Who Should And Shouldn’t Use Rowing Machine Workout

During our rowing machine reviews, you may have often seen us mention that the said machine is useful for the elderly, those who are tall, etc. This naturally raises the question – who should and shouldn’t use rowing machine workout? Since it is not possible to answer the question for every rowing machine separately (beyond what is mentioned in the review), we have instead compiled a list of categories who either should or should not use rowers. Before jumping into the list though, let us add that for categories placed under the “shouldn’t” section, there may be special attachments (such as a backrest) which may allow the folks to use the machine.
Who Should And Shouldn’t Use Rowing Machine Workout

Who Should Use Rowing Machines

People With Short Height:

One of the most common fallacies among fitness enthusiasts is that short people i.e. those who are 5’2” or shorter, will not be able to use rowing machines because the length of their legs will not be able to complete the procedure. What they presume is that the seat should move from one extremity to another for the procedure to be deemed complete. Actually, as long as the skeletal muscles of the arms and more importantly, the legs and thighs, are properly utilized, it does not matter whether the user completes the full seat movement.

That said, it is true that those who are extremely short may not be able to follow the steps we mentioned in how to get the effectiveness of rowing machine workout, as the display, the handle and/or the footrests may be difficult to reach for. This is however true of all fitness machines (treadmills, recumbent bikes, etc) and is therefore not a shortcoming of the rowing machines per se.

Senior Citizens:

Senior citizens have been reaping rowing machine benefits long before UK TV presenter Andrew Marr blamed his stroke on overuse of the rowing machine. As Marr himself admitted, he had some medical complications (discussed later) and was trying out a special type of workout that claimed to reduce high amounts of calories with only a short workout per day. As fitness experts around the world concur, rowing machines should not be used beyond a certain velocity (of around 40-50 strokes per minute or spm) as this tends to vitiate the procedure and put undue stress on the machine. Following an unrealistic workout at his age and with his medical conditions, it is not surprising that he overexerted his body and suffered the consequences.

For the average senior citizen with no serious medical condition, though, rowing is perfectly safe if carried out with an intensity of 20-30spm and using a heart monitor.If indeed there is any flaw in the procedure or one is overexerting oneself, the heart rate monitor will indicate the change in heart rate and thus warn the user of impending problems.

In addition, it is advisable that the rower have programs that are geared towards elderly citizens (or at least towards different heart rates) and a range of resistance levels that can changed with a high degree of precision. With even the best cheap rowing machines offering such facilities these days, one can safely say that if the proper rowing machine is bought, there is no reason why an elderly person cannot use a rowing machine.

Pregnant Women (till end of 2nd trimester):

Rowing procedure, in its very essence, does not involve two activities that are strictly out of bounds for pregnant women – exercises involving jerking of the body, and those involving compression of the torso in either direction. Of course, the amount and intensity of the workout must be lower, and expecting mothers are advised not to workout till exhaustion, as this may deprive the child of sufficient oxygen.

Furthermore, the intensity depends upon whether the lady is a trained athlete or a fitness enthusiast just starting out. If she is the former, rowing is safe even when extended into the third trimester, since the body is well accustomed to the demands of rowing. Beginners, however, are advised to seek medical opinion as to whether continuation of rowing in the third trimester is advisable.

Who Shouldn’t Use Rowing Machines

People With Spinal Or Muscular Injuries:

Many people who are wondering who should and shouldn’t use rowing machine workout are those who were using the rowers but suffered an injury. Some injuries, such as spinal or muscular ones, can temporarily or permanently weaken the body in a manner that makes rowing difficult, if not harmful to health. For instance, those who have suffered a slip disc in the spine are advised by doctors not to try out rowing at least for the next 1-1 ½ years. Further, in case of severe tears in the muscles and ligaments/tendons, the rowing machine enthusiasts are advised not to continue with their fitness regime.

However, it is a fallacy that someone who has suffered an injury once can never again use a rowing machine. Many folks involved in serious car accidents, on-field injuries and/or animal attacks have successfully recuperated and resumed their rowing after a gap of 3-5 years. These days, with the help of prosthetic limbs, even amputees are able to take on rowing and partake in the benefits included therein.

People With Heart Conditions Or High Pressure:

Returning to the issue with Andrew Marr, we find that Marr suffered from heart conditions and had a high blood pressure. Such people are advised to keep a safe distance from cardio exercises. Rowing is a cardio exercise, and intensive rowing tends to raise the blood pressure and rate significantly. If at all such people have to use rowing as a means of staying healthy, they should use backrests for adequate support should they suddenly feel tired. Further, they should row at moderate rates of 15-25 spm, as rowing too slowly exerts the muscles excessively while rowing too fast puts undue pressure on the oxygen intake of the body. As both muscles and lungs require blood for oxygen circulation, they indirectly contributes to greater heart rate.

Finally, if the user feels palpitations or pain in the chest or upper arms (as opposed to lower arms, which occurs due to muscle fatigue), he/she should stop immediately and seek medical help.

Muscular Dystrophy (MD) patients:

Muscular dystrophy is a medical condition in which the muscles of a certain part of the body degenerate progressively, rendering the person weak and even paralyzed. People suffering from any form of MD should refrain from following the rowing regime prescribed for their age, sex or heart rate. In some cases, the person is advised to avoid rowing altogether.

However, given the wide range of MD symptoms, it would be unfair to say that even those with mild cases of MD should avoid rowing. Instead, they should consult medical opinion to see if there are rowing regimes which they too can partake in. In general, given that MD is often confined to or more severe in one limb than in the other, hydraulic piston rowers that offer two arms with variable resistance in each arm, may be a good option.


As the above list suggests, rowing is not an exclusive province of the young and the fit. Rather, the list of who should and shouldn’t use rowing machine workout is derived from the body’s current situation, subject to change as the body improves over time. It cannot be denied that medical history matters, but it isn’t a dead weight preventing a return to the rowing machine. Rather, with adequate precautions (like heart belts, backrests, etc.) and a gentler exercise regime, most people, even with medical conditions, can successfully partake in the benefits to be had from using rowing machines.