You’ve probably heard that the rower provides a killer cardio workout, targeting your entire body in one stroke. You explode off your legs and engage your core as you pull with your arms to complete one cycle — all with little impact on your joints. But what if we told you the benefits of the rower go beyond spiking your heart rate? In fact, you can use the machine for a few unexpected strength exercises, too.
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Getting Toned with the Rowing Machine
Think of the rower like a Pilates reformer. Because of the mobile seat, you have an unstable, sliding surface that makes every exercise torch your core. With an elevated rail, you can also add inclines to different moves, working your muscles in new ways. (Hello, other side of a fitness plateau!)
To pinpoint some super creative sculpting moves for the rower, we turned to Annie Mulgrew, program director at CityRow in New York City. Try her six favorite strength exercises that put your entire body to the test.
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6 Unexpected Bodyweight Exercises for the Rower
Mulgrew’s calorie-scorching interval workout starts by rowing for 250 meters, then performing 10 reps of the first three moves. Repeat for three rounds. Then row 100 meters and perform the last three exercises. Repeat this second circuit for three rounds. Boom! Your total-body cardio-strength workout is in the bag.
1. Split Squats
This one’s a powerful booty burner that also targets your quads. You can intensify this exercise by keeping your front knee bent and picking up speed in the back-and-forth motion of your back leg.
How to: Stand at the back of the rower, facing away from it. Rest your right toes on the seat and stand on your left leg, forward of the rail (a). With most of your weight in your standing leg, push slightly back on the seat with your right leg, so your left front knee stacks over the front ankle and bends about 90 degrees. (You may need to move your foot out farther to achieve this position.) Keep your shoulders over your hips, too (b). Straighten your standing leg, bringing your back right leg slightly forward again (c). Repeat, then switch sides.
2. Knee Tucks
Remember when we said the rower can really fire up your midsection? This move delivers exactly that — just make sure to hold a solid plank throughout the exercise.
How to: Facing away from the machine, place your hands on the ground (shoulders stacked over wrists) and feet on the seat of the rower (a). Keeping your hips in line with shoulders, tuck your knees into your chest. Try not to let your hips pike up as you bring your legs in (b). Return to the top of a push-up and then repeat.
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3. Tricep Dips
Build strength in your triceps and upper back, while also engaging your abs. To modify the move, bend your knees.
How to: Standing to the side of the rower and facing away from it, place your hands behind you on the rail, shoulder distance apart. Straighten your legs out in front of you, weight on your heels (a). Keep your elbows in and your shoulders down away from your ears. Bend your elbows, ideally reaching a 90-degree angle (b). Push back up and repeat.
4. Lateral Pistol Squats
This move definitely wakes up your lower half by igniting your quads, glutes and inner thighs. Like in the split squat, you can make this more difficult by staying in a low squat and quickly moving your leg in and out.
How to: Stand to the right side of the machine. Your left leg should hug the end of the rail. Place your right foot on the seat (a). Push your hips back, slide your right leg out and squat down, bending your standing left knee 90 degrees. Make sure your left knee stacks over your ankle (b). Stand back up and repeat. Then switch sides.
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5. Traveling Planks
You’ll feel this from head to toe. Move slowly and with control until you can work at a quicker tempo, which will up the calorie burn.
How to: Standing to the side of the rower, place your hands on the rails so you’re in a high plank position (a). Drop down to perform a tricep push-up, keeping your elbows in and your body in a straight line (b). When you reach the top of the push-up, take one step to the right with your right arm and right leg (c). Perform a push-up after stepping to the right (d). Step to the left with your left arm and left leg (e). Continue moving back and forth, performing a push-up between each step (f).
6. Decline Push-Ups
Placing your feet higher than your upper body means you add extra resistance to sculpt your chest, shoulders and core even more.
How to: While to the side of the rower, place your feet on the rail (hip-distance apart) and hands on the floor (shoulder-distance apart). Stack your shoulders over your wrists (a). Lower into a push-up, keeping your legs engaged to stop your hips from sagging. Avoid letting your elbows flare out (b). Push back up to the start and repeat with abs engaged (and pelvis neutral) the entire time to protect your back (c).