Wondering if the rowing machine is a good way to target your abs? You bet it is—here are best practices for working abs on the rower and some sample workouts to get you started.

Rowing Machine for Abs - How to Use the Rower for a Flat StomachRowing Machine for Abs - How to Use the Rower for a Flat Stomach

Training your abs is abs-olutely essential for a strong, resilient body.

Think about it: your abs work with your back to support your upper body and enable your lower and upper halves to move in coordination. From jumping to lifting to having that strong and flat mid-section—training your core is crucial.

And one of the best cardio machines for targeting your abs is the rowing machine.

In this post, we’re going to look at how the rowing machine can be a highly useful tool for training your abs. Though it’s usually more of a back-focused cardio machine, we’ll see ways that you can adapt it to concentrate more on your abs.

We’ll look at tips and strategies to increase the activation of your core on the rowing machine, and I’ll even share some of my best ab-blasting workouts you can do on the rowing machine.

By the end of this post, you’ll be ready to use the rowing machine for abs workouts like a boss!

Let’s jump right in.

Why the Rowing Machine is Awesome for Training Abs

What makes the rowing machine a useful cardio machine to train your abs?

Why should you spend time on the rowing machine rather than, say, the treadmill or elliptical in order to train your abs?

Here are my top three reasons why:

🚀 Excellent Core Activation

One of the benefits of rowing machines is that the constant leaning forward and backward does an amazing job of activating your core muscles.

Your lower back engages when you lean forward to set up for the stroke, and your abs work as you begin to lean backward, stopping your upper body from merely flopping onto your back.

When you hold that leaning-back position at the end of the drive, that’s your abs doing the work, and again they engage when your torso leans forward during the recovery.

It’s a constant contraction-and-relaxation of your abs and lower back, which will lead to a much stronger, more resilient core.

Add to that all the other muscles worked on the rowing machine—including your upper back, biceps, shoulders, forearms, quads, glutes, hamstrings, and calves—and you’ve got yourself one heck of an amazing full-body workout!

🔥 Solid Fat Loss

Did you know the hardest part of building six-pack abs isn’t building the muscle itself? That’s actually one of the easiest parts—you can do that just by training the muscle regularly (crunches, planks, and so on).

No, the hardest part is burning off the belly fat that covers/conceals those abs muscles. And that’s where cardio machines—and the rowing machine, in particular—come into play.

Using cardio machines for losing weight is the key to burning off your belly fat. The aerobic exercise allows your body to burn oxygen and fat (rather than the sugar-based energy burned during anaerobic exercise like weightlifting), so it taps into your existing fat stores—including those around your belly—to use for energy.

Benefits of Rowing Machine for Working ABsBenefits of Rowing Machine for Working ABs

Over time, not only are there a lot of calories burned on the rowing machine, but they’re calories of fat specifically. The more consistently you work out and burn a lot of fat-based calories, the easier it will be eliminate your belly fat, exposing the abs muscles beneath.

Using the rowing machine for losing weight—and fat weight, specifically—is how you’ll finally develop those six-pack muscles you’ve been wanting for so long, and working so hard toward.

🏅 Newbie-Friendly

One of my favorite things about the rowing machine is just how easy it is to use. There’s no steep learning curve; you just have to understand the biomechanics of the rowing stroke, and once you master it with a bit of practice, you’re off to the races!

There are so many rower machine workout for beginners that you can try to start burning a lot of calories even on your first day using the machine. If you’re struggling, you can slow down your rowing stroke to give your body a breather, or speed up if you find it too easy.

Even row machine HIIT workouts can be fairly newbie-friendly. You should have no trouble picking up the pace and rowing your heart out for those high-intensity intervals, and it’ll feel amazing when you can finally slow down and enjoy those slower-paced workouts.

How to Work Your Abs on the Rowing Machine

Here are a few tips and strategies to try to get a better core workout while on the rowing machine:

💪 Concentrate on Squeezing

The best thing you can do to work your abs while rowing is to really focus on squeezing your abs muscles with every stroke.

Remember, your abs are going to contract to help your upper body lean backwards and stop it from leaning too far backward. During every stroke, pay attention to how your body feels, and see when your abs engage and when they relax to let your lower back engage.

How to Work Abs on Rowing MachineHow to Work Abs on Rowing Machine

Once you understand how much your abs are doing during the training, it’s time to double down on the emphasis.

Slow down at the end of the rowing stroke, making sure to emphasize that squeeze in your abs muscles as you bring the rowing machine handle to your belly. Blow out your breath explosively to really cement that engagement of your abs muscles.

💪 Twist With the Stroke

One highly effective means of engaging your abs is by twisting with every stroke. It’s a slight variation on the traditional rowing workout, but it can be quite effective for building abs muscles.

To do this, you’ll need to grip the rowing machine handle with just one hand. Yes, I know this will feel a bit odd and imbalanced, so shift your grip to the center of the handle, with the cable running between your middle and ring finger. That way, when you pull, you’re pulling from as close to “dead center” as possible.

Start with your right hand. Lean forward the way you normally do to set up the stroke, then go through the motions of driving through your legs, leaning backward, and engaging your back, shoulder, and arms muscles to haul the handle toward you.

But this is where the variation comes in. Instead of facing straight forward and pulling the handle toward your belly, twist to the right and pull the handle until it’s slightly behind you (or, at least, parallel with your body on the right side). This will engage your abs, obliques, and lower back.

Return to starting position, and repeat it again, again with that twist to the right. Do this for a full minute, then switch hands (left hand gripping) and twist to the left side.

Trust me, after 6-10 minutes of switching back and forth, you’ll feel the burn and will do wonders to engage all your core muscles. 

💪 Hop Off and On

The great thing about rowing is that you can easily incorporate calisthenics or resistance training exercises into your workouts. All you have to do is hop off the machine, work in a set, then get back on and keep rowing.

A few of my favorite abs-focused resistance training exercises I like to include in my rowing workouts is:

  • Plank for 45-60 seconds
  • Abs crunches
  • Mountain Climbers
  • Bear Crawls

You can do this with pretty much any bodyweight exercise, making it easy to work any muscle you want, but for your abs’ sake, these are the exercises to work into your routine.

Sample Ab-Blasting Rowing Machine Workouts

Ready to take your rowing machine workouts to the next level and really shred those abs? Here are my three favorite workouts to try:

Workout #1: Oblique Twist

If you’re experiencing or prone to back pain, this is a workout you should do with extreme caution. Adding in the twist at the end of the row may exacerbate existing injuries.

However, done right, this is one of the most effective ways to incorporate more core training without ever leaving the rowing machine!

Sample Ab Blasting Rowing Machine WorkoutsSample Ab Blasting Rowing Machine Workouts

The Workout:

  • Spend 5 minutes stretching before your workout, and another 5 minutes rowing at a slow pace to get your muscles warm and your joints limber.
  • Speed up to a moderate rowing stroke (21-24 SPM) and row for 2 minutes.
  • For 1 minute, grip the handle in only your left hand and twist to the left at the end of every stroke, pulling the handle to your left side or (if you can) slightly behind your body.
  • For 1 minute, repeat the one-handed rowing on your right side.
  • Grip the rowing machine in both hands and row for 2 minutes.
  • Repeat another minute each of one-handed rowing on your left and right side.
  • Complete his 4-minute cycle 5 times, for a total of 20 minutes.
  • Spend 5 minutes rowing at a slow pace to cool down.

Workout #2: Bodyweight Circuit

Looking to spice up your rowing workouts with some resistance training? This workout is designed to specifically target your abs using exercises that will engage your core while also activating the muscles that you’re using during your rowing workout.

It’ll be a tough one, but if you can get through it, you’ll walk away feeling like a million bucks!

The Workout:

  • Spend 5 minutes stretching before your workout, and another 5 minutes rowing at a slow pace to get your muscles warm and your joints limber.
  • Row at a moderate speed (22-25 SPM) for 1 minute.
  • Row at a fast speed (26-30 SPM) for 30 seconds
  • Jump off the rowing machine to perform 30 Crunches
  • Repeat the cycle of 60 seconds of moderate pace, followed by 30 seconds of vigorous rowing.
  • Jump off the rowing machine to perform 60 seconds of Plank
  • Repeat another 60-30 cycle
  • Do a set of 15 leg raises
  • Repeat another 60-30 cycle
  • Do a set of 12 Bicycle Crunches
  • Repeat another 60-30 cycle
  • Do a set of 20 Mountain Climbers
  • Repeat another 60-30 cycle
  • Do a set of Plank jacks
  • Spend 5 minutes rowing at a slow pace to cool down.

Workout #3: Abs Plank Blaster 

With this workout, it’s all about the plank, baby!

Plank is an amazing isometric (static) exercise that involves no movement, but through consistent muscle contraction, does an amazing job of building strength.

Pair it with a cardio-focused rowing workout, and you’ll see both muscle-building and fat-burning results in no time.

The Workout:

  • Spend 5 minutes stretching before your workout, and another 5 minutes rowing at a slow pace to get your muscles warm and your joints limber.
  • Row for 250 meters at a moderate or fast pace
  • Hop off the rowing machine and hold Plank pose for 30 seconds
  • Row for another 250 meters
  • Hop off for another 30-45 seconds of Plank
  • Repeat this cycle for 2,000 to 3,000 meters, with a set of Plank between each 250-meter segment
  • Spend 5 minutes rowing at a slow pace to cool down.

Rowing Machine for Abs – FAQs

Will a rowing machine flatten my stomach?

It absolutely will! As I explained above, the cardio portion of the workout will help to burn a lot of fat, including the fat around your belly.

Over time, consistent training will do wonders to flatten out your belly, and building abdominal muscle using the workouts above will ensure those six-pack abs show through.

What other cardio machines are good for abs?

There are a few other machines that I like to use for better abs workouts, including the Jacob’s Ladder,  elliptical machine, spin bike, and air bike. At the end of the day, though, the rowing machine is probably the most efficient for building abs.  

The Bottom Line

If your goal is to develop rock-hard abs, strengthen your core, and burn belly fat, the rowing machine may just become your best friend at the gym (or at home).

The machine does an amazing job of activating your abs and lower back, building a more solid center that facilitates easier movement and makes you more resilient and agile overall.

If you’re not a fan of weights or weight machines, the workouts above will help you to target your abs using just the rowing machine and/or your bodyweight.

You can get in an amazing abs workout without ever touching a weight. Heck, if you’ve got your own rowing machine at home, you can build those abs without ever stepping foot in a gym.

Next stop, Six-Packtown!

More Rowing Guides and Articles Like This

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