Alternative To Rowing Machine: 8 Exercises Without A Rower

Rowing machines are a staple of home gyms and health clubs worldwide. A rowing machine mimics the rowing stroke, activating many key muscle groups while offering a low-impact workout.  

There are many options when it comes to affordable rowing machines, but for those without a machine, there are many exercises that provide an alternative workout. Keep reading to find out some of the benefits of rowing and 8 substitute exercises you can perform without the machine.  

1. Kettlebell Swings 

Kettlebells are a piece of versatile gym equipment that allows users to perform many different exercises. Kettlebell swings are a great exercise to improve cardiovascular health and burn calories. 

Depending on the swinging motion, this exercise can provide a similarly targeted workout to the rowing machine. The following muscles are targeted: abs, shoulders, lats, glutes, hamstrings, quads, and hamstrings.  

To perform kettlebell swings, follow the steps below: 

  • Step 1: Place the kettlebell in front of you on the ground and stand behind it. Bend your knees slightly and grip the handle of the kettlebell. 
  • Step 2: Swing the kettlebell backward between your legs. 
  • Step 3: Keeping your arms straight, swing the kettlebell forward in front of you till about shoulder height, then back down between the legs again. 
  • Step 4: Repeat 

GGP Training Tip - To maximize each and every swing, make sure you lift with your glutes when bringing the kettlebell up to eye level.

Related Article - Benefits of Kettlebell Swings

kettlebell swings

2. Barbell/Squat rack Inverted Row 

This exercise is the perfect muscle builder and preparation to start completing pull-ups. It only requires you to pull part of your body weight, rather than the whole. The barbell inverted row is a fantastic exercise to build back muscles and an excellent alternative to doing pull-ups and rowing.

The following muscles are targeted: lats, middle and lower back, and the rear deltoids. Depending on your hand grip, the biceps are also strongly activated.  

To perform inverted barbell rows, follow these steps:

  • Step 1: Stand in front of a quat rack or Smith machine with the bar set at a height you feel comfortable with. Try starting with waist height.
  • Step 2: Get under the bar and lay down while looking at the ceiling.
  • Step 3: Reach up towards the bar and grab it using an overhand grip. Your hands should be about shoulder width apart.
  • Step 4: Contract your core muscles and glutes and bring your shoulder blades together as you pull your chest up to the bar. Repeat.

GGP Training Tip To hit your rear delts and traps, use a wide grip and bring your lower chest up to the bar.

3. Dumbbell Bent Over Row 

Dumbbell bent-over rows are an excellent muscle-building exercise for your back and also a great alternative to a rowing machine. 

It works the same muscles to reap the same health and fitness benefits. Bent over rows target the shoulders, upper arms, chest, core, and back muscles.  

To perform dumbbell bent-over row, follow the steps below: 

  • Step 1: Stand shoulder-width apart with knees slightly bent. Hold dumbbells in each hand and bend out at a maximum of a 45-degree angle.  
  • Step 2: Pull the dumbbells up till it is along the side of your chest.  
  • Step 3: Slowly lower the dumbbells to the starting position—repeat steps 2 and 3

GGP Training Tip - You can also stabilize yourself using a weight bench and perform this exercise iso-laterally to fix any muscle imbalances.

Read Also - Barbell Row Vs Dumbbell Row

dumbbell bent over row

4. Dumbbell Thruster 

The dumbbell thruster workout is a compound exercise that uses the overhead press and front squat. It's a great dumbbell alternative to rowing. Its progressive nature is great for beginner athletes, as it is easy to learn the movement pattern. 

But it has enough difficulty for advanced lifters to present a challenge.

Dumbbell thrusters use the quadriceps, hamstrings, glutes, core muscles, shoulders, triceps, and back muscles.  

To perform dumbbell thrusters: 

  • Step 1: Hold dumbbells shoulder-width apart using an overhand grip and stand with your feet shoulder-width apart.
  • Step 2: Slowly bring the barbell just above your shoulders. Engage your core and slowly lower into a squat position.  
  • Step 3: Bring your elbows up and powerfully explode to return to a standing position.   
  • Step 4: Engage your glutes and extend the dumbbell overhead with straight arms. Repeat steps 2 to 5 in a continuous motion. 

GGP Training Tip - This exercise build explosive power in the legs and glutes. Make sure you explode up through your heels to maximize results.

See Also - Best Single Dumbbell Exercises

dumbbell thruster

5. Resistance Band Deadlift 

A resistance band is a must-have as part of your gym equipment. They are compact, easy to store, and offer a great variety of exercises for a full-body workout. As its name suggests, a resistance band deadlift is similar to a weighted deadlift. This exercise is a great alternative workout when you don't have access to typical gym machines. This exercise is great for the glutes, hamstrings, and hip flexors.  

To perform resistance band deadlifts, follow the steps below: 

  • Step 1: To get into the starting position, tighten your core and keep your chest up. Place your feet shoulder-width apart with toes pointing forward and step onto the band. Bend your knees slightly and drive your hips backward. 
  • Step 2: Contract your glutes and stand up straight by driving your hips and glutes forwards. Keep your glutes contracted before returning to the starting position. Repeat step 2. 

GGP Training Tip - It's best to go with high reps for this resistance band movement. It allows your muscles to start firing immediately and can help you with other compound lifts.

Further Reading - Best Deadlift Alternative Exercises

resistance band deadlift

6. Barbell Upright Row 

Barbell upright row is a training exercise that works the upper back, middle back, core, and biceps. With the same movements of a rowing machine except standing, it works the upper back with its upright row movement and the middle back with its push-pull movement. 

To perform barbell upright rows, follow the steps below: 

  • Step 1: Hold the barbell in front of you using an overhand grip shoulder-width apart.
  • Step 2: Lift the barbell by bending your elbows outwards and the barbell is at chest level. Keep your posture straight throughout the movement. Repeat step 2.

GGP Training Tip Don't go too heavy on this movement. While it may feel like you can lift a ton of weight, most of the time, you will sacrifice form to do so.

Barbell Upright Row

7. Kettlebell High Pull 

Another exercise that uses the versatile kettlebell is a high pull. A kettlebell high pull is a full-body exercise, which helps in developing strength, endurance, power, and explosiveness. 

The weight choices of a kettlebell allow you to modify the intensity of your workout. You can change the weight by choosing the one that best suits your fitness level. The following muscles are targeted: adductors, shoulders, quadriceps, glutes, traps, and hamstrings.  

To perform kettlebell high pulls: 

  • Step 1: Stand with your feet slightly more than shoulder-width apart. Place the kettlebell on the floor between your feet.
  • Step 2: Bend your knees and lower your hips back into a squat position. Use both hands to grip the kettlebell handle.
  • Step 3: Push your heels into the ground, engage your core and pick the kettlebell as you move back into the standing position. 
  • Step 4: Pull the kettlebell to hip level and raise the kettlebell until your hands reach chin level. Your elbows should be pointing up as you reach the top of the pull. 
  • Step 5: Lower the kettlebell back to waist level and return to the squat position before repeating steps 3 to 5. 

GGP Training Tip - Make sure you squeeze at the top to make sure you activate your deltoid muscles before lowering the kettlebell.

Read Also - Kettlebells Vs Barbells

kettlebell high pull

8. Seated Cable Row 

A seated cable row is the most similar alternative exercise without a rowing machine. This exercise may be performed using a cable machine. It mimics the motions of rowing and the core and back muscles that you need to perform the exercise. The seated cable row is great for targeting the forearms, biceps, lats, traps, and upper back muscles.

To perform seated cable rows: 

  • Step 1: Sit with your knees bent and grip the cable handle with outstretched arms. 
  • Step 2: Engage your core muscles before pulling the handle towards your lower abdomen. Keep your back straight and upright, and squeeze your shoulder blades together as you pull and row. 
  • Step 3: Return the cable forward till your arms are fully outstretched. Keep your back straight, even though your hips are flexed—repeat steps 2 and 3. 

GGP Training Tip - Keep in mind, the seated cable row can be performed using many different attachments to engage different parts of your back. Try a few out to see which one works best for you!

seated cable row

Benefits Of Rowing Machine & Alternative Workouts 

  • Burns Many Calories  
    With a calorie burn between 400 and 800 calories an hour, rowing is good for weight loss. While running for an hour burns slightly more calories, it is a higher impact exercise. Those with pre-existing injuries or other health conditions should consider rowing instead of running because of its low impact on the muscles and joints. 
  • Improve Your Aerobic Fitness  
    A rowing machine offers numerous fitness benefits, including increasing aerobic and anaerobic endurance and strength. Because of this, users can burn many calories and build a solid core while also improving their aerobic fitness.
  • Full-Body Workout 
    Rowing may seem like just an aerobic exercise that works the arms, but in reality, it's a full-body workout that also targets the core, back, legs, and even abdominals. The main muscles that are targeted when rowing are the upper back, pecs, arms, abdominal muscles, and obliques. When pushing off the foot stretcher, the quadriceps, calves, and glutes are engaged. 
  • Work Out With Less Injury Risk 
    If you're looking for a way to get a serious workout in without putting a lot of pressure on your joints, rowing might be the answer. Controlled movement and a variety of different techniques make this exercise a great option for active recovery too.  
  • Build Better Posture 
    One of the best exercises for strengthening your back is rowing. Rowing exercises reduce stress on the spine, improve posture, eliminate bad habits and improve the biomechanics of the spine. 
  • Beginner-Friendly 
    A rowing machine is one of the best pieces of equipment for new gym-goers to stay fit and healthy. Its easily adjustable resistance makes it ideal for both beginners and more experienced athletes alike. Rowing machines are beginner-friendly also because of the low impact on joints and ligaments, meaning they're easy to start, especially if you have a past injury.  
  • Easy To Do At Home 
    The rowing machine offers so many benefits and is one of the most popular pieces of cardio equipment for home gyms. Its uncomplicated workout makes it suitable for users of all abilities to do at home. There are no fancy levers to pull, no heavyweights to lift. The entire workout is based on rhythm and technique, both of which are simple to master. 

How To Build Your Own Rowing Machine (DIY Homemade Rower)

If you are on a budget or have space constraints at home, it is possible to replicate and create your rowing machine for less than $100 using simple materials you may already have lying about.  

Having a rowing machine at home can take up a lot of valuable space. With a DIY row machine, you can easily pack it up and reassemble it easily when it’s time to work out.

For anyone looking to get a light workout or improve their form, a DIY rowing machine is the best tool for the job. It's excellent for beginners to learn the basics of rowing and use an affordable model to get a feel for the motion, all while using a device that takes up little space in a home.

However, this DIY rowing machine is not for experienced rowers due to its weight limitations. 

Materials Needed 
  • For the seat: Wooden plank big enough for you to sit on and 4 wheels 
  • For the cable: 2 Resistance bands (choose according to your strength) 
  • For handle: A foot-long rod (metal or wood) 
  • For the footpads: 2 dumbbells or bricks 
  • Low upright structure to anchor the resistance band  
How To Assemble 
  • Step 1: Attach the 4 wheels with screws at each corner of the wooden plank. 
  • Step 2: Wrap one resistance band around a low upright structure such as a heavy table leg or a hook anchored to a wall.  
  • Step 3: Attach the foot-long rod to the resistance band. 
  • Step 4: Tie the second resistance band from the hook on the wall to your wooden plank’s wheels’ front axle.  
  • Step 5: Place the dumbbells or bricks perpendicularly against the wall on either side of the resistance band. 
  • Step 6: Sit in the middle of the wooden plank and rest each foot on the footpads on either side. Then grab the handle with both hands and row. 

Common Rowing Machine Questions

What are the main muscles rowing works? 

A rowing machine offers users a full-body workout, engaging muscles simultaneously in your lower body, core, and upper body. In your lower body, your quadriceps and glutes are activated when your legs push off the footpad. The row motion engages your deltoids and lats in your upper body and abdominal muscles in your core.

Further Reading - Rowing Machine Muscles Worked

How much does it cost to make your own rowing machine? 

If you have a small budget to create your gym equipment, a rowing machine would be a good choice. The motion of rowing is easily replicable using very basic materials that can be sourced easily and affordably. The cost of making your rowing machine can vary between $80-$120, depending on what you already have and the quality of material you want to get.

Also see - Rowing machines under $500 

Is running better than rowing for cardio? 

Rowing and running are both fantastic exercises for building cardio. While running burns a little more calories than rowing, it is a high-impact sport that may not be suitable for everyone. If you have any pre-existing health conditions, rowing will be a better option.  

Read Also - Rowing Vs Running

Is rowing on water better than using a rowing machine? 

The motion of rowing is similar whether on water or using a machine, both achieving a full-body workout. Getting out into nature and rowing on a body of water is great but not accessible to most due to location, affordability, or storage. 


A rowing machine is the ultimate full-body workout, delivering a complete cardiovascular workout with minimal joint impact.

If you don't have access to or can't afford this fancy exercise equipment, you don't need to worry — there are plenty of alternative exercises without a rowing machine that can be performed to target the same muscle groups and improve your cardiovascular health. 

Last Updated on May 18, 2023

Paul J

Paul J

Paul J is is an ex-professional footballer who has seen a gym or two and is an expert at knowing what is required for home gym setups. When he isn’t testing out products for his readers, he’s usually going for a run in the park or out for coffee.