Rowing Exercise: The Killer Workout That You Should Try Today

effective rowing exercise machines in the gym

Image via Pixabay.com

What if I told you this:

There’s a workout that takes a fraction of the time you’re spending at the gym now that will work every major muscle in your body and give you your daily cardio at the same time.

Rowing exercise is one of the hidden treasures at the gym.
Still, most people walk right past it without giving it a thought.

GIF via GIPHY

Sounds good, right?

I’m not talking about a new fad. No, I’m going old school. I’m talking about something that has been around for centuries and has stood the test of time.

I’m talking about rowing.

Okay, I see that you’re skeptical. You don’t want to waste your time.

I’m talking about rowing.

Okay, I see that you’re skeptical. You don’t want to waste your time.

alarm clock used for rowing exercises

I hear you.

But if you give me a minute, I’ll show you how incredible rowing is for you.

And by the end, I will provide you with three killer workouts that will kick your butt and leave you with a whole new appreciation for this classic exercise.

a group of people rowing simultaneously in the river

 Image via Pixabay.com

Something Old Is New Again

It seems that when it comes to fitness, we are all always looking for the newest, latest big thing that promises a hot body.


Although let me tell you. There’s something to be said about the tried and true.


Believe it or not, people have been sculpting their bodies with rowing exercise for centuries.


The history of rowing as a sport can be traced all the way back to ancient Egypt when men used to race on the Nile. It was a killer workout back then. It’s an equally killer workout today.

a model of a rowing machine that was used in the old times

Image via Flickr.com

The first patent for an indoor rowing machine in the U.S. went to W.B. Curtis in 1872. They used it as a way to keep athletes in shape while they were out of the water.

The machine was revolutionary at the time. Curtis designed it using a flywheel.

rowing machine designed to use a flywheel for rowing exercise

Credits to Pixabay.com


And you won’t believe this:

A century and a half later, rowing machines still use that flywheel.

It’s true.

There are a lot of fitness fads that come and go. Yet there are a few that have stood the test of time. Rowing exercise is one of those.

rowing exercise triangle shape image

Many find it easier to transition by pulling with their arms before their legs drive. I use a cue that every athlete knows to explain why we don’t want to do that.
“When the arm bends, the power ends.” –Coach Mike Burgener.

The Brilliance of the Rowing Exercise

One common misconception about rowing exercise is that it is all about your upper body.

But here’s the truth:


The beauty of the rowing exercise is that it works your entire body. While it’s true that rowing does work your upper body, it’s also a killer workout for your butt and legs and core.


As if that weren’t enough to love, it gets even better:


Rowing is also a tough cardio workout. On top of that, it is a low-impact workout that is very gentle on your joints.


Pretty great, right?

Compounding Our Exercises: Smart Move

One complaint that I always hear from my clients is that they just don’t have enough time to workout.


I understand that feeling. I mean, let’s be real here, who wants to spend hours at the gym every day?


I’m a fitness trainer, so of course, I want you to workout. However, I am all about efficiency.


Here’s the truth:


You don’t have to spend hours in the gym. Seriously, you don’t.

My motto is, don’t train harder or longer, train smarter.

weight lifting exercise for good health

That leads us to the compound exercise.

Benefits of compound exercises

A compound exercise is one that uses more than one muscle group at the same time. Honestly, it’s the best way to workout, especially if you’re short on time.


Compound exercises burn more calories and jump-start your metabolism. They also create more lean muscle tissue.

  • Burns more calories
  • Improves intramuscular coordination
  • Provides a cardiovascular training benefit
  • Dynamic flexibility
  • Improves movement efficiency
  • Creates more lean muscle tissue
  • Kicks your metabolism into overdrive

And that means:

Your body will burn more fat, even while you are at rest. How great is that?

An excellent example of a compound workout is rowing exercise.

Rowing works your entire body, including your heart. You can’t get much better than that!

rowing exercise triangle shape image

“While single-joint, isolation exercises are ideal for people who have the inclination or time to sculpt the perfect body, they simply aren’t that effective for maximizing the calorie burning effects of exercise.


If a client’s goal is improving his or her overall fitness level, compound exercises that feature multijoint movements involving more than a single muscle group can be extremely effective for realizing benefits from all three categories of fitness: cardiovascular, strength and flexibility.” — The American Council on Exercise

Rowing exercise is a full body blast

And talk about killer cardio

When most people walk into the gym on a cardio day they think they have three boring options: the treadmill, the elliptical machine, and the stationary bike. You’ve done all of them a million times.


man on a treadmill as a good exercise
using an elliptical machine for workouts
cardio workout using a stationary bike

How boring.


But what choice do you have? You need to get your heart rate up, and there are only so many options, right?


Wrong!

heart rate is important on every exercise

You’re overlooking a hidden cardio treasure that is the rowing machine.

First of all, since most people have never even tried it, it’s something new. And let me tell you, it’s far from boring.

Plus, it’s ideal for cross training.

And here’s the best part:

Rowing exercise can burn 600 to 900 calories per hour.

Combination workouts

As I mentioned, most people have a tough time finding enough time in their day to exercise. You know you need to do strength training. You know you also need to do cardio. And it would be nice to get some flexibility training in too.

45
Minutes

Well here’s all you need:

Sounds impossible? It’s not.

What you’re looking for is a combination exercise where you can do all three of those things in one short workout.

In my experience, three of the best combination workouts you can do are:

High-intensity interval training
Boxing
Rowing

Benefits of combination workouts

  • Time efficient
  • Strength training
  • Cardio
  • Burns more fat and calories
  • Jump starts your metabolism
  • Flexibility training

   Rowing Exercise Is Where It’s At

By and large, rowing exercise is ideal for everyone.

Yes, even you!

Here’s the fact:

Rowing is a low impact full-body workout that you can do at any age and any fitness level. Ideal.

  Move It, Americans!

30
Minutes + Grind 

As simple as they look, rowers are incredibly versatile. You can do a long, 30 minute + grind of a workout or short, a roll-on-the-floor-when it’s over sprint intervals or anything in between.Rowers are also great as a simple and easy warm-up or cool down.

If you are an average American, you likely don’t get nearly enough exercise. According to the CDC, only 23 percent of us get enough physical activity.

23%
Get enough Physical Activity

That means that most of us need to get moving.

Here’s the hard truth:

If you want a healthy body, a functioning immune system, a healthy heart, strong bones, and a healthy mind, then you have to exercise. There are no two ways about it.

Before you start rolling your eyes at me at the thought of it, let me tell you, working out doesn’t have to be an agonizing chore. It doesn’t have to suck.

achieve strong muscle arms when exercising

If you want a healthy body, a functioning immune system, a healthy heart, strong bones, and a healthy mind, then you have to exercise. There are no two ways about it.

Before you start rolling your eyes at me at the thought of it, let me tell you, working out doesn’t have to be an agonizing chore. It doesn’t have to suck.

Try something new like rowing exercise and think outside of the box

Be creative. 

Find something fun.

And if you just can’t find any workout that sounds fun to you, then at least find something that is quick and efficient.

This school of thought changed:

In the old days, we used to think that you had to do a full hour of cardio every other day.

But here’s what we know now:

It’s just as effective and just as good for you if you do several small segments of exercise throughout the day.

So if you tell me that you can’t work out because you only have 10 or 15 minutes, I’m going to have to call BS on that.

It’s just as effective and just as good for you if you do several small segments of exercise throughout the day.

So if you tell me that you can’t work out because you only have 10 or 15 minutes, I’m going to have to call BS on that.

effective push ups for working out your abs
Try these ideas

You can do 10 minutes of rowing exercise or biking or walking or jump roping or skiing or any number of other things that get your heart rate up in the morning. Then take a 10 or 15-minute walk at lunchtime. Do you have 10 minutes before dinner? Take a walk around the block.

It all adds up.

Getting your exercise in that way is just as beneficial as doing it all at once.

Here’s the point:

If you want to live a happy, healthy life, you have to move.

It really is that simple.

get a happy face for living a healthy life

When we say enough, we mean…

The truth is:


Any amount of exercise is better than no exercise at all. If all you can get in is a 10-minute walk today, I’ll take that, because 10 minutes is far better than nothing.

According to the American Medical Association, adults should do at least 150 to 300 minutes of light to moderate-intensity cardio every week.

treadmill exercise is good for the body

True. It’s a lot.

Do you want to spend less time working out than that? I see you nodding.

Well, good news!

If you increase your intensity, you can shorten your exercise time.


By taking it up a notch from moderate to vigorous-intensity, you can cut your time in half.

If you push yourself a bit, all you need is 75 minutes a week.

And that’s not all:

In addition to cardio, adults should also be doing strength training at least twice a week.

As I see it, you can do a couple of things here. You can add another couple hours to your weekly workout time.

Ok. Do this instead:

Opt for something like rowing exercise which gives you your cardio and your strength training all in one killer workout.

That’s double the work in half the time.

Working smarter.

rowing exercise icon

Are You Cross Training? You Should Be!

The American Council on Exercise defines cross-training as an exercise program that incorporates several different types of training to improve overall health and fitness.


Basically, it means that instead of always doing the same workout, it’s better for your body to mix it up.


For example, instead of running three times a week, try running one day, doing rowing exercise one day, and biking on the third day.

Here’s the best part:

Here’s the best part:

Cross training is the best way to break through fitness plateaus. It’s very tough for your body to adapt when you’re always doing something different.

Plus, it prevents the dreaded boredom and reduces your chance of injury.

Overall, shaking it up will make you stronger and healthier. And rowing is ideal for cross training.

chart that shows the benefits of cross training

Credits to Canva.com

That Dreaded Plateau

A fitness plateau happens when your body gets used to your workout.

Our bodies are amazing machines. They can do a lot of work.


But here’s the kicker:


One of the brilliant things about the human body that tends to drive people nuts is that no matter what you put it through, it will eventually adapt.

The all too familiar scenario:


You start a new workout program to lose weight. So you walk on the treadmill every day for 30 minutes.


For the first several weeks you see changes in your body and weight loss.

30
Minutes

But then:


After a couple of months, even though you never miss a workout, you stop seeing results. You’re still working just as hard, but your body is no longer dropping the pounds.


Son of a…

Congratulations, you’ve experienced a fitness plateau.

Breaking through

Plateaus can be very frustrating. But don’t despair because there’s an easy fix.

Plateaus can be very frustrating. But don’t despair because there’s an easy fix. You have to trick your body, and cross training is the best way to do that.

You know where this is going:

Hop on that rowing machine.

OR

You could work out longer and harder. Um, no.

My best advice is to change things up every five to six weeks.

Here’s another idea:

Do is high-intensity interval training (HIIT).

Training with intervals and varying intensity sort of tricks your body every time, and it’s next to impossible for your body to adapt to that kind of workout.

The name of the game is trickery.

I See You Eyeing up That Rowing Machine

Before you start your rowing exercise let’s go over a few things:

1

First, you need to adjust the foot straps

Be sure that the straps go across the balls of your feet.


This step may sound like a small thing, but it’s not.


If your feet are placed too high, then your legs will also be too high.


If that’s the case, then you won’t be able to take full strokes. If your feet and legs are in the wrong position, your strokes will be awkward and inefficient.

2

Next, you want to check the damper setting

The damper setting controls how much air goes in the flywheel.


If you set the damper to 10 for your rowing exercise, you will feel like you’re rowing a massive cruise ship.


On the other hand, if you set the damper to zero for your rowing exercise, you will feel like you’re rowing a sleek, light boat.


If you are a beginner, I recommend that you set the damper somewhere between three and six.

3

Finally, let’s talk about the monitor

A monitor is an essential tool in your rowing exercise workout.


A great thing about it is that it gives you instantaneous feedback on your strokes.

Warning:


The monitor can be intimidating because it gives you so much information, so just focus on these two:


The stroke rate will tell you your strokes per minute.


The watts measure your workout intensity.

Try this goal on for size:


Hit your body weight in watts consistently throughout your workout.

Rowing Exercise vs. Running: Ding Ding

As we’ve already established, rowing exercise is a killer workout. So how does it compare with running?

Rowing Exercise
Running: Ding Ding
  • The American Council on Exercise says that in 30 minutes of light to moderate rowing exercise a person who weighs 150 pounds will burn around 160 calories.
  • Well, when it comes to burning calories, they’re both excellent. 
  • For comparison, that same 150-pound person running at five miles per hour will burn around 180 calories in 30 minutes.
  • However, running burns more.
a trophy for the winning exercise and that is rowing

The winner is:

Rowing exercise.

Not only is rowing is a lot easier on your joints than running, but rowing is also a compound exercise.

And that’s not all:

Rowing gives you both cardio and strength training.

Running can’t do that.

Now I’m not saying that you should stop running if you are a runner. Instead, I am suggesting that you occasionally switch out one of your runs for rowing exercise.

The Benefits of Rowing Exercise


Beyond the incredible benefits that I have listed below, I love this workout because it is so versatile.

As we’ve discussed, I’m all about working smarter. I’m also a big believer in variety. It is the spice of life after all.

I’m not suggesting that you stop taking your favorite weekly aerobics class. There’s a lot to be said about doing what you love.

What I am suggesting is that you add rowing exercise to your other workouts. You don’t even have to dedicate a full workout to the rowing machine.

Try this instead:

Use it as a 10 minute warm-up before your normal routine.

I think you’ll find that it’s the very best way to wake up your entire body and get your heart pumping.

My other favorite way to incorporate rowing exercise is to use it for interval training, which we’ll get into down here.

  • Effective cardio workout
  • Excellent for weight loss
  • Upper body strengthening
  • Lower body strengthening
  • Killer workout for your core
  • Low impact
  • Increased endurance
  • Easy to do
  • Time efficient
  • Compound exercise
  • Combination exercise
  • It’s super fun!

Now Let’s Talk About Interval Training for a Minute

rowing exercise triangle shape image

High-intensity interval training has become a popular workout method for a reason. It’s great for fat and weight loss, heart health, and generally incorporates power moves that make you stronger — both physically and mentally (that is after you recover from all of that panting).

Not only is interval training the very best way that you can strengthen your heart, but it’s also the most efficient way to work your entire body.

What that means is:

You do short bursts of max effort exercise to get your heart rate up and then you do a recovery interval which brings your heart rate back down. The sets will typically vary by speed and effort.

Going back and forth between high intensity and low to moderate intensity makes your body work harder. It also burns more calories.

And here’s the best part:

It allows you to get a full body workout in a fraction of the time.

Stick around, I have a killer interval training workout for you at the end of this article

Check this out

Try doing a 10-minute warm-up on the rowing machine, then do 5 to 10 minutes on the treadmill, followed by 5 to 10 minutes on the elliptical machine, and then 5 to 10 minutes on the stationary bike. Finish it all up with one-minute sprints on the rower followed by one-minute rests for five minutes.

You wanted a killer workout. And oh baby is it ever!

The bennies

  • Extremely time efficient
  • Best way to train your heart
  • You get cardio and strength training in the same workout
  • Helps to break through fitness plateaus
  • Builds endurance
  • Burns more calories and fat
  • Great for any fitness level
  • Makes you stronger

4 Essential Exercises You Can Do to Get Stronger at Rowing


There are many different exercises that you can do to tone your body. Even if you’re only talking about workouts to make you stronger at rowing, there are tons of them.

I’m always looking for the best bang for your buck.

And here’s the amazing part:

You don’t have to go to the gym to do any of them. You don’t even have to use weights.

Am I the bearer of good news today, or what?

rowing exercise triangle shape image

The pushup is a great simple lift to build a muscular balance between the pulling muscles and the pushing muscles.

In a pulling sport like rowing, this is very important for keeping the shoulders healthy.

Push-ups

Tried and true. Remember?

Well, the push-up has been around forever. There’s an excellent reason why people are still doing them.

They work.

It’s true that they are tough and not the most fun thing in the world to do. But if you want to tone your entire upper body, there’s nothing better.

One reason to master them is:

They’re excellent for muscular balance. Rowing is fantastic for strengthening your back, and the push-ups give you balance by also working your chest.

When you do them concentrate on using correct form. If you are a beginner, start with just 10 to 12 push-ups. As you get stronger, you should work up to 3 sets of 12 to 15.

Seated Rows

The seated row works the same muscles in your upper body that rowing exercise works. Like the push-ups, seated rows work your arms, shoulders, and core.

But it also:

Strengthens your back muscles and improves your posture.

As we’ve discussed, it’s all about balance. If you work the front, you also work the back.

You can do your seated rows holding weights, or you can use resistance tubing at home.

Aim for three sets of 12 to 15 reps.

Squats

What push-ups are for your entire upper body, squats are for your lower body.

If you are looking to work every single muscle in your lower body, then there’s nothing better than squats.

Be sure that you focus on using the perfect form in your squats.


It’s better to do fewer with the proper form than to do a ton of them with sloppy technique.


Aim for three sets of 12 to 20 reps.

What push-ups are for your entire upper body, squats are for your lower body.

If you are looking to work every single muscle in your lower body, then there’s nothing better than squats.

Rowing exercise is an incredible workout for your legs and butt.


Squats will make your drive even stronger, which in turn, will make your rowing more efficient.

Be sure that you focus on using the perfect form in your squats.

It’s better to do fewer with the proper form than to do a ton of them with sloppy technique.

Aim for three sets of 12 to 20 reps.

Planks

Rowing exercise requires a very healthy core.

Here’s the best part of a strong core:

I suppose it’s sort of a fringe benefit, but if you have a strong core, you will also have a flat tummy and a healthy lower back. Bonus!

Hands down, the best exercise that you can do for your core is planks. A plank is not a difficult move.

But the great thing is:

They work.

You can do either high planks or low planks.

Low planks are done on your elbows, while high planks are done with your arms fully extended.

Here’s the truth:

They’re both equally valid. More or less, it’s a matter of personal preference.

However, if you have any problems with your wrists, you should opt for the low plank because it takes all of the pressure off of them.

Unlike the other three exercises that we do for reps, we do planks for time. Try to hold your plank for 30 seconds to a minute and do at least 3 of them.

Time for the Rowing Exercise Warm Up!

Okay, enough talking about it. Let’s get to it.

The first thing that we are going to do is a simple rowing exercise warm up.

What you don’t want to do is jump on the machine and start going full blast before your body is ready.

Use the correct form, but start with very easy rowing. You want to get your blood pumping and wake up the muscles in your upper and lower body before you begin using max effort.

10
Minutes warmed up

You should spend about 10 minutes on your rowing exercise warm up.

In my opinion, there’s no better way to get your heart and your entire body ready for exercise.

Let me put it to you this way:

You could either walk on the treadmill for 20 minutes and then stretch for another 20 minutes to get warmed up for your workout. Or you could row for 10 minutes and do the same thing.

 20 
Minutes warmed up

There’s no contest.

3 Killer Rowing Workouts

Now, are you ready for some real fun?


As promised:


These are three of my favorite rowing exercise workouts. All three of them will kick your butt. And your body will love you for it.

Interval training with sprints

This rowing exercise is a killer full-body workout that will get your heart pumping. It combines high-intensity bursts with resistance training and short rests.

The best part about it is:

You can get your whole cardio workout and your full-body strength training for the day done in about 35 minutes total.

Oh, and did I mention that this short little workout will burn around 500 calories and kick your body into a fat burning mode for the rest of the day?

35
Minutes of workout
500 calories

That’s right.

In your sprints, you should keep your stroke rate between 26 and 32.

Warm Up
Interval 1
  • 10 minutes easy rowing
  • 30 seconds max effort sprint
  • 30 seconds rest
  • Repeat five times
  • 2 minutes of standing or jumping squats
Interval 2
Interval 3
  • 30 seconds max effort sprint
  • 30 seconds rest
  • Repeat five times
  • 2 minutes of push-ups on the floor
  • 30 seconds max effort sprint
  • 30 seconds rest
  • Repeat five times
  • 2 minutes of planks on the floor

Pyramid power

The Pyramid rowing exercise is excellent for building stamina.

But here’s the temptation:

You might think that this rowing exercise is going to be easy because of the more extended rest periods.

But you would be so wrong.

Here’s the fact:

This workout burns about 600 calories. And you can do the whole thing in about 40 minutes.

40
Minutes of workout
600 calories

Throughout the rowing exercise, you should keep your stroke rate between 26 and 32. You should work at 75 percent of your max effort

Warm Up
The Pyramid Workout
  • 10 minutes easy rowing
  • 1-minute row
  • 1-minute rest

  • 2-minute row
  • 2-minute rest

  • 3-minute row
  • 3-minute row

  • 4-minute row
  • 4-minute row

  • 3-minute row
  • 3-minute row

  • 2-minute row
  • 2-minute row

  • 1-minute row
  • 1-minute row

Leapfrog

So you want something even more challenging?

Here’s the secret about Leapfrog:

It will kick your butt and burn even more calories than the other two.

This workout will make you feel like you’ve been lifting weights for an hour.

And that’s not all:

It will also make your heart healthy.

But here’s the best thing:

This entire workout only takes about 40 minutes. And it burns nearly 900 calories.

40
Minutes of workout
900 calories

Fo’ reals.

In your sprints, you should keep your stroke rate between 26 and 32.

Warm Up
Interval 1
Recovery
  • 10 minutes easy rowing
  • 1-minute sprint
  • 1-minute rest

  • 1-minute sprint
  • 1-minute rest

  • 1-minute sprint
  • 1-minute rest

  • 1-minute sprint
  • 1-minute rest

  • 1-minute sprint
  • 1-minute rest
  • 2-minute rest
  • Repeat the interval and the recovery three times

Row Row Row

Okay, now that you know all about the killer rowing exercise workout, get to it.

I could give you a million reasons why you should add rowing exercise to your routine.

The truth is:

You won’t fully get what a powerful workout it is until you try it out for yourself.

Give yourself a gift today. Instead of getting on that boring old treadmill again try one of the workouts above.

10
Minutes of easy rowing

Testing the waters:

Warm up on the rower. Only 10 minutes of easy rowing will wake up your whole body and get you ready for any workout that you choose to do.

So what do you think? Tell us in the comments section what you think about rowing exercise. Do you already have a rowing routine that you love? Share it with our readers below.

Happy rowing everyone!

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