Cardio should be part of everybody’s workout. It doesn’t matter if you are a bodybuilder, powerlifter, or just lift weights to avoid the dreaded dad-bod; you still need to do cardio.
Because cardio works your heart and lungs, and, after your brain, they are arguably the most important organs in your body!
Lifting weights is good for many aspects of your health, but its impact on your cardiovascular system is quite limited. And while building big biceps and massive pecs are worthy training goals, it’s your heart and lungs that work 24/4 to keep your tissues and organs supplied with life-giving oxygen. Better cardiovascular fitness is intrinsically linked to improved cardiovascular health.
Cardio can also help you lose weight, get ripped, or just avoid unwanted weight gain.
There are lots of different cardio options to choose from, including walking and running, cycling, swimming, and using an elliptical. However, the rowing machine is one of the best choices for lifters.
In this article, we reveal the benefits of rowing for fitness and fat loss and provide you with 14 great workouts to try.
The Advantages and Benefits of Rowing
All types of cardio can be beneficial, but rowing is especially advantageous for bodybuilders, powerlifters, and weightlifters. Reasons to make rowing your cardio workout of choice include:
People who lift weights are often more muscular and heavier than those who do not. Running is a popular form of cardio, but it also puts a lot of stress on your joints. When you run, your feet hit the floor with force equal to eight times your body weight.
That’s a lot of force if you weigh 120lbs, and most strength trainers are considerably heavier than that!
Rowing is a low-impact activity which means there is much less joint stress to contend with. As such, it’s ideal for heavier exercisers and is much less likely to cause impact-related foot, ankle, knee, or hip problems.
Develop all aspects of your fitness
You can do long, slow rowing workouts to develop your aerobic fitness or short, fast workouts to focus more on your anaerobic fitness. While this benefit is not unique to rowing and can be said about most cardio machines, rowing is especially good for high-intensity anaerobic training.
High energy expenditure
Burning as many as 80 calories per minute, training on a rowing machine will help you lose weight and get lean in double-quick time. Also, because many rowing workouts are high intensity, they’re more likely to trigger EPOC, short for excess post-exercise oxygen consumption.
A full-body workout
One of the reasons that rowing is such a high-calorie workout is that it involves almost every muscle in your body. While rowing will never replace lifting weights for building strength or muscle mass, a high-intensity rowing workout will engage and preserve existing muscle mass better than other types of cardio. It could also help you tone up your major muscles.
Easy to use
Once you’ve mastered the basic techniques of rowing, i.e., drive off with your legs and then pull with your arms, rowing is very natural and easy to master. Rowing machines take mere seconds to set up, making them ideal for workouts that involve additional types of training.
The 14 Best Rowing Machine Workouts
While you could just jump on a rower and start pulling, you’ll get better results if you follow a more structured plan. Here are 14 of the best rowing workouts, all tried and tested just for you!
Remember to spend a few minutes warming up before any of these workouts. 3-5 minutes of easy rowing followed by some dynamic stretches and joint mobility exercises will suffice.
1. Rowing Cindy
Cindy is a popular bodyweight CrossFit workout. It works every major muscle in your body. This variation also includes 200 meters of rowing to increase your calorie expenditure and add a welcome cardiovascular effect.
Do as many laps of the following as you can in 20 minutes. Or, if you are VERY fit, continue for 30 minutes.
2. Tabata rowing
Tabatas are a very short, sharp type of high-intensity interval training (HIIT). In fact, Tabatas typically only last four minutes. Don’t let this brevity fool you; a Tabata workout might only take four minutes, but it could be the most challenging four minutes of your life!
This workout is ideal for anyone who needs to burn fat and get fit but doesn’t have time for a longer workout. Tabatas are also great finishers that you can do at the end of your regular strength training workout to speed up fat loss.
- 20 seconds flat out
- 10 seconds rest
- Repeat eight times
Related: Simple guide to Tabata
3. Reverse Tabata rowing
As the name suggests, this workout takes the standard 20 seconds work/10 seconds recovery Tabata workout and flips it on its head. It still takes four minutes, but the emphasis is on generating maximum power rather than fitness. This is as close to strength training on a rowing machine as you can get.
- 10 seconds flat out
- 20 seconds rest
- Repeat eight times
4. Rowing calorie ladder
This workout is self-regulating; you just keep going until you cannot continue. As you get fitter, you’ll find that you can keep going for longer, which can be very motivating and provides a handy way to measure your progress.
At the top of each minute, row as fast as you can to burn the prescribed number of calories. Rest for however long you have left and then move up to the next ladder rung. This is a form of EMOM training, which is short for Every Minute, On the Minute.
- Minute 1: 2 calories
- Minute 2: 4 calories
- Minute 3: 6 calories
- Minute 4: 8 calories, etc.
Continue increasing by two calories per minute until you can no longer continue.
5. Candy bar calorie burner
Junk food is depressingly high in calories. Despite being small and not very filling, even one candy bar can stop you from losing fat. This fun workout is designed to illustrate just how much exercise you need to do to burn off something like a single standard-sized Snickers Bar.
Hop on your rowing machine and burn 250 calories (the number of calories in an average candy bar) as fast as you can.
Knowing how much exercise is needed to work off the calories in a candy bar may be enough to stop you from cheating on your diet!
6. Calorie countdown rowing pyramid
This workout gets easier as you work your way through it, which should mean you can keep pushing the pace from start to finish.
While you could take it easy and row at a slow or moderate pace, this workout is much more effective if you really go for it, so adjust your speed to reflect your current fitness level.
- 50 – 40 – 30 – 20 – 10 – 5 calories
- 1:1 work to rest intervals
So, if it takes you 75 seconds to burn 50 calories, you get 75 seconds of rest before moving on to 40 calories.
7. 2000-meter rowing time-trial
Indoor rowing is more than just a workout. It’s also a popular sport. There are online and in-person rowing competitions, including a world championship. 2000-meters is one of the most popular indoor rowing events. It’s far enough to be challenging, but not so long that you can’t push yourself to do it relatively quickly.
So, for this workout, set your rower for 2,000-meters and row that distance as fast as you can. Make a note of your time and try to beat it when you repeat the workout.
8. Ten-minute rowing calorie accumulator
Short on time? Or just need a brutal but brief finisher after strength training? Try this quick but challenging workout. It’s over and done in ten minutes flat, but you’ll probably wish it was shorter! It’s basically five one-minute maximum effort intervals interspersed with one-minute rest periods.
- Minute 1: Max calories
- Minute 2: Rest
- Minute 3: Max calories
- Minute 4: Rest
- Minute 5: Max calories
- Minute 6: Rest
- Minute 7: Max calories
- Minute 8: Rest
- Minute 9: Max calories
- Minute 10: Rest
Add up the total number of calories from each work interval and try to beat that number next time.
9. Nine-minute rowing finisher
This is another every-minute-on-the-minute (EMOM) workout. It starts off relatively easy, builds up to an intense peak, and then eases off toward the end.
At only nine minutes long, it’s a great way to finish a strength training workout, which is where its name comes from. Just set the rower timer for 60-second repeats and get to work!
- Minute 1: 10-second sprint, 50-sec rest
- Minute 2: 20-second sprint, 40-sec rest
- Minute 3: 30-second sprint, 30-sec rest
- Minute 4: 40-second sprint, 20-sec rest
- Minute 5: 50-second sprint, 10-sec rest
- Minute 6: 40-second sprint, 20-sec rest
- Minute 7: 30-second sprint, 30-sec rest
- Minute 8: 20-second sprint, 40-sec rest
- Minute 9: 10-second sprint, 50-sec rest
10. Viking rowing challenge
Viking warriors were renowned rowers. This workout, aptly called the Viking Rowing Challenge, will test your willpower as it builds your fitness and endurance. It’s not a long workout and makes an ideal finisher after strength training.
Do the following intervals:
- 750 meters
- 500 meters
- 250 meters
- 125 meters
Row each interval as fast as you can and then rest for the same duration before doing the next one. So, if it takes you 2 minutes 45 seconds to row 750 meters, that’s how long you get to rest before you row 500 meters. As the sprints get shorter, so too do your rest periods.
11. 5000-meter rowing time-trial
Many of our rowing workouts are designed to challenge and develop your anaerobic fitness. However, you don’t have to do sprints to get fit or burn fat. Sometimes, it’s nice to do a slower-paced cardio workout for a change.
Like 2,000-meters (workout #7), this workout is a race against the clock over a standard indoor competitive rowing distance. But, because it’s further, you won’t be able to go as fast.
So, just start off relatively slow, build up your speed toward the middle of the workout, and then consider including a sprint near the end. Either way, this workout should take 20-30 minutes to complete.
12. Broken 5,000-meter row
If you like the idea of rowing 5,000 meters but don’t want to do it in one continuous effort, this is the workout for you. It simply breaks the 5k distance down into several smaller, more manageable chunks.
As the distances get shorter, pick up the pace for each one so that the last interval is a sprint.
- Row 2,000 meters
- Rest 2 minutes
- Row 1,500 meters
- Rest 90 seconds
- Row 1000 meters
- Rest 60 seconds
- Row 500 meters
13. Rowing and push-ups
Rowing works almost every muscle in your body, with the main exceptions being your chest and triceps. That’s easily remedied by adding some push-ups to your rowing workout. While you could just do a couple of sets of push-ups after you’ve finished rowing, this workout is a little more structured.
- Row 60 seconds
- AMRAP* push-ups 60 seconds
- Repeat 10-times to total 20 minutes
*AMRAP = As Many Reps as Possible: Just rep out to failure
14. 500-meter rowing time-trial
Rowing 500 meters as fast as you can is less of a workout and more of a test of power and endurance. Athletes from all sports are having a lot of fun trying to out-row one another over this short distance – including several famous strongman competitors.
So, challenge your friends and fellow gym-goers to a 500-meter row-off. Who knows, you might even beat Rob Kearny, who FAILED to complete the prescribed distance!
Rowing Workouts – Wrapping Up
While you could just hop on a rower and start exercising, you’ll probably get better results if you follow a more prescriptive approach to your workouts. Doing the same workout several times provides a convenient way to measure your progress, and switching workouts periodically will help ward off boredom.
There are several effective cardio options to choose from. But, if you are a bodybuilder, powerlifter, or otherwise lift weights for strength or fitness, rowing could be an even better choice. It’s low impact, burns a lot of calories, easy on your joints, and works all your major muscles at once.
So, whether you want to get fit, lose weight, or tone all of your major muscles, these workouts will help!