Last Updated: July 4th, 2022

Rowing is one of the best forms of cardio. It can be very effective for your weight management. However, will it cause more harm than good? Today I’m going to answer the question, ‘Are rowing machines hard on your back?

Let’s find out…

Are Rowing Machines Hard On Your Back

Are Rowing Machines Hard On your Back?

No, rowing machines are not hard on your back unless you already have back problems. Based on the severity of the back problem, your approach towards your rowing machine will change.

Rowing machines are not hard on your back. In different phases of the rowing action, different parts of your back get involved.

However, the major part of the back that gets used is the upper back. It has some of the biggest group of muscles and with rowing, they get strengthened up and they tone and develop.

When you are pulling the handles back and to the last part of the drive, your lower back gets stiffened a bit, providing additional support to your core.

This is also a result of the upper back muscle contracting completely at this phase.

However, if you have lower back issues and pain, then this stiffening of the lower back will only aggravate the pain.

Also, if you have a slipped disc or some similar issues back then also you should not be using the rowing machine.

If you have weak lower back muscles, then also, it is better to first strengthen your back muscles, then start rowing.

Who is more prone to back pain?

People who have a sedentary lifestyle, like those of us who have corporate jobs, or those who already have issues with the back.

Back pain can also be a result of excessive weight. When your hip region has to bear additional weight, then you may have these back issues.

OK…if you cannot do rowing with a bad back, then is all hope lost…

That sounded dramatic…but you get the gist…

Actually, if you have a bad back, then you can still do rowing, but you will have to strengthen your back first.

Below are some routine exercises that you need to do to strengthen your back…

First of all, if you have a weak back or a stiff one, you need to improve the flexibility of your back and spine.

For that, the best exercise is Cat-Cow Strech.

This will help you to improve the overall mobility of your back.

Here is how you will perform it…

Cat-Cow Stretch

The cat-cow stretch improves the circulation between your vertebrae and it helps in relieving back pain and stress.


  • Start with both of your knees and hands on the floor and your back parallel to the ground.
  • Now dip your spine and raise your head up.
  • Now arch your spine up and dip your head in between your shoulders and hands.
  • Repeat 20 times

If you want to row and have back pain, then apart from improving mobility, you have to strengthen your back…

Here is a simple routine that most of you will be able to perform with your back pain…However, as a cautionary measure, please check with your doctor before starting this routine…

Exercise routine for back strengthening for rowing:


Bhujangasana will provide you with excellent benefits like:

  • Strengthening the whole back.
  • Strengthening the spine.
  • Stretches lungs, abdomen, and shoulders.
  • Strengthens and tones the buttock area.
  • Relives stress and fatigue.

These are only some of the benefits of Bhujangasana. However, there are many more and this is one of the most beneficial yoga poses for not only your back but also your whole body.


  • Lie down on your stomach.
  • Place your palms flat on the ground at the side of your chest.
  • Tuck in your elbows so that they are touching the sides of your body.
  • With the help of your back muscles, raise the upper part of your body. (Don’t put pressure on your arms to raise your body)
  • Stay there for a couple of breaths and then release.
  • Do this 10 times, 3 sets.

Prone Cobra

This is a variation of a cobra that will strengthen your lower back especially…

The benefits of prone cobra exercise are:

  • Strengthens lower back.
  • Strengthens hip and thigh muscles.
  • Improves back flexibility.
  • Improves range of motion.
  • Improves posture.

Steps to perform Prone Cobra:

  • Lie down on your stomach.
  • Arms are spread to the side in form of a ‘T’ with palms flat on the floor.
  • Keep your head aligned with your spine and not raise up or hang down.
  • Now start raising your upper body as high as possible while simultaneously rotating your palms upwards. (Thumbs pointing up)
  • Hold this position for a couple of seconds and return to the starting position.
  • Do not relax all the way to the floor and go back up.
  • Do this 10 times, 3 sets.

Lying back single leg raise

Benefits of lying back single leg raise:

  • Strengthening your core muscles.
  • Strengthens your lower back, and hips.
  • Improves flexibility of the lower back and hips.


  • Lie down on your stomach.
  • Arms by your side.
  • With the help of your glutes and lower back muscles, raise one leg as high as possible.
  • Hold it for a couple of seconds.
  • Return to the starting position and repeat with the other leg.
  • Do this 10 times for each leg, 3 sets.


Benefits of plank exercise include:

  • Strengthening of core muscles.
  • Strengthening of back muscles, hip, and glutes.
  • Improving your stamina and focus.


  • Place your elbows under your shoulders with your forearms stretched in front.
  • Make a fist out of your palms with your thumbs sticking up.
  • Now extend your legs backward so that, your entire body is in a straight line.
  • Hold this for as long as possible.
  • Do this 3 times.

How will you know that your back is sufficiently strengthened for rowing?

Your back is sufficiently strengthened for rowing when you will experience reduced back pain from sitting, standing, or doing common tasks. If you are into a sedentary lifestyle, then also, you will not be feeling back pain if your back is strengthened enough.

Most of the common types of back pain arise from weak muscles, bad posture, and losing mobility of the back.

However, this can be reversed when you have enough strength in your back. For that, you will have to work specifically on your back muscles so that they can gain strength and develop.

The above routine is very effective and it specifically targets all of the muscles of the back and will help them to develop.

But it will take some time and you will have to be patient. Although the pain may not be eliminated, you will be able to feel the difference in a couple of weeks.

Once you have seen considerable improvement in your back pain, you can start rowing. However, stop it immediately, if you find that your back pain is increasing.


As we have seen above, rowing will not cause back pain and is not hard on your back. However, if you already have back pain, it will increase with rowing.

This is the reason that you should first find a way to reduce the pain and then try to row.

Also, back pain is not always caused by a sedentary lifestyle or a slipped disc. It can be something like a bad mattress, or a bad sitting chair.

Whatever it is, find out the root cause and try to fix that.

Will rowing machines ruin you back
Madhusree Basu

Madhusree Basu

Author, Admin

Blogger and a fitness enthusiast. She loves running and Yoga and everything in between. She started running to manage her weight and to eat to her heart’s content. A true foodie at heart she shares whatever knowledge she has gained throughout the years about weight management and fitness.

Sourav Sarkar

Sourav Sarkar

Reviewer, Certified Fitness Instructor

Certified fitness trainer and an ex-professional bodybuilder, he has trained more than 500 fitness enthusiasts and has more than 15 years of on-the-job experience.