Crank Up Your Cardio: The Best Rowing Machine Workouts.

The rowing machine is one of the least used equipment at the gym. You will often find everyone going for treadmills while this machine collects dust at the corner of your gym. Perhaps this is because rowing seems pretty complex so people go for the treadmill which they are accustomed to. I’m not saying that treadmill cardio is not efficient. It is. But a rowing machine is able to deliver a much intense workout which involves your upper and lower body without the risk of injuring your knees, hips, and ankles. This makes it ideal for use by people of all ages and training levels. What’s even better is that a rowing machine is not just for cardio. It strengthens your muscles too.

Rowing Machine Workout

If you are guilty of ignoring this superb equipment every time you work out, I say it’s time to switch up your workout routine. I will be showing you how to use a rowing machine and most importantly how to maintain good form. To top it off, I have the most effective workout routines that will definitely burn more calories than your ordinary treadmill workouts and keep your muscles strong and healthy. You know what they say, train hard and go home. Here’s how.


I always see people hop on gym equipment without setting up first. The rowing machine included. We are all different in terms of physique and training level. We therefore definitely require different settings before working out. Here’s how you set up your rowing machine.

1. Always adjust your foot strap.

If your feet are positioned wrong, you will end up doing incomplete rows or not engaging your legs enough. Experts advise on ensuring the straps are on the balls of your feet as you row. This way your feet are neither too high nor low hence you do complete rows.

2. Consider your damper settings.

The damper setting is often confused with setting the intensity level of your workout. This is not correct. The intensity of your workout is usually determined by how hard you pull using your arms and legs. The damper merely makes the rowing action a little bit easier or harder depending on your settings.

I cannot tell you what damper setting to use since it usually depends on what your body needs and can handle. However, the rule of thumb when adjusting the damper is to use a higher setting (7 and above) for short workouts and strength training and a lower setting for aerobic training.

Beginners are better off starting with a setting between 3 and 5. The best way to find the right damper setting is by experimentation. Watch your monitor as you row. Are the readings what you expect from your workout? If yes, then maintain this setting.

3. Be one with your monitor.

The monitor will tell you how fast or slow you are rowing among other things. This helps you understand the type of exercise you are doing (cardio or strength training) and brings you closer to your goal. So, always keep an eye on your monitor as you work out to enable you to adjust your intensity, speed, and workout among other things.


For any workout, the correct form is everything. When it comes to the rowing machine, you want to keep your back straight and arms extended at all times. I will divide the rowing action into two segments, the leg isolations and the arm isolations. Pay attention.

1. Leg isolations.

Start with your knees bent, arms extended and touching the oar and of course, remember to maintain a straight back. This position is known as the catch. While in catch position, your weight should be on the balls of your feet.

Now push yourself back using your legs with your arms extended but not pulling on the oar just yet. When you reach the rear end of the machine, your legs should be fully extended and this is when you pull the oar.

2. Arm isolations.

Having mastered your leg isolations, it’s now time to learn what to do with your arms while maintaining great form.

The arm movement is quite simple. After you extend your legs, pull the oars toward your body and position it at your chest. Most people either go as high as the neck when pulling the oar or as low as the belly button. This puts unnecessary strains on your upper body.

Remember to bend your elbows outwards (but not too high, keep them at chest level) when the oar touches your chest.
By combining these two sets of motions, you will be able to perform a complete row using the right form. To get a visual of what I’m talking about, check these guys out, they show you how to do it right.


Now that everything is set, it’s time to go to town. Start with a little warm up to ensure you have the routine right and to wake up your muscles. I will be showing you three of the best workout routines to strengthen your muscles and while burning calories.



For the sake of those who are new to the gym world, High-intensity Interval Training or HIIT is a series of workouts with short recovery or rest periods. This means your workout to rest ratio is high. The beauty of High-Intensity Training is that it allows you to work your body to its limit and you will keep on burning calories even after your workout is over.

When using a rowing machine, you can easily incorporate HIIT into your workouts, this helps burn more calories and comes in handy when time is not on your side. Perform 30 second sprints at maximum effort (pulling with your maximum strength) and rest for 30 seconds. Repeat for five rounds in each interval. Remember to incorporate other workouts (such as squats, pushups and bench presses) between intervals.

Also, keep your stroke rate between 20 and 35 in order to burn approximately 300 calories. This will also be great on your muscle development. Although you will experience some serious soreness afterward, it will be worth it.


First interval.
Row for 30 seconds at maximum effort.
Rest 30 seconds.
Repeat 5 times.
Perform 2 minutes of an alternative workout e.g. squats.
¬ Do 2 to 3 intervals depending on your level of training.



This is another technique used by trainers to obtain the most out of your workout. It involves starting with a high number of reps and working your way down to a single rep. the aim of this kind of workout is to thoroughly work your muscles. It also helps build muscle endurance.

Keep the same intensity and pace throughout this workout. Your stroke rate should be between 26 to 35. As easy as this may seem, when incorporated into your rowing routine, pyramid training burn approximately 430 calories.

To perform this workout, start with a one minute row and rest for a minute. Proceed to two minutes and up to a maximum of four minute rows with the same resting period as the rowing period. When you get to four minutes, start counting down back to one row with one minute rest period.


1 minute row.
1 minute rest.
2 minute row.
2 minute rest.
3 minute row.
3munute rest.
2 minute row.
2 minute rest.
1 minute row.
1 minute rest.



This is the equivalent of strength training and weight lifting. By performing this rowing workout, you teach your body endurance and strengthen your muscles.

Aim at increasing your rowing distance with each set while maintaining a stroke rate of 26 to 32. If you have a hard time increasing your rowing distance with each set, try maintaining it.

This is achieved by performing workouts for a constant time (1 minute) and resting for a constant equivalent time (1 minute). What changes is the meters you row. You will burn about 600 calories with this workout.


1 minute row.
Repeat for 2-3 rounds.
Rest for 2 minutes in between rounds.
Beat or maintain your previously achieved distance.

NOTE: Remember to incorporate about 5 minutes of warm ups before engaging in any of the following workouts.


Clearly, a rowing machine when used correctly is bound to burn more calories than most equipment. So, if you have been avoiding this machine, I think it’s time you considered it. The most important thing is that you set up right to ensure you are doing complete rows. Also, make sure you maintain correct form to avoid injuries and get the most out of your workout.

By using the routines I have given you, you will be able to burn lots of calories. Just stay determined, optimistic and with a little patience. If you plan on buying your own rowing machine, go for one with programs that help you train better. I think my work here is done. Stay fit ladies and gentlemen and have wonderful time rowing.

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