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The essential rowing machine workouts guide: Tips, workout plan, and more

How to build muscle and burn fat with a rowing machine

Concept 2 erg rowing machine.
Victor Freitas / Unsplash

Sometimes, exercise routines can become repetitive and dull. Therefore, it is important to keep things interesting by varying the activities included in a regular fitness program. By doing so, individuals are highly likely to stick to a fitness schedule and get the results they want from their exercise plan.  

If you want to add a new element to your fitness program, rowing machine workouts might be for you. Rowing machines, also known as ergometers, provide a full-body workout that helps burn calories, improve cardiovascular health, and build muscle.

Other health benefits of rowing include stamina building, and if used correctly, they offer a safe alternative to weight-bearing exercises. 

So, who are rowing machines best for you, and how often should you include them in your fitness routine?

What are the benefits of using a rowing machine?

Rowing machine.
Kyle Kranz / Unsplash

Full body workout

Rowing and rowing machines offer a unique form of exercise that engages the entire body. Regular rowing strengthens back muscles, the arms, shoulders, and even the core. 

Rowing is a proven fat-burning exercise. Regular rowing has the potential to significantly decrease total body fat and even help lower cholesterol. Not only does it work most muscle groups, but rowing also benefits the body internally.

Low impact exercise

Rowing is a great alternative to weight training. Although it gives the entire body a thorough workout, it is still considered a low-impact exercise ideal for those with joint issues and muscle problems. 

Therefore, it can also be a great activity for those recovering from injuries and needing rehabilitation. Even gentle rowing works many muscle groups, joints, and ligaments, and it can also help increase flexibility and build resistance to various injuries.

Cardiovascular workout

Jogging and running are not the only exercises that are effective at improving cardiovascular health. Rowing is also an exercise that increases cardiorespiratory fitness. It is best to start with light to moderate-intensity rowing, and you can increase the stakes slowly once your cardio fitness improves.

Rowing is an excellent aerobic exercise because it engages and strengthens the heart and lungs. This increase in heart rate and breathing improves circulation and increases oxygen levels in the body.

Who are rowing machine workouts best for?

Two people on rowing machines.
Ground Picture / Shutterstock

Rowing machine workouts are suitable for various individuals of all fitness levels. The major difference is the intensity and time spent on a rowing machine. Whether you are a beginner looking to kickstart your fitness journey or an experienced athlete seeking to cross-train, rowing machines offer a versatile workout that can be tailored to personal fitness goals.

It is important to get well acquainted with the machinery first through an expert or an instructor. This can help with correct posture and injury avoidance. It is vital to start lightly and avoid lengthy workouts at first. By doing so, muscle pulls and muscle soreness can be avoided.

How often should you use a rowing machine to get results?

Closeup of handsome african american sportsman training body on modern rowing exerciser in gym, copy space. Motivated young black sportsman with wireless headset having workout on rowing machine
Prostock-studio / Shutterstock

Consistency is the key to optimal results from rowing machine workouts. However, it’s important to begin slowly and row gently for 10 minutes three times a week. As physical fitness improves, you can then aim to row for at least 20 to 30 minutes three to five times per week. 

Because rowing works the entire body, it can be used as a standalone exercise or incorporated into a fitness regime. Remember the vital rest days to allow muscle and joint recovery. Rest days can also help prevent injuries from overworked muscles.

Example rowing machine workout plan

Man on a rowing machine.
Tima Miroshnichenko / Pexels

Day 1

Before confronting a rowing machine, you should always warm up and never go straight into a rowing workout, whether you are a beginner or a professional rower. Warm-up routines should concentrate on the muscles and joints involved in rowing. So think ankles, knees, hips, and shoulders.

Warm up by placing your body in a downward dog yoga pose, which involves going down on all fours and keeping both your spine and legs straight. When in this position, continuously peddle into the calf. This stretches the ankle joints, calf muscles, and the knees. 

A minute or two should suffice, and this can be followed by a minute of shoulder rolls, which involve standing straight with arms stretched by your sides and rolling the arms forward and backward.

Once on the rowing machine, row for five minutes, completing a minimum of 20 strokes, and then rest for two minutes before repeating for up to four sets. 

For a cool-down exercise, you can lie flat on your back, bring your knees together, raise them to your chest, and hold the position for 30 seconds. You can swing your hips to the left and right for more intricate stretching. Combine this movement with your other favorite stretches for an adequate cool-down

Day 2

Warm up with a five-minute treadmill jog and a set of toe-touching stretches; these will activate the muscles of the lower back.

Once on the rower, a more intense workout can be performed on day 2. It consists of 20 strokes performed in 3-minute intervals, with only one minute of rest in between. Four sets of these should be enough for an all-body workout.

For a cool down, you can perform a downward dog, as well as the knee-to-chest stretches.

Day 3

For a day 3 warm-up, perform 10 walking lunges. From a standing position, step one leg forward and keep the heel of the forward leg down. Lower your body until your back knee touches the floor. Complete a hip and knee extension before starting the next lunge with the opposite leg. You can also add a few minutes of shoulder rolls to this.

Rowing-wise, for day 3, a 10-minute session of continuous rowing at a power and stroke rate of your choice should be a great way of completing a rowing workout. This can be repeated after a 5-minute rest interval.

To cool down, you can perform some simple ear-to-shoulder and chin-to-chest stretches, along with a few standing side stretches.

Are there any risks with using rowing machines?

Man using a rowing machine.
Andres Ayrton / Pexels

While rowing machines offer a safe and effective exercise for most individuals, there are some risks to be aware of. Improper technique or overtraining can lead to injuries, such as lower back strain or muscle tears and pulls. 

To minimize the risk of injury, maintain proper posture, gradually increase the intensity of your workouts, and listen to your body when it is telling you that it needs a break to recuperate.

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Christine VanDoren
Christine is a certified personal trainer and nutritionist with an undergraduate degree from Missouri State University. Her…
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