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Rowing works a number of muscles but doesn't focus on your neck.
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There's no doubt; the rowing machine provides a challenging workout for most of your body. It doesn't quite hit all your muscle groups, however. If you were hoping that a session on the rowing machine would help stabilize your neck muscles, for instance, you'd be disappointed. While rowing engages a number of your muscle groups, the upper trapezius, splenius, levator scapulae and sternocleidomastoid muscles in your neck won't see much action on a rowing machine.
Although the rowing machine offers a near-full body workout, it does not specifically target your neck muscles.
Sit Up Straight
The rowing machine targets your back muscles. That's a positive aspect because your neck is part of your back, so strengthening your back can benefit your neck. If your concern is for targeting your neck muscles, however, the best that rowing can do is to engage your erector spinae as assisting muscles. Erector spinae muscles are the muscles that run the length of your spine from your tailbone to the base of your skull that help keep you upright while rowing. The other five muscles in your neck don't play a part even as stabilizers when you're on the rowing machine.
Avoid Injury with Proper Form
Though the rowing machine doesn't target your neck muscles for stabilization or strengthening, exercising on it without focusing on proper form can lead to pulled or strained neck muscles. "Weight Training for Dummies" published in 2006 notes that a common mistake that can lead to neck injury is rowing with your neck hanging forward and your shoulders rounded. Instead, concentrate on keeping your spine straight with your abs pulled in taut and your gaze straight ahead, even when you bend your knees and draw near the front of the machine. Don't lean back too far when you push away from the machine either. Just lean slightly, maintaining your posture, and draw the handle in just below your chest.
Strengthen Neck Stabilizers
There is one version of a rowing exercise that calls on two of your neck muscles as stabilizers, but it isn't done on a rowing machine. When you perform an upright row with a cable machine, you'll feel the upper trapezius and levator scapulae muscles in your neck contracting as you draw the handle up.
Add Effective Neck Exercises
Don't stop using the rowing machine just because it doesn't provide a neck workout, especially if you use proper form. Instead, add a few exercises to your regimen that focus on neck muscles to strengthen and stabilize them. Neck extensions done on cable and plate-loaded lever machines target your splenius muscles and recruit your upper trapezius, levator scapulae, erector spinae and sternocleidomastoid as synergists. The lying neck retraction is an isometric exercise that targets your splenius, as does the rear neck bridge done against the wall or lying on the floor.