myself as we go along.
Does Rowing Count as Strength Training?
While everyone knows that rowing is a full-body workout, not as many people realize that you are building new muscle mass and strength with every workout.
If you are building new muscle mass, then you must be doing strength training, right?
In a way, yes, you are.
Let’s clear this up.
Rowing DOES count as strength training, but it’s not really the same as weight training or weight lifting.
Imagine doing old-fashioned calisthenics. You know, jumping jacks, burpees, crunches, and similar exercises. There is no doubt that you are building muscles and getting stronger, but would you call this weight lifting or strength training? No, of course not.
This is similar to what happens during a rowing workout. You do get resistance exercises with your legs from your own body weight. You also get resistance from the upper body when you pull on the handle.
These two simple actions, pushing with your legs and pulling using your shoulders and arms, are strength training. However, this shouldn’t be considered weight training or weight lifting.
Why isn’t this weight training? Because you have a set amount of resistance. When you are lifting weights, most people go on to higher and heavier sets of weights. This is what gives weight lifters those huge muscles.
This isn’t the case with your rowing workouts. You are doing strength training but won’t be using heavier “weights”. Your machine will have a set amount of resistance, and you can’t “add” more to it, like you can with free weights.
So while a rowing workout IS strength training, it doesn’t qualify as weight training.
Can Rowing Replace Weightlifting?
No, it can’t.
Weightlifting includes using heavier weights as you reach new fitness levels.
On the other hand, weightlifting does NOT include cardio, which rowing does.
Rowing classes are terrific for cardiovascular endurance, but it won’t let you get huge muscles because you can’t continually increase the weight that you are using.
This doesn’t mean that rowing workouts won’t help you reach your next fitness level. That is one thing rowing is really good at, while giving you more core strength, improving your posture, and burning fat. However, it won’t give you those huge muscles that bodybuilders have.
Indoor rowing will not replace weightlifting, but for those who don’t want big muscles, rowing is a terrific high-intensity workout.
Is a Rowing Machine Good for Strength?
It absolutely is!
A rowing machine is a fantastic way to get a hybrid mix of cardiovascular fitness and strength training all at the same time.
Perhaps one of the things most people don’t know about rowing is that it engages the leg muscles in a big way. Ask anyone who has never used an indoor rowing machine and they will tell you that it mainly works the arm muscles, which you know isn’t true.
Indoor rowing machine workouts involve 60 percent leg work, 30 percent upper body, and 10 percent core muscles.
You can always increase the intensity of your workouts by rowing faster or doing a slow but steady yet longer workout.
Using a rowing machine lets you do a total body workout, gives you a terrific cardio exercise, and builds endurance and more muscle every time you row.
You can’t say that about weight training!
How Long Should I Row to Build Muscle?
You will see a lot of people jump on a rowing machine at the gym, then get off after about 5 minutes either because they are bored, they experience low back pain, and/or they don’t understand how to use the machine.
When you use the proper rowing movement, you will find that you only need 20-30 minutes most days of the week to get a good cardio workout, build strength, improve your arm muscles and lower body muscles, as well as burn more calories than you ever thought possible.
If you are new to rowing, you should consider taking rowing classes to learn the proper form or try some of the online video classes. If you are considering buying a new smart rowing machine, most of them have beginners classes that can show you how to do the rowing stroke properly to reduce your risk of injury.
You can do HIIT (high-intensity interval training) workouts every other day, or you can do a straight 30-minute rowing session 5 or 6 days per week, the choice is yours!
Can You Combine Rowing and Strength Training?
Yes, you can!
In fact, many people find that doing HIIT rowing workouts, which are done every other day, gives them time to work on building strength (which helps with rowing workouts) by doing weight lifting on the days when they aren’t rowing.
This type of cross-training is the perfect answer to avoid the dreaded plateau during weight loss.
Our bodies are quite efficient machines. They become accustomed to doing the same thing over and over again. This means that, over time, if you do the same workout repeatedly, your body will burn fewer calories and stop building muscle because it won’t need to.
In order to fight this, you need to mix up your workouts. Never let your body know what you are going to demand of it next.
You can do a long, 50 or 60-minute rowing workout one day, do strength training the next day, do a HIIT 30-minute rowing class the day after that, and so on.
Other forms of exercise are terrific not only for improved fitness but for reducing injury risk and avoiding the unwanted plateau.
How Much Muscle Do You Gain from Rowing Workouts?
It’s hard to define “how much” muscle you gain. You can’t weigh it on a scale, but you can measure it yourself using a tape measure.
In fact, I think that seeing those before and after photos (or knowing your measurements) is a terrific way to stay motivated to exercise.
If you are fairly new to rowing, why not keep track of your progress?
Take a photo of yourself right now. Strip down to some underwear or whatever you feel comfortable wearing, and take a full-length photo of yourself, both a front view and a side view.
Don’t suck in that gut or inflate your chest, simply take a photo of how you look today.
Next, you might want to jot down (or make a note on your phone) your current measurements, such as waist, biceps, shoulders, thighs, chest, and calf muscles.
Dedicate yourself to a healthy diet most of the time and use your rowing machine for at least 30 minutes every other day.
You can remeasure yourself and take another photo in 30 days. Then repeat in another 30 days. After 90 days, you are going to be shocked at the difference great exercise makes in your body.
Look at how much muscle you have built! Look at the beautiful muscle definition you have! Your abdominal muscles will be harder, your core strength vastly improved, and your all-out effort using your rowing machine shows in every inch of your body!
Rowing activates at least 86 percent of the muscles in your body, and I can guarantee that your fitness routine will show, and you will be feeling good in a matter of weeks!
The Bottom Line
When push comes to shove, as we say, those who give all-out effort during their workout will see the biggest results.
You can sit and wish that you were stronger, that your lower body looked better and had more strength. You can wish that you would lose weight and enjoy better health, lower blood pressure, and reduce the risk of heart disease.
Yes, you can sit and wish for all those things, or you can spend a few weeks working out with your rowing machine and doing strength training to actually get those results.
Rowing can’t replace weight training, but it’s got its own set of strength workouts in every rowing workout.
You can go to gyms featuring rowing machines, or you can buy one for your home gym.
For anyone who is interested in better health, less stress, and increasing their muscle mass and endorphins at the same time, you can’t go wrong with a rowing machine. Adding weight training to the mix is the icing on the cake.
Start rowing and I’m sure you’ll be rocking well-toned muscles in no time!
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Written by Petra Amara – RowingCrazy.com
CEO & Founder of RowingCrazy, National Rower, Coxswain Womens Eight Team, Rowing Coach & Writer
Petra is a Mother of two and owner of Rowingcrazy.com. Petra lives and breathes rowing, she also has a passion for writing which lead her to start RowingCrazy.com to share her rowing experience and expertise with others.