Is rowing the new spinning?

What you need to know about this growing fitness trend.
Published March 12, 2019

Maybe you’re already a rowing pro or maybe you’ve never heard of it. For the uninitiated: Ever noticed those people at the gym sliding back and forth on a low-to-the-ground machine with cables and a wheel-type thing? That’s a rowing machine, designed to mimic the act of rowing a boat, and it may just be one of the hottest things in fitness right now.

“Rowing is a full-body, HIIT [high-intensity interval training] workout which uses the lower body, core and upper body all at once,” says Caley Crawford, director of education at Row House, a U.S. boutique indoor rowing concept that recently announced it will be opening its first Canadian studio this year in Toronto.

“Rowing is one of the few non-weight bearing sports that exercises all the major muscle groups,” she adds.

Some of the benefits of rowing, according to Crawford, include:

  • Low impact, high results: “With proper form and technique, rowing offers virtually no room for injury,” she says. “Say goodbye to achy knees, ankles and feet.”
  • Promotes heart health: Because rowing activates large muscle groups, it boosts cardiovascular training, Crawford says.
  • Better mobility: Rowing is good for both your muscles and your joints. “Rowing conditions many different muscles and joints without straining them,” says Crawford. “By undergoing a wide range of movement, rowing [helps] to minimize stiffness and increase flexibility.”
  • Combats stress: “The rhythm involved in rowing is very meditative and not only releases tension in muscles but also relieves tension – increasing mental clarity and focus,” she says.

9 areas rowing targets

Crawford shares this list of muscle areas that are used in rowing:

  • Quads
  • Glutes
  • Hamstrings
  • Lats
  • Core
  • Shoulders
  • Biceps
  • Triceps
  • Back

“Rowing offers quite possibly more bang for your buck than any other sport on the planet,” says Kristen Youngs, who runs the website Miss Meal Prep and is a former U.S. collegiate rower and rowing coach. “Not only is it a full-body workout, but it’s one of the lowest impact sports there is, making it suitable for most people, no matter your age or fitness level.”

She says one thing to consider, however, is the use of the lower back in rowing.

“If you have back problems and use a rowing machine the wrong way, you could hurt your back. It’s important to learn the right technique before starting,” says Youngs.

Thanu Jey, clinic director at Toronto’s Yorkville Sports Medicine Clinic, recommends caution if you have previously suffered from recurring lower back pain.

“Rowing puts a lot of flexion and extension demand on the low back (bending forward then backwards),” he explains.

Youngs says the best tip she can give a beginner rower is to watch your trainer or coach carefully and learn from their form.


“It’s important to keep your core tight and solid while rowing in order to protect your lower back. Imagine bending over to pick up something heavy off the ground – you always want to tighten your core and lift with your legs, not your back. Rowing is the same,” she says. “When you’re pushing with your legs, your core should always be rock solid so your legs are doing the work instead of your back. By watching your trainer and making sure you start with the right form, you’ll be able to benefit from the fitness aspects without risking injury.”