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The Ultimate Rowing Machine Workout Guide

Demystifying the rowing machine

The Ultimate Rowing Machine Workout Guide

For the people who have a busy schedule or prefer functional full-body exercises over isolation lifts, the rowing machine is a godsend. If you don’t know what a rowing machine is, what it’s for, how to use it, how not to use it – don’t worry, we’ve got you covered.

If you’ve never used a rowing machine, you’ve been missing out on a lot. Although the ergometer (indoor rowing machine) is a great piece of equipment, it does not receive the love it deserves. Through this article, we want to push you to dust off the rower and get into action – and shape.

Benefits of Using a Rowing Machine


Ultimate Rowing Machine Workout

The rowing machine can be tucked away into a corner, when not being used which makes it a great piece of equipment to have at home. Some of the machines on the market are foldable and will take little-to-no space when not in use. This way, an ultimate rowing machine workout is just a pull away – literally.

Since most of the ergometers have variable resistance options, you can do it at any time of the day. You won’t need a warm-up exercise to get ready for the rowing machine instead you could use it as a warm-up exercise.

Burn Fat

Since the rowing machine is a piece of cardio equipment, if you use it right, it’ll help you melt your body fat like butter on a hot pan. Want proof? According to a study conducted by Harvard University, an average 185lb man can burn 377 calories by rowing for 30 minutes.

Want more proof? New research found that the metabolic requirements of a HIIT-focused rowing workout are similar to what fighters experience during MMA training. The same metabolic effect without the bruised face. What else can one ask for?

The rowing machine guarantees a full-body workout so you’ll never have to worry about spot reduction. Not to mention, regular rowing can improve your cardiovascular strength which will result in better endurance and stamina.

Functional Movement

rowing machine muscle building

The exercises which help with your routine body functioning are way better than the lifts that focus on improving vanity. The rowing machine is a great full-body workout tool that can help with building muscular strength and longevity.

There are many ways of using the rowing machine (different grips and rowing motions) that can target different muscles and add variety to the exercise. One thing is for sure, the rowing machine will leave you in a pool of sweat and out of breath by the time you’re done with it.

Researchers at Pennsylvania State University found that ergometers provided a much harder workout as compared to treadmills or spin bikes because rowing places huge demands on both the aerobic and anaerobic systems.

Build Muscle

You’ll be using your legs, arms, back, shoulders while rowing, and it’s needless to say, you’ll be putting on muscle mass. Since its a HIIT exercise, you’ll see your muscle definition and conditioning improve.

Although the rowing machine is a functional (multi-joint) exercise, the cable brings in the isolation aspect into the movement. If you’ve never used a rowing machine before, you’ll be surprised with the muscle pumps at the end of the exercise.

Many Problems One Solution

girl machine rowing

No matter what your goal might be – losing weight, building mass, gaining strength, better cardiovascular health or improving muscle conditioning, the rowing machine can help you achieve the objective. All you have to do is adjust the training program as per your goal.

Before you hop on the machine, it’s better to consult a professional and get your training program and goals in line. Knowing – after the fact – that you had been rowing in the wrong direction can crush your motivation to a level where it is unrepairable.

There’s a reason why elite athletes (boxers, CrossFitters, NFL players) incorporate the rowing machine in their training programs. Indoor rowing helps in building a stronger back and hamstrings while improving power from your glutes and arms.

Cons of The Rowing Machine

We hope we’ve given you ample reasons to follow the ultimate rowing machine workout guide. But before that, we want to acquaintance you with the single negative property of an ergometer.

Not For People With Poor Joint Health

elderly rowing ultimate rowing machine workout

There is no denying that rowing machine workouts can give you good results. But, there is a certain amount of caution you need to practice. Although we love the rowing machine and would recommend it to almost everyone, there is something you should consider before jumping on the machine.

Since the rowing machine has a pulley mechanism, the repetitive nature of the exercise can put stress on your joints if done for prolonged periods. You should consult your doctor or physician before using this machine if you have existing joint or back problems.

Have an injury but love rowing? There is light at the end of the tunnel as researchers at London Metropolitan University found that, as part of a wider rehabilitation process, rowing machines are considerably safer than cycling and other low-impact sports when it comes to treating knee injuries.

How To Master The Row

Indoor rowing can be one of the hardest and most demanding cardio exercises. Follow the tips below to make using the ergometer look like clockwork. Getting these things right will get you from noob to pro-level in no time, and make the results from the ultimate rowing machine workout that much better.

Step 1 – Getting in Position

rowing machine HIIT

After you take a seat on the slide, lean forward from your hips with your arms extended straight in front of you to grip the handle. Your knees should be bent and together – almost like a deep squat. Don’t make the mistake of slouching your back to reach for the handle.

Step 2 – The Drive

The drive or stroke should begin with your legs. Keep your back arched throughout the movement. As you extend your back, lean back slightly and pull the handle to your chest. Keep your knees slightly bent at the top of the movement while leaning back from the hips, and the handle should be just below the chest.

Step 3 – Recovery

Recovery is the mirror opposite of the drive. Focus on moving your hands and arms away first, followed by leaning forward at the hips and finally bending the knees. Simply, the action is legs-arms on the drive and arms-legs on the recovery.

Many people make the mistake of lifting the handle over their knees while on the way back. Not only does it break the flow of the movement but it also lengthens the handle’s route to the starting position. The handle should be past your knees before you start bending them.

Step 4 – Rhythm

ultimate rowing machine workout

Rowing should always be done with rhythm, timing, and focus. There should be no rest-pause while performing the movement. The drive is the explosive part and should be completed on a count of one, whereas the recovery should be completed in three seconds.

Target – You should aim at maintaining 25 strokes per minute to make the most of the exercise. Look straight ahead while rowing as turning your head down or to the sides can throw off your posture.

Common Mistakes While Rowing

Everything has a learning curve to it. Some people try to jump the gun and end up injuring or at least making a fool of themselves. You want to avoid this at all costs. Here are the most common rowing mistakes that you would want to avoid.

Prioritizing the Pull

over39health rowing machine

Most people make the mistake of starting the row by pulling the bar. Every stroke needs to start with a powerful leg drive. Your quads, hams, and glutes should be the first in action followed by your arms and back.

Bending The Back

Before you even start with the exercise, you should adjust the rowing machine according to your height and reach. Without the right adjustments, you’ll end up hunching over and ruining your form. The moment your back goes from being arched to hunched, you need to stop and readjust your form.

Using Momentum

Many rookie rowers try to outdo themselves while performing the movement. While rowing, you shouldn’t look like you’re trying to snap the cable off the machine. Your movement should mimic that of a pro rower in open water. Don’t be in a hurry to go up and down the slide.

Knee Banging

people rowing

It might take some time to get used to rowing with the right form. Many beginners bang their knees with the bar while going down the slide. You should push the arms away first, and then bend the knees once they are out of the way.

Max Resistance Level

Just like with other exercises, some people let their egos get the better of them while rowing. You should select a mid-range resistance level which allows you to maintain a good form and rhythm. If you’re going too slow or bending your back, it’s a sign that you should bring down the resistance a notch or two.

Best Rowing Machines

The Ultimate Rowing Machine Workout Program

Now that you know everything there is to know about indoor rowing, let’s get to business. In the program, we’ll focus on building endurance in the first week and then switch to functional strength in the following three weeks.

Week 1 – Brutal 2000

women rowing machine

You’ll be putting your new skills to test with the brutal 2000 week. You’ll need every ounce of effort and persistence to complete the training session. Your body will be annihilated at the end of the workout and you’ll realize it’s called the brutal 2000 for a reason.

0-500m – To avoid burning out within the first 500m, get the machine up to speed as fast as possible and then transition to a more sustainable pace. Use your full power in the first stroke, take a shorter second stroke, and then row with more length until you’re back to full pulls.

500-1500m – Your rowing pace shouldn’t be comfortable or exhausting. Find a sweet spot and stick with it. The 1,000m stretch will test your mental and physical strength. Expect your quads, arms, and grip to be on fire.

1500-2000m – With the last 500 meters to go, increase your rowing speed every 150m. With this system, you should be at a fast pace by the last 200m, so you’ll be able to sprint until the finish. Once you complete this workout, note the time and post it in the comments below.

Week 2

muscular rowing

The second week onwards, you’ll be performing different workouts every day to get stronger and faster on the rowing machine. Perform the routines as your main workouts or finishers – if you’re feeling adventurous.


  • Row 200 meters as fast as possible. Rest 1 minute. Do 6 rounds.
  • Make sure you don’t compromise on your technique and efficiency.


  • Row 200 meters. Get off the rower and perform 3 pushups, 6 situps, and 9 squats. Complete 8 rounds, aiming to finish the circuit as quickly as possible.
  • You should not rest between the exercises. Combining rowing with bodyweight exercises will develop strength, aerobic and anaerobic capacity.


  • Row for 10 minutes. Aim to increase your stroke rate by 2 every minute during the last 5 minutes.
  • Your goal should be to gradually increase the strokes rate with every minute. Your 500-meter split should also progress.

Week 3



  • Do 1 Tabata (a 4-minute HIIT exercise) of each move: row for distance, pushup, situp, squat, alternating lunge. Do 6 rounds. Rest 1 minute between each.
  • We’ll be upping the ante with every passing week, so you better pull up your sock and get ready for the mayhem.


  • Row for 30 seconds, and rest for 30 seconds. Row for 1 min; rest 1 minute. Do a 90-90 interval, then row for 2 minutes. Rest 5 minutes, then repeat.
  • Set the rower damper to the maximum and make every stroke as explosive as you can. Aim for more than 22 strokes a minute.


  • Row 250 meters, then rest 30 seconds. Do 6 rounds.
  • This workout might sound simple, but you’ll need the Sunday rest day after you’re done with it.

Week 4

group workout


  • Row 500 meters, and then rest for 4 minutes. Complete 4 rounds. Aim for 22 strokes a minute the first round, 24 in the second, 26 in the third, and 28 in the fourth.
  • Your endurance should be catching up by now. Row at a sustainable but hard pace.


  • Row for distance, alternating lunge, box jump, wall ball. Perform each exercise for 45 seconds while resting for 15 seconds between sets. Complete four circuits of this workout.
  • This is the workout where you go all out. Leave no stones unturned.


  • Row for two 10-minute rounds. Rest 5 minutes between circuits. During the final 5 minutes of each round, try to up your stroke rate by 2 per minute. Shoot for 22 strokes in the first minute; finish with 30 in the last.
  • Gradually increase your intensity by bumping up your stroke rate.

We hope you liked The Ultimate Rowing Machine Workout Guide, but before you go, you might want to check these out:

The Ultimate Beginner’s Guide to Calisthenics

How To Lose Belly Fat

Building Lean Muscles Over 40

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