Rowing Machine Workout

Rowing Machine Workout

For years, an exercise bike has been the machine of choice for those wanting to workout at home and avoid running along the pavement on those dark, cold winter mornings and evenings. I am a firm believer that the rowing machine offers the best ability to meet your fitness goals, whether that be weight loss, endurance or raw power. The rowing machine targets all major muscle groups – legs, back, core and arms.

Choose a Rowing Machine for All Round Exercise:

I promise you that adding a modern rowing machine to your indoor gym will be the best decision you ever make! With the improvements in design and operation of rowing machines, they are fast taking over from the bike for those who want a machine which will provide maximum all round full-body activity which keeps the heart elevated.

Two approaches to Rowing Fitness

There are two main approaches I would suggest for working out on a rowing machine – HIIT (High Intensity Interval Training) or LISS (Low Intensity Steady State). Too many people spend time in the middle of these two, and are not optimising their training for long term results.

HIIT allows you to really push your cardio system, giving benefits of longer periods of fat burning post exercise and works to build muscle strength as well as offer a great way to fight that fat!

LISS is a much less intense method of training over a longer period and at a lower intensity, targeting huge levels of fat burn. During LISS you might not feel like you are training hard enough and may feel the urge to push harder but resist and the low intensity means recovery comes quicker and you can do this many times a week. This is a staple in any rowing regime, meaning we are able to train multiple times per day.

High Intensity Interval Training – Pyramid Power

Set your Concept 2 display to ‘time per 500 meters’ and warm up for ten minutes. Have one or two 30 second bursts of speed in this warm up. Then get off the machine and stretch. Now, get yourself prepared for the next 10-15 minutes, this is all the time you need – and it will take many sessions of this before you can go slightly longer. The key is working to your hardest from the start. Set the rowing machine up for intervals and try this: 20 seconds ON, 40 seconds LIGHT.

  • Warm up (10 minutes)
  • Stretch & Prepare
  • Intervals – 20 seconds ON, 40 seconds LIGHT (for min 10 rounds)
  • Warm down (10-15 minutes)


ON: For each 20 seconds of hard rowing, try to keep your stroke rate above 30 spm

LIGHT: Try to keep this to about 18-20 spm

Try to do a minimum of 10 rounds of this, ideally 14-16, before warming down for 5-10 minutes. For best results, try to do HIIT 2-3 times a week, equally separated throughout the week to allow for recovery.

Row Away those Unwanted Pounds:

While many use a rowing machine to improve overall fitness, it is also an excellent tool for those who wish to reduce the spread of middle-age, or even young middle-age. Improving your diet, which may just mean cutting down the size of it, will help. There is no magic formula, but by shedding just one or two pounds a week will make you more likely to be able to keep those extra pounds off. One or two pounds, doesn’t sound a lot does it? But over a year that adds up to an impressive weight loss of from 50 to over 100 lbs.

Low Intensity Steady State

For kicking up your exercise regime from general fitness to fat burning, the Steady State is a great rowing machine workout. To really maximise this form of training, you should be using a Heart Rate Monitor – this is my watch of choice. I am a big proponent of breaking long sessions down to allow you to stretch and take water breaks, this will have no detriment to your fitness gains but will allow you to overall workout for longer. Below is a training session I regularly do (3-4 mornings a week) and you can adjust timings to your own fitness levels.

  • Warm up (5 minutes)
  • Stretch & Prepare
  • Intervals (20 minutes ON, 2 minute BREAK) x three
  • Warm down (5 minutes)


ON: Try to keep your stroke rate at 18 strokes a minute, really emphasising the power of the stroke and aiming to make your recovery to the start of the stroke take longer than the stroke itself. Think of a 1:2 rhythm. Throughout this session, keep your heart rate at about 60% of your Max (general rule of thumb is 220 minus your age is your Max).

The beauty of LISS is that by ensuring you keep to the stated intensity, recovery is quick and you can do this very frequently. If you haven’t spent much time on the rowing machine you might want to build up by doing more intervals of shorter periods, but keep the HR the same for all. Do this 3-4 times a week and you will see very quick results!

Safety First:

If you’ve never been involved in rowing machine workouts, have your first couple of sessions at your local gym. Trained instructors are there to help ensure you set-up the machine correctly, will show you how the slider works, how to position yourself, and how the four main positions of catch, drive, finish, and recovery are approached.

Once you’ve mastered the rowing machine you’re set for your daily exercise at home. But don’t forget, visiting the gym on a regular basis can provide some great light hearted competition, competing against other rowers – with your feet firmly on dry land.

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