Do Rowing Machines Make Your Legs Bigger (How?)

When it comes to building leg strength, it can be harder to achieve when compared to building other muscle groups such as the arms

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When it comes to building leg strength, it can be harder to achieve when compared to building other muscle groups such as the arms or shoulders.

One piece of equipment that often comes to mind for strengthening legs is a rowing machine due to the leg action required for each stroke.

If you’re on a quest to build muscle mass in your legs, then you’ve probably considered incorporating regular rowing into your workout routine, but does rowing actually make leg muscles bigger, or is this just a myth?

In short, regular rowing using a machine does help build strength in the leg muscles (especially the calves and quads). However, there’s a limit to how big the legs will go using rowing alone. Rowing tends to make the leg muscles appear more defined rather than bulky.

Read on to find out much more, including what rowing does to your legs and body shape, the benefits, and how to get the most out of a rowing workout.

Purchasing The Best Rowing Machine
Purchasing The Best Rowing Machine

What Rowing Does to Your Legs

Many people think that rowing machines predominantly work the upper body, however, it’s actually the legs that get the most benefit from a session on the rower.

If rowing is performed in the correct posture, each stroke is 65-75% legs, and the rest is upper body and core.

If you regularly perform workouts on a rowing machine, the focus on muscle groups in the legs helps build up strength and mass over time. The muscles that get the most benefit from rowing include:

  1. Quadriceps (or Quads) are a group of muscles at the front of the thigh, which together form the largest muscle mass in the body. Strong quads are important for everyday activities such as walking and help maintain posture and balance. 
  1. Calves consist of two main muscles which run down the back of the lower leg. Strengthening the calves helps improve performance during activities such as running and can help to reduce the risk of injury during exercise.
  1. Hamstrings run down the back of the thigh and help with hip mobility and knee bending. Strengthening the hamstrings can help improve mobility and flexibility and can reduce the risk of injury through exercise.
  1. Gluteal Muscles (or Glutes) are made up of three main muscles, found in the buttocks and around the hips. Strengthening the glutes helps align the body and enables good posture during walking and running. It can also help to reduce pain in the lower back and improve performance during exercise.
Sunny Health & Fitness Magnetic Rowing Machine Review
Sunny Health & Fitness Magnetic Rowing Machine Review

Leg Appearance with Regular Rowing

You might be wondering why it’s not possible to build bulky legs using a rowing machine if it’s so good at strengthening the main muscle groups. 

The main reason people find it difficult to bulk up using a rowing machine alone is that it’s highly effective at burning calories and fat and increasing strength instead. 

This kind of cardio exercise usually helps a person appear leaner with more defined muscles. An increase in muscle mass will inevitably happen with regular rowing, but it won’t be to the same extent that you could expect through weight training or bodybuilding.

If you enjoy rowing but don’t want to get bulky legs, don’t worry, because this is unlikely to happen, and many people find that rowing actually helps slim down their legs. In contrast, if you’re looking to build bulkier legs through rowing, you might need to incorporate some additional strength building to get the results you’re looking for.

It’s important to note that these are typical results based on what most people experience when they row regularly, and results can vary depending on a person’s body type. 

There are, of course, those who will see better results than others. This is especially true for rowing athletes whose training regime will likely be intense and will probably incorporate weight training for maximum results. 

Does Rowing Count As a Leg Workout?

For many, rowing can definitely count as a leg workout if their goal is to build stronger muscles rather than building bulk. However, if bulky muscles are your ultimate goal, you might want to consider a separate leg weight training day for greater results.

There are no hard and fast rules about the muscle groups you should focus on when you exercise, but the benefits you can get from increasing leg strength are worth the effort. 

For those who don’t want to focus on getting bulky, rowing is still an excellent workout for the legs and, in fact, the whole body.

How Much Rowing You Need to Do to Build Leg Strength

Rowing is more efficient at burning calories than some other forms of exercise, meaning that you don’t need to do it for too long to see great improvement in your health and fitness.

If you’re a beginner at rowing or exercise in general, it’s a good idea to start by doing five to ten minutes of rowing before building up to longer sessions.

A good rowing session for an intermediate level rower will last for around 15-20 minutes, whereas 30 to 40 minutes on a rowing machine is considered a long session and would be considered an intense workout. 

The American Heart Association suggests the average person should perform 150 minutes of cardio activity. 

To achieve this target using rowing alone, you would need to do around five 30-minute sessions per week, which is fairly intense. However, you should start to see visible results in muscle strength after about three to four weeks.

rowing machine is the upper-body workout
Rowing machine is the upper-body workout

How to Maximise Leg Muscle Strength by Rowing

If you’re looking to increase your leg muscle strength through rowing, there are some things that you can do to maximize the results.

Below are some tips and tricks to ensure you get the best out of your rowing workout. 

Correct Posture

Correct posture is the most important thing to consider when rowing to ensure you’re using the right muscles and aren’t relying too much on the upper body to propel you up and down the machine.

The motion used on a rowing machine is split into four parts, catch, drive, finish, and recovery. This helps break down the movement and is useful for understanding what the correct posture should be at each stage.

Here’s a summary of each stage of the rowing machine movement and how your body should be positioned for each one:

  • Catch. This is the starting position, and at this stage, your knees should be bent towards your body, with your arms extended out in front of you and back straight.
  • Drive. Using your legs to start driving the seat backward, then pull the oar/handle using both hands without gripping too hard.
  • Finish. Your legs should be straight with knees together and the oar pulled towards your lower chest, ensuring the elbows aren’t too far up. As you complete the motion, you should be leaning back slightly with your back straight.
  • Recovery. Use the opposite motion to the drive, starting with your arms and then legs to move back into the catch position.

By maintaining the correct posture throughout the stroke, you can ensure that your legs are doing the majority of the work, rather than the upper body. 

The most important things to remember are to keep the arms down and not pull up too high towards the chin and to push first with the legs before pulling on the oar.


Resistance is also an important factor when you want to build up leg strength using a rowing machine, and the greater the resistance, the greater the strength-building potential.

Most rowing machines generally have the option to adjust resistance, which is usually from one to ten, with ten being the highest (or hardest) setting. 

The kind of resistance used to drive a rower depends on the rowing machine type. Some are driven by air, magnets, or hydraulics, and more recently, some are driven by water.

Rowing machines that use water as resistance have a more authentic feel and tend to be quieter. However, they don’t have the option to increase or decrease resistance. Instead, you just speed the movement up or down, depending on how intense you want the workout to be.

When people are looking to build their muscle strength through rowing, they often choose an air-driven machine that has more opportunity for greater resistance. 

Can You Get in Shape Bby Just Rowing?

The kind of exercise you do when using a rowing machine is considered a full-body workout because it uses muscle groups throughout the body, although the bulk of the work comes from the legs. 

As well as muscles in the legs, rowing helps strengthen the shoulders, arms, back, and core. The cardio element also allows you to get in general shape by burning body fat.

This means you can absolutely get in shape by just rowing, providing you do it regularly.

The only downside to using one particular method of exercise, especially one on a fixed machine, is that it can become boring very quickly. This is one of the main reasons why people who row tend to incorporate other forms of exercise into their routines.

The Benefits of Regular Rowing

It’s important to remember that rowing comes with many other benefits besides just building muscle strength.

Here are just some of the other benefits that you can expect if you make rowing a regular addition to your workout routine:

  1. Using a rowing machine helps you get a full-body workout. Most exercise machines tend to concentrate on specific muscle groups, so you need to use more than one to build muscle strength throughout the body. With rowing machines, you can work on muscle groups throughout the body in a session.
  1. Rowing machines are for more than just strength training. Not many exercise machines incorporate full-body strength training with cardio, and through regular rowing, you can expect a range of cardio benefits. These benefits can include a healthier heart, greater lung capacity, and decreased blood pressure.
  1. Rowing is therapeutic. Many people find the rowing motion a therapeutic exercise that helps focus the mind on the four stages of the stroke (see above). This kind of exercise has been proven to improve mental health and reduce stress.
  1. Rowing is a low-impact exercise. The kind of motion which is required to work a rowing machine is considered low impact and therefore comes with a reduced risk of injury when compared to other forms of cardio exercise such as running.
  1. Using a rowing machine regularly can help strengthen joints. Increasing muscle strength, and blood flow around the joints is known to help increase joint strength and health.
  1. Rowing is an excellent way to increase endurance. Through regular use of a rowing machine, you can increase your endurance and your body’s tolerance for exercise. Over time, this will lead to better fitness and can help you perform other forms of exercise more easily.
  1. Regular rowing can help with weight loss. The combination of cardio and strength building makes rowing an effective way to burn calories and fat. When performed in conjunction with a healthy diet, rowing can lead to weight loss and a body shape that is slimmer, toned, and defined.


So we’ve covered everything you need to know about how rowing machines can help you build leg strength and how to maximize the effects if you’re looking to get stronger legs. 

The key points to remember are:

  • Rowing machines are an excellent way to increase muscle strength in the legs (and, in fact, throughout the body), but if you’re looking to go bulky, you’re unlikely to reach your goals using rowing alone.
  • Rowing athletes get bulky legs through intensive training and are likely incorporating weight training into their routines.
  • Regular use of a rowing machine provides a full body workout that goes beyond just strength training and is an excellent way to get fitter and leaner.
  • You can get fitter and stronger using a rowing machine alone, but if you want to get bulkier, you might need to add extra weight training to your weekly routine.

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