10 Row Exercises That Will Amp Up Your Workout

Three people on rowing machines at a gym

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Rowing isn't just something you do in a boat. Whether using a rowing machine at a gym, commonly referred to as an ERG, or performing rowing exercises with dumbbells at home, rowing workouts use many muscles beyond just our arms and offer strength conditioning for many parts of our bodies. Rowing moves are low impact, yet still provide cardio benefits.

To learn more about rowing and which rowing exercises give you the best results, we asked expert rowing instructors Bethany Stillwaggon and Ashley Moore. Bethany tells us that rowing is important because "we usually are frontal movers in our daily worlds, a result of being able to see what we’re doing and because we sit a lot in this day and age, so being able to focus in on our posterior chain creates balance in our musculature." She says that muscular balance can result in fewer injuries and doctor visits for back pain and can give you everything from better posture to improved body connectivity, as well as prevent progressive aging around your spine.

It sounds like we all need to get rowing. Read on to learn the top ten rowing exercises, both using a rowing machine and without.

Meet the Expert

  • Bethany Stillwaggon is an ACSM Certified Personal Trainer and Master Coach for Row House.
  • Ashley Moore is an XPRO instructor for Row House GO.

Safety and Precautions

Rowing is a low-impact activity, so it is safe for people who need to avoid high-impact workouts. However, many muscles are involved in rowing movements. Therefore, you should avoid rowing exercises if you have arm, shoulder, or leg injuries. Additionally, you should avoid rowing machines if you have leg injuries.

01 of 10

Power Stroke Intervals

  • Get on the ERG and sit tall through your back, with your shoulders down and your hands at the end of your handlebar.
  • Perform ten strokes at 60-70% intensity. Moore tells us you "want three counts up to the catch(front) and one count drive to the finish(back)," noting that "this will protect your knees from being compressed too quickly."
  • Perform the following ten strokes at full power. Moore says to drive "through your legs first," then finish through your upper body.
02 of 10

Bent Over Rows

  • Hold a dumbbell in each hand and bend forward forty-five degrees.
  • Lift the weights until they are parallel with your shoulders. Stillwaggon says to picture "pulling your elbows towards the sky."
  • Lower the weights down slowly to your starting position and repeat. Stillwaggon instructs us that as you lower the arms, "your body remains hinged forward with a slight bend in your knees."

This is an exercise to be performed slowly, which is key to avoiding injury. Stillwaggon says that "slow is the best way to develop your muscles here instead of yanking out as many reps as possible."

03 of 10

Upright Rows

  • Stand tall with a dumbbell in each hand and your arms extended in front of you.
  • Pull your dumbbells up to the height of your chest. Stillwaggon says to "lead with your elbows and pretend you are zipping up your coat." Your elbows should be higher than any other part of your arm.
  • Lower your arms back down slowly to your starting position and repeat.
04 of 10

Sumo Squat Plus High Pull

  • Stand with dumbbells in your hands. Your legs should be wide, with toes angled outward and your arms between them.
  • Inhale as you drop into a sumo squat. Moore tells us to "actively push your knees out."
  • Exhale as you push through your legs to return to a standing position. Moore says to "then immediately pull the weights to chest level while driving your elbows wide and retracting your scaps."
  • Release your arms back to your starting position, where they are between your legs, and repeat.
05 of 10

Romanian Deadlift

  • Stand with your feet hip-width apart with dumbbells in your hands.
  • Bend your knees slightly, hinge forward, and lower the weights in front of you toward the floor. Moore instructs us to "slide the weights down the front of your legs." Your hips should be behind your heels, and your chest should be parallel to the floor.
  • Exhale back to standing. Moore says to "squeeze your glutes and drive your hips forward as you stand back up." Once returned to your starting position, repeat.

If this is too hard on your back, Moore suggests trying it with bodyweight only. She also notes that you should "make sure to keep your back flat, chin down and knees slightly bent. If your back is rounded, you can end up feeling this in your low back."

06 of 10

Distance Sprints

  • Set your ERG to "Distance Row" for 500 meters.
  • Use 90-95% of your power to reach 500 meters as quickly as possible, treating it similarly to a running sprint. Moore says to hinge from your hips and be sure to keep your core engaged.
07 of 10

Plank Rows

  • Begin in a plank position with a dumbbell in each hand. You can be on your toes or your knees. Stillwaggon says to "Use wide feet here for a better base of support."
  • Keeping your elbow close to your ribcage, row one arm up.
  • Return to your starting plank position and row the other arm up, then back. Repeat. Though you could do one side at a time, Stillwaggon suggests you alternate sides "to incorporate the core muscles as well."
08 of 10

Side Plank Row To Press

  • Begin in a side plank position with a dumbbell in your upper hand. You can be on your toes or your knees.
  • Stillwaggon then says to "pull the dumbbell that's on the ground across your chest and then extend your elbow, so your arm is extended fully in a straight line over your wrist, elbow, shoulder, body, and opposite arm elbow." You should end in a T position.
  • Lower the dumbbell down and repeat the movement. Do a full set on one side before turning over and performing the exercise on your other side with your other arm.
09 of 10

Steady State

  • Get on the ERG and sit tall through your back, with your shoulders down and your hands at the end of your handlebar.
  • Moore says to "Find a fun song anywhere between 80-112 BPMs which translates to 20-28 strokes per minute."
  • Using 80% of your power, row through the entire song. Moore says that "The goal is to keep a 3:1 ratio on your stroke while holding even intensity.
10 of 10

Chair Rows

This exercise is a version of a row with your back fully supported, meant to lower the risk of injury.

  • Sit in a chair with dumbbells in each hand. Your feet should be flat on the floor in front of you.
  • Stillwaggon says to then "hinge over at the hips until your chest is laying on your legs."
  • Lift the weights until they are parallel with your shoulders.
  • Lower the weights down slowly to your starting position and repeat.

Rowing is a low-impact exercise with many benefits, and as you can see, there is no shortage of rowing exercises that you can use to improve your strength and fitness. You can use a rowing machine, also called an ERG, or dumbbells meant to activate and strengthen the muscles throughout your back, shoulders, and arms. If using an ERG, you'll also be working out your legs. Incorporate these exercises into your routine to balance out the effects of our sitting-focused lives--and amp up your muscles while you're at it.

Article Sources
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  1. Cleveland Clinic. What Are the Health Benefits of Rowing? Updated May 17, 2021.

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