Does rowing work your abs featured image

How Does Rowing Work Your Abs

In this article, I’ll identify how working out on a rowing machine works your abdominal muscles. I’ll also explain how rowing will help you to actually see your abs. 

People spend a lot of time and energy working their abdominals. Much of it is wasted effort. They rep out with hundreds of sit-ups and lying leg curls in the vain hope of developing a ripped, strong midsection. 

As a personal trainer, I’ve helped thousands of people to develop their midsection the right way. Since I first started doing this in 1987, the rowing machine has been a part of that equation. 

In this article, we’ll cover these key topics:

  • How does rowing work the abs?
  • How to correctly engage your abs while rowing.
  • Auxiliary exercises to supplement your rowing workout.

How Does Rowing Benefit Your Abs

Rowing benefits your abs in two ways. Firstly, it helps you to burn off the fat layer that covers your abdominals. Secondly, it strengthens the rectus abdominis and transverse abdominis muscles, along with the rest of your core. 

Rowing For Fat Loss

Many people still believe that they can spot reduce their body fat. That’s why they go all-in on specific exercises for the abs in the forlorn hope that doing so will burn off the fat and reveal their six-pack. 

But that’s not how the body works. 

Body fat is nothing more than stored energy in the form of calories. The only way to get rid of it is to create a caloric deficit where the body is forced to draw on that stored energy reserve to meet its needs. 

The two ways to do that are to eat less food and perform calorie-burning exercises. When the body uses stored body fat to meet those energy demands, the fat comes from all over the body, not any one specific area. 

Rowing is one of the most effective calorie-burning exercises that you can do. The number of calories you burn will depend on several variables, including your age, metabolism, and the intensity of your row. 

A 175-pound person who is running at a moderate intensity will burn approximately 560 calories in an hour. That is slightly fewer calories than you would have burned by rowing for that same period. The difference, however, is that rowing is far more joint-friendly. 

If you were to row for an hour daily, you’d burn around 4000 calories in a week. If you combine that with a daily caloric intake reduction of 500 calories per day, you should lose 1-2 pounds of stored body fat per week. 

Strengthening the Abs

Rowing has been shown to engage 83 percent of the body’s muscles. These include the muscles that make up your core:

  • Rectus abdominis
  • Transverse abdominis
  • Internal and external obliques
  • Pelvic floor muscles
  • Erector spinae

Every rowing stroke fully engages each of these muscles. The core is needed to stabilize your body as you perform the rowing action. The abdominals will also crunch down as you pull the handle in toward your body. 

How to correctly engage your abs while rowing

The benefits that your abdominals will receive from rowing depend on how properly you perform the exercise. To fully engage the abs while rowing, you need to focus on driving first with your legs, then swinging open with the body past vertical and finishing with arm pull into the chest. 

On the return, your arms come back first, then your body comes forward, and finally, your legs bend forward. The main core activation during this sequence comes in the transition from leg drive to the torso moving back past vertical. 

instructions on how to use a rowing machine
Set a visual sequence of the muscles of the training on a rowing machine

Inexperienced rowers tend to row in an upright torso position that overemphasizes the arms. Rather than using the core to stabilize the torso, they pull through the feet, capitalizing on the fact that they are locked in place by the foot straps.

An effective way to train your body to engage the core and to control trunk flexion is to row with your feet out of the foot straps. This will mean that you are no longer able to use your feet to pull you back up. Instead, you will have to use your core muscles or you’ll go flying off the machine!

You don’t have to row with your feet out of the straps for the entire workout. Consider it as part of your warm-up to train your body to activate the core. So you might decide to start every session with 2 minutes of rowing your feet out of the foot straps and then put them in the straps for the remainder of the session. 

Ab Exercises On a Rowing Machine

The rowing machine can be used to perform several ab exercises that are traditionally done with just your body weight. The addition of the rowing rail adds a level of instability and intensity that ramps up the effectiveness of these moves. Here are 5 of my favorites:

Planks

Plank on rowing machine
  1. Get down in plank position with your feet on the rowing machine seat and your body facing away from the machine. Place your elbows or hands on the floor.
  2. Straighten your legs and maintain a neutral spine as you hold the plank position for the required length of time.

Ab Rollout

Rowing machine ab rollout
  1. Get down in plank position with your feet on the rowing machine seat and your body facing away from the machine. Place your elbows or hands on the floor.
  2. From a straight leg position, pull your knees in toward your chest to fully contract your abs.
  3. Push back to the start position. 

Pikes

Rowing machine pike
  1. Get down in plank position with your feet on the rowing machine seat and your body facing away from the machine. Place your hands on the floor.  
  2. From a straight leg position, drive your hips up as high as possible to end up in an inverted ‘V’ position.
  3. Lower back to the starting position.

Pushups

Rowing machine push-ups
  1. Get down in a push-up position with your feet on the rowing machine seat and your body facing away from the machine. Place your hands on the floor, palms down at slightly wider than shoulder-width apart.  
  2. From a start position with your arms fully extended, lower down to the floor until your chest is about an inch from the floor. 
  3. Push back through the chest, shoulders, and triceps to return to the start position.

Mountain Climbers

  1. Get down on the floor with your hands resting on the seat of the rowing machine, facing the machine with your feet straight out on the floor behind you.
  2. Drive your right knee forward toward the right elbow. 
  3. Return the knee to the start position and repeat with the left knee.

Example core workout on a rowing machine

  • 2 minutes rowing warm-up (feet out of the straps)
  • 5 minutes moderate-intensity row
  • 3 exercise circuits: plank/ab rollout/pike (30 seconds on each exercise)
  • 2 minutes high-intensity rowing
  • 3 exercise circuits: mountain climbers/push-ups/plank (30 seconds on each exercise)
  • 5 minutes moderate-intensity row
  • 3 exercise circuits: plank/ab rollout/pike (30 seconds on each exercise)
  • 2 minutes high-intensity row
  • 3 exercise circuits: mountain climbers/push-ups/plank (30 seconds on each exercise)
  • 2 minutes rowing warm down

How to get six-pack abs from rowing

Conclusion

The rowing machine is your one-stop core and ab training exercise station. By combining calorie burn with targeted abdominal strengthening moves, it will help you to lose your belly at the same time that it makes your abs stronger. 

Ready to give your abs the attention they deserve? Give our rowing machine core workout a try. Then let us know how it went by leaving a comment below. 

FAQs

Does rowing tone your stomach?

Yes, rowing will tone your stomach in the sense that it, provided that you use proper rowing technique, strengthen and tighten your transverse and rectus abdominal muscles. 

Can you get a six-pack from using a rowing machine?

You cannot get a six-pack just from using a rowing machine, but it can be part of the equation. The key to six-pack abs is to get your body fat level down to around 10 percent. To do that you need to create a daily negative calorie balance where you are burning up more calories than you take in. And for that to happen, you need to combine eating less food with doing more exercise. 

How much does rowing work your abs?

Rowing activates your core as you transition from the initial leg drive to the trunk flexion that occurs before the final pull to the chest. The return also activates the core as you control and stabilize the trunk.

Share this post!

Share on facebook
Share on twitter
Share on linkedin
Share on reddit
Share on email