June 19, 2024

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The Best Rowing Machine Workouts For All Levels, According To Trainers

Fun fact: When working out on a rowing machine, you engage up to 86 percent of your muscles at once. Basically, it works your whole body, and really well—which is probably why the number of people using rowing machines in gyms, at home, and during workout classes has risen by nearly 20 percent since 2014. If you’re contemplating hopping on board yourself, you’re far from alone.

Rowing machines are especially great for anyone who wants a low-impact workout that still raises their heart rate, says Emma Lavelle, CPT, an Orangetheory coach in Manhattan Midtown West. It puts way less stress on your joints than running, too, making it more accessible for those who might have chronic pain or injury.

Meet the experts: Emma Lavelle, CPT, is an Orangetheory coach in New York City. Hollis Tuttle, CPT, is a Lululemon studio trainer. Mac Evans, CPT, is a trainer at Hydrow and former D1 collegiate rower.

 

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Rowing is also a great cross training workout to complement other athletic goals, such as completing a triathlon, strength training, running races, and more. That’s because rowing engages your legs, core, back, arms, and shoulders without being high impact, Lavelle says.

TL;DR: The rowing movement will help you improve your strength, power, endurance, and overall muscle quality, Lavelle explains, so it’s time you gave it a shot! (Psst, Khloe Kardashian is a fan of at-home rowing.)

The following is what you need to know about the benefits of rowing, how to use correct form, plus 10 trainer-approved rowing workouts to optimize your sweat at any level.

Benefits Of Rowing Workouts

  1. Activate major muscles simultaneously. “Unlike riding a bike, rowing activates nine muscle groups and utilizes 85 percent of the body’s musculature, which is why it is such an efficient workout,” says Hollis Tuttle, CPT, a Lululemon studio trainer.
  2. Maximize your workouts. This low-impact exercise gives you a full-body workout that improves your cardiovascular endurance and builds your strength and power of movement. It’s also an efficient workout—it doesn’t take much to get your heart rate pumping and go into an all-out effort, according to Lavelle.
  3. Improve your overall daily life. Rowing workouts help develop your posture and core strength, plus they will maintain your joint health by not increasing strain during the exercise. Weight bearing exercises also combat bone density as you age, studies have found.
  4. Cross train effectively. The cardiovascular benefits of rowing are comparable to that of running and cycling, plus it engages the upper body and core with an intensity you wouldn’t find in those workouts.

Rowing Machine Form Tips

Form is super important for rowing, and the technique can be a bit confusing when just starting out. “Since energy is transferred from one component to the next, it is important to follow a specific sequence to maximize both stroke power and efficiency,” Tuttle says.

Here are the key cues to stay afloat through the workouts, according to Tuttle.

  • The catch: Start with a proper set-up at the front of the machine. Shins should be vertical, lats engaged, shoulders relaxed, and core braced. Torso should be leaning forward at a 1 o’clock position with shoulders in front of hips and arms extended holding the handle. From this position, you can create a powerful push off of the machine.
  • The drive: Maintaining a forward torso tilt, start by applying force into the machine through your feet to extend your legs. Continue to push through and extend your legs and start to hinge your torso backwards. This should be a fluid continuous movement.
  • The finish: Once your legs are fully extended and your torso is at an 11 o’clock position, begin using your arms to pull the handle to the base of your sternum. Be sure to keep your core muscles activated and tight, like in a hollow body hold.
  • The recovery: Reverse the motion by extending your arms away from your torso, then hinge forward toward 1 o’clock, and finally bend your legs back to catch. Be sure that the handle passes over your knees before bending them. The recovery phase should be half the speed used in the drive, which will allow your muscles to recover and prepare for another strong push.

10 Best Rowing Workouts For Every Level

Feel like you’re ready to give rowing a shot for yourself? It’s time for you to try out these 10 best rowing workouts designed by Mac Evans, CPT, a trainer at Hydrow, an at-home rowing machine with a growing online library of workouts.

These options range anywhere from 10 to 30 minutes with HIIT-style bursts to steady power builds. You’ll have fun and break a sweat. (FYI: s/m means strokes per minute, a metric the rower or smartwatch will show.)

10-Minute Efficient HIIT Workout

This workout is all about several rounds of intervals that alternate between short periods of high intensity exercise with brief recovery intervals. And yep, it’s a great way to get more out of your workouts in a shorter span of time.

  • 2 minute warm-up: 22 s/m with 10-second bursts at 26 s/m every 30-seconds
  • 1 minute interval: 26 s/m at sprint pace
  • 1 minute recovery: 22 s/m at jog pace
  • 1 minute interval: 26 s/m at sprint pace
  • 1 minute recovery: 22 s/m at jog pace
  • 30 second interval: 28 s/m at max pace
  • 30 second recovery: 22 s/m at walk pace
  • 30 second interval: 30 s/m at max pace
  • 30 second cooldown: 22 s/m at walk pace

30-Minute Steady-State Row

This workout is a great way to build endurance for just about any sport. With it, you’ll maintain a steady pace where your heart rate is around 60 to 70 percent of your max heart rate for the entirety of the workout.

  • 5 minute warm-up: 15 s/m walking pace
  • 30 minutes: 22 s/m at jog pace
  • 5 minute cooldown: 15 s/m walking pace

20-Minute Beginner Climb

For this workout, you’ll start at a comfortable pace and gradually increase your speed and tempo, challenging your strength and stamina throughout.

  • 2 minute warm-up: 20 s/m at walk pace
  • 3 minute interval: 22 s/m at jog pace
  • 2 minute interval: 24 s/m at jog pace
  • 1 minute interval: 26 s/m at run pace
  • Repeat the above three intervals twice more for three total rounds.
  • 2 minute cooldown: 20 s/m at walk pace

20-Minute Steady Power Row

This workout features a steady row that works with finding lower rhythms, while emphasizing focus, sustained effort, and power from the legs.

  • 2 minute warm-up: 20 s/m at walk pace
  • 3 minute interval: 22 s/m at jog pace
  • 1 minute interval: 24 s/m at jog pace
  • Repeat the two intervals above four more times to complete five total rounds.
  • 2 minute cooldown: 20 s/m at walk pace

20-Minute Technique-Focused Row

You’ll learn how to utilize the most powerful parts of the body: the legs and hips. Build up solid movement patterns using the rowing machine, all while strengthening your whole body.

  • 2 minute warm-up: 20 s/m at walk pace
  • 30 second drill: legs only rowing at 28 s/m
  • 2 minute interval: 24 s/m at run pace
  • 30 second interval: 28 s/m at sprint pace
  • 1 minute recovery: 20 s/m at walk pace
  • Repeat the interval circuit above three more times to complete four total rounds.
  • 2 minute cooldown: 20 s/m at walk pace

20-Minute Descending Endurance Climb

Work into progressively shorter intervals that build rhythm and push you to find higher intensity while you’re on the rowing machine.

  • 2 minute warm up: 24 s/m at jog pace
  • 2 minute interval: 24 s/m at run pace
  • 2 minute interval: 26 s/m at run pace
  • 1 minute interval: 28 s/m at run pace
  • 2 minute recovery: 22 s/m at jog pace
  • 2 minute interval: 24 s/m at run pace
  • 1 minute interval: 26 s/m at run pace
  • 1 minute interval: 28 s/m at sprint pace
  • 1 minute recovery: 22 s/m at jog pace
  • 1 minute interval: 24 s/m at run pace
  • 1 minute interval: 26 s/m at run pace
  • 1 minute interval: 28 s/m at sprint pace
  • 1 minute recovery: 22 s/m at jog pace
  • 1 minute interval: 24 s/m at run pace
  • 30 second interval: 26 s/m at sprint pace
  • 30 second interval: 28 s/m at sprint pace
  • 2 minute cool down:20 s/m at walk pace

20-Minute Anaerobic Threshold Intervals

This advanced interval workout is modeled off of a classic training workout that competitive rowing athletes do multiple times a year. This is a condensed version that will still push you to find your anaerobic threshold, leaving you fitter, stronger, and ready to conquer the rest of your day.

  • 4 minute warm-up: each minute take 10 power strokes at rhythm 28
  • 3.5 minute interval: 26 s/m at run pace
  • 3.5 minute interval: 28 s/m at sprint pace
  • 2 minute recovery: 22 s/m at jog pace
  • 3.5 minute interval: 26 s/m at run pace
  • 3.5 minute interval: 28 s/m at sprint pace

20-Minute High-Intensity Interval Training

This workout includes multiple rounds of intervals with high intensity and brief rest and recovery periods in between, which is an efficient way to boost your metabolism.

  • 4 minute warm-up: 24 s/m at jog pace
  • 30 second interval: 28 s/m at run pace
  • 30 second recovery: 22 s/m at jog pace
  • Repeat the two intervals above five more times for six total rounds.
  • 2 minute recovery: 22 s/m at jog pace
  • 1 minute interval: 30 s/m at sprint pace
  • 30 second recovery: 22 s/m at walk pace
  • 2 minute cooldown: 22 s/m at jog pace

20-Minute Advanced High-Intensity Row

This workout is specifically designed to prepare for a race around 10 minutes in length. The recovery intervals should be intentionally light, and the 2.5-minute intervals should feel very challenging.

  • 5.5 minute warm-up: 22 s/m at jog pace
  • 2.5 minute interval: 24 s/m at sprint pace
  • 1.5 minute recovery interval: 20 s/m at walk pace
  • 2.5 minute interval: 28 s/m at sprint pace
  • 1.5 minute recovery interval: 20 s/m at walk pace
  • 2.5 minute interval: 26 s/m at sprint pace
  • 1.5 minute recovery interval: 20 s/m at walk pace
  • 2.5 minute interval: 30 s/m at sprint pace

30-Minute Endurance Builder

The goal of this rowing workout is building cardiovascular endurance as you exert moderate effort for 30 minutes. Stroke rate increases as the interval durations decrease.

  • 5 minute interval: 20 s/m at jog pace
  • 4 minute interval: 22 s/m at jog pace
  • 3 minute interval: 24 s/m at jog pace
  • 2 minute interval: 26 s/m at run pace
  • 1 minute interval: 28 s/m at run pace
  • Repeat the circuit above for two total rounds.
  • 5 minute interval: 20 s/m at jog pace
  • 4 minute interval: 22 s/m at jog pace
  • 3 minute interval: 24 s/m at jog pace
  • 2 minute interval: 26 s/m at run pace
  • 1 minute interval: 28 s/m at run pace
  • 2 minute recovery interval: 22 s/m at jog pace
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Freelance Writer

Madeline Howard is a writer, editor, and creative based in Brooklyn. Her work has been published in Esquire, Nylon, Cosmopolitan, and other publications. Among other things, she was formerly an editor at Women’s Health. Subscribe to her newsletter ‘hey howie’ at madelinehoward.substack.com.