Benefits of LIT | Fitness / Health

CAN ROWING BUILD MUSCLE? LIT’S 10 Signature rowing variations that will help you build muscle 

Sep 08, 2021

By Justin Norris, Founder + Co-CEO, LIT Method 

The thing about muscle tears is that they are exactly what they sound like. 

A separation.

A split.

A disconnect.

A betrayal of the body’s score.

In high school, I tore my hip flexor and my hamstring at the same time. With one movement, I experienced an involuntary pull of the rip cord and a stinging sensation that made one side of the lower half of my body feel fragile and numb at the same time. 

I’ve never been the type to sit still and for me, the diagnosis of an injury — in this case, two injuries simultaneously — while certainly an obstacle, was more of a directive to find something different. It was both the universe’s way and the doctor’s prescription for me to find something less risky, something less impactful on my joints, and something where I could maintain strength without setback. 

That something was rowing.

My story isn’t unique — often these days, we hear the idea of an indoor rower presented as an alternative to running or to a type of cardio that other people have historically linked to injury.

I’ve even noticed when people have talked about our LIT Strength Machine, they’ve used phrases such as, “For people who don’t like running.

And while that might be true, what I’ve learned over the years is that rowing isn’t just a replacement for something you loved doing but couldn’t because of injury. 

It isn’t a proxy for something you were perhaps routinely doing but didn’t enjoy all that much. 

In fact, rowing isn’t just a substitute — it’s a substantial strength training workout. 

And it’s proof that strength training doesn’t have to mean weight training. 

Moreover, its physical and mental benefits are not only comparable or in excess of those you can expect from weight training — it’s also a safer and more efficient workout.

Justin Norris doing workout on the LIT Strength Machine


With a traditional rowing machine, you are working 86% of your muscles with each stroke. And while the standard anatomy of that row is a four part ‘catch, drive, finish, and recover,’ at LIT we have shifted our focus from the traditional row to offering more innovative variations that work out 100% of your muscles. 

In fact, what ultimately sets our method and machine apart from the pack are LIT’s 10 signature rowing variations. These movements provide the foundation for the strength training portion of our rowing classes, and are ultimately broken down into three parts: LEGS, CORE, and ARMS. 

If you’ve taken my class, you’ve likely heard me say these three words more than a few times — and that’s because thinking of rowing with this trio at the top of mind not only builds muscle, but builds it with a drastically reduced risk of injury.

And — BONUS! — LIT’s unique adjustable water resistance levels allow you to increase the weight and tension. With one turn of the nob, you can move from 10LBS to 40LBS of LIT LEVELS for any variation.

Knob on LIT Strength Machine to increase resistance

I developed these variations, because I knew from experience that solely instructing with a traditional row would yield little more than traditional results.

So why settle for 86% when these 10 moves can get you 100% LIT?



A woman doing legs workout on the LIT Strength Machine

1. LOW ROW — With a reverse, supine grip, and your legs extended, you will sit up tall and pull the handle in toward your low belly. Your rowing motion is reduced and you are able to seamlessly target your legs. 

2. HINGE (SINGLE AND DOUBLE ARM) — If you’re typically doing lifts in the gym, you’re likely familiar with a hamstring bridge to bent over row combo. You can get that same workout by completing a hinge on the LIT Strength Machine. This simple movement requires you to keep your legs straightened, so you can row only with your arms. With your upper body at a 90 degree angle, you can then hinge forward with both hands on the handle and find the perfect stretch for your hamstrings. You can also do this with the handle in one hand and alternate to the other side.


A woman doing core workout on the LIT Strength Machine

3. SIDE TO SIDE ROW — This exercise combines a traditional row with an emphasis on increasing core strength through transverse movements. With your hands in the traditional placement on the handles, pull to one side of your body as you slide back on the machine. Repeat on each side. 

4. SIDE TO SIDE — With your legs extended, and your hands in the traditional placement on the handles, reach forward and twist at the back, alternating sides. 

5. OBLIQUE TWIST — With your palms facing you, grab the handle and lean back. Legs are first extended, and as you lean further back, twist to the right and bend the left knee. Twist to the left and bend the right knee. Think of your twists as moving in the shape of a full rainbow. This exercise strengthens your core, obliques, and transverse abdominals.


A woman doing arms workout on the LIT Strength Machine
6. BICEP CURL — Bicep curls don’t have to be done with weights! With palms facing up, in a reverse, supine grip, grab the handles on your LIT Strength Machine and curl upward and downward. Keep in mind, it’s important to have your elbows at shoulder height and bend them to 90 degrees. This variation lengthens and strengthens your biceps through a concentric curling motion. 

7. HIGH ROW — Position your legs straight out or with a slight bend. Move only the arms by pulling the handle inward at shoulder level. This move allows you to focus on correcting posture while activating your lats, rear delts, and traps. Posture is a critical ingredient in increasing strength and preventing injury

8. STRAIGHT ARM RAISE — Position your legs straight out or with a slight bend. Hold your arms out straight and with palms facing down, grab handles and raise over your head to a 45 degree angle and back down to shoulder height. This challenging exercise focuses on increasing strength in your shoulders.

9. STRAIGHT ARM RAISE (PULSE) — Position your legs straight out or with a slight bend. Hold your arms out straight and with palms facing down, grab handles and raise over your head to a 45 degree angle and keep there while pulsing. This move also focuses on increasing strength in your shoulders.

10. SINGLE ARM PULL — Place the band attached to your handle between your index and middle finger. Bend your knees and reach forward, extending your legs and pulling your arm back. You can do this on both sides.


The bottom line is that so many of the exercises we have come to expect having to do on a functional trainer with cables and weights can actually be done on the LIT Strength Machine and with a commitment to injury prevention. 

When I tore my hip flexor and hamstring in high school, it was because I was young and I was doing what had always been done by my friends, family, and athletes I looked up to. I was turning to weights to build muscle. 

But at the heart of creating the LIT Method is the reality that when it came to restoring my body, to rebuilding those muscles, I turned to rowing and resistance. I turned to something I knew, that because of its low impact on my joints, I could do in multiple intervals and without having to worry about the likelihood of injury. 

One of the most common questions I hear from people considering joining the growing Boltcult Community is,

“Can Rowing Build Muscle?” 

The answer is — hell yes. And with the LIT Strength Machine, its adjustable water resistance levels, and LIT’s 10 signature rowing variations, you can swap those weights for water, expect lean muscles and longevity, and never look back.