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When your goal is weight loss, rowing machine workouts offer a fantastic way to burn calories, burn fat, and build muscle! The best thing about rowing is that it works for most people, regardless of their current state of fitness. It’s a low-impact workout, so it poses less risk to your body!
In this article, I will be discussing different types of workouts (what they are and how to approach each) and some of my favourite rowing workout sessions in each type or category, including beginners’ workout plans, so keep reading!
Calories In vs Calories Out
Watch my video above on simple rowing workouts
Whenever I write or speak on YouTube about weight loss ( learn more: is Concept 2 rower good for weight loss ), the fat burning effects of the rowing machine, and getting leaner, I always like to remind everyone that-
“No matter how much time you spend on the rowing machine and no matter how hard you’re working out, you need to have a balanced, nutritious diet in order to lose weight.”
Ultimately, it all comes down to calories in vs calories burned. If you’re consuming more calories than you are burning, some of those calories are going to be stored as fat.
Rowing as a Calorie-Burning Workout
Rowing is a hugely inefficient movement (as compared to cycling or running), but consequentially, it’s an incredibly efficient way of racking up the calories burned score!
Rowing, when performed correctly, is a full body workout which uses all the major muscle groups, so it’s a brilliant way of increasing muscle size and strength, and improving your muscle tone.
I myself have benefitted from the amazing calorie burning effect of rowing machines (see the pictures below). I even made a YouTube video about this transformation!
Types of Rowing Workouts for Weight Loss
Below I’m going to be discussing a number of different styles of workout. For each, I’m going to be explaining the approach that I’d recommend taking, but I shall briefly discuss these here.
Steady-state rowing is hugely important for anyone looking to hit personal bests on future workouts – for example personal bests on the 2000m and 5000m row events.
Steady state essentially means long, slow miles. The idea of steady state is to improve the state of your aerobic base – essentially building the strength and density of capillaries delivering blood and oxygen to muscles around your body. 0
For these style of workouts, aim to hit a split that you can consistently hold comfortably through the entire workout. It’ll feel strange at first, may even feel like you’re barely working, but trust me when I say that this improves fitness massively.
If you’re using a heart rate monitor, aim for somewhere in the region of 55-75% of your max heart rate. You should not be building up lactic acid during these workouts.
The major benefit of steady state is that it is often referred to as being in the fat-burning zone!
Side Note: Check out our rowing machine workout plan for beginners
Longer Interval Training
These workouts are brilliant for training your aerobic threshold level. For these, aim for a pace at which you start to feel the burn at about 75% of the way though the interval. For beginners, this will take a little trial and error, but you’ll soon figure it out! Those looking for an advanced workout or an intermediate rowing workout, these will be perfect!
The exercise intensity for these should be the pace that you would aim to hold for a 5k test, so a high intensity for a long period of time (approximately 17-22 minutes depending on your build and current level of ability).
The main thing I love about the longer intervals is that they are fantastic for losing weight! You’re going to be sitting at a hard rowing level for a long period of time, so you’re going to burn an absolute tonne of calories!
Intense, Short Intervals
These are much more like the HIIT workouts that we know and love! These higher intensity workouts will have intervals anywhere between 40 seconds and 3 minutes (although of course we start to move further from HIIT the longer the interval gets). We have to remember that rowing is a power endurance sport, so these are really going to help build your rowing power endurance!
This style of rowing machine workouts are going to get your heart rate super high, so you’re going to be burning tonnes of calories! They can be a little ‘lacticy’ as the short rest periods and high intensities lend themselves nicely to building up lactic acid in your legs and other major muscle groups but doesn’t give you a huge amount of time to clear in the short rests. But remember the age-old expression, “No pain, no gain!”
All these workouts require some form of warmup, which is important to reduce your risk of injury. For the harder workouts and speed work, it will get your muscles warm so they can better deal with lactic acid and will also allow you to work harder during the workout.
A warmup is also going to give you the opportunity to burn some extra calories and check that you feel good before you start the workout.
I also use the warmup period to practise good technique, thinking about my sequencing- arms, body, legs and then legs, body, arms (especially on the drive phase to make sure I’m not opening my back at the catch!).
Rowing/Erg Technical Points:
- Rocking the torso forward from hips
- Maintaining a loose overhand grip
- Being loose in the upper body (keeping your shoulders relaxed)
- Dropping the knees at the catch (meaning you’re pushing with your legs and not immediately swinging your back – knees bent at the catch and then flatten the knees to start the drive phase)
- Keeping your core engaged (maybe even a few minutes of feet-out rowing)
When warming up, start out with easy rowing at a low-stroke rate, and gradually build up the intensity. When you’ve got a harder workout planned, I’d throw in maybe one or two very short max effort bursts (15 strokes at most) just to get your muscles ready for the higher intensity.
My Favorite Workouts for Burning Fat
So here are my workouts to keep your rowing exercise routine more efficient in burning fat and make your weight loss journey easier.
Steady State as a Beginner
Steady state is quite a mentally challenging thing to do as an beginner. You’re sitting at a low intensity for a long period of time, ideally with a heart rate between 65-75% of your max heart rate.
I’ve included this on the workout list as this type of training (often referred to as Zone 2 or UT2 training) typically means you’re working at a level where your body burns fat as its main energy source – this makes it ideal for weight loss.
It’s also ideal for weight loss because you can easily burn anywhere between 600-1000+ calories when sat on a rowing machine for an hour! (And of course weight loss is all about burning more calories than you’re consuming!)
My Personal Tips When Using A Rowing Machine:
- The best way to do steady state as a beginner rowing workout is to do it in relatively short blocks (15-20mins) and take a 90-sec to 2-min break in-between pieces. Make sure you use this time to get off the rowing machine – stretch and hydrate.
- Get on the rowing machine with the intention of improving one particular aspect of your rowing form. For example, I often get on the rowing machine for a steady-state workout and have the intention of improving my drive. So I’ll sit next to a mirror and check that I’m pressing my legs out long before swinging my back.
- When you approach steady state with this attitude, you’ll be amazed how quickly you’ll make huge steps on with your rowing form (and it’ll also make the time pass quicker)!
- Another good technique point is to focus on the lean forward – get your body set and still after the arms go away – make sure you’re not crashing into the front!
The Endurances Builders
|The Endurance Builder|
This is a list of my favourite ergs to build up my aerobic fitness. I’d aim to do all of them at a high rate – ideally 28+ strokes per minute spm – but if you can’t do 28spm with the correct form yet, make sure you’re mastering your rowing technique at a slightly lower rate before moving up.
The aim for these workouts is to stay on the same split for each of the intervals or get faster across the sets. After a few attempts, you’ll work out what sort of pace you can ‘comfortably’ hold for all of the intervals. Once you know this, aim to decrease the average split each time you do the workout.
Rowing for these long intervals means hard work – it’s rowing hard! The intention is to sit on your aerobic threshold and then push up the aerobic threshold each time you do these workouts!
This is an excellent way to burn a lot of calories and will ramp up weight loss progress. Your heart rate is going to be kept nice and high for long periods so your body will rapidly consume calories in order to keep you going!
Unlock the secrets to Correct Rowing Machine Form with Olympic Rower Rachael Taylor:
Rowing HIIT Workout Plans
Rowing HIIT is (in my opinion) the best form of HIIT training, and one of the best beginner workout plans because it’s a full-body workout! You’re using not only major muscle groups but also all the little stabilizer muscles!
One downside to HIIT rowing is that it means very intense rowing – which can often make you feel one hell of a burn! This isn’t easy rowing! That said, it’s a great method for burning fat and ramping up weight loss.
Both of these workouts are fantastic ways of getting fitter and faster! They’re a great alternative to the longer sessions listed above (although I’d encourage you to do a mix of all three types of workout).
The way to make the most of these workouts (and to accelerate yourself to hitting those fitness goals and weight loss goals) is to make sure you’re pushing yourself to the absolute limit on every single interval.
If you’re currently at a fitness level where you don’t think you can do all of the intervals, that’s absolutely fine! Simply half the number of intervals and you’re still going to get a great workout. Again, just push yourself on every interval, whatever that might mean for you.
This is another reason that rowing is such a brilliant sport. Whoever you are and whatever your current state of fitness is, the rowing machine can always offer you a fantastic way to burn calories, burn fat, and build muscle (it is resistance training after all!)
Whether your goal is weight loss or you’re just using it as cross training from other exercises, the indoor rower is always a fantastic option for a good workout! And I say it in every article, but I’ll say it again, it’s much less impact than rowing, so it’s a lot lower risk for your body!
For more weight loss workouts and rowing interval training ideas, you can check out my other articles listed below:
- My Top 7 HIIT Rowing Workouts For Beginners That Get Results!
- Rowers Training Program To Improve Your 5K Times
- Workouts For Rowers To Improve Your 2K Times
- Easy Rowing Machine Back Workout For Beginners
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Written by Max Secunda – RowingCrazy.com
Experienced Heavy Weight Rower, Rowing Instructor & Coach, Novice Men’s Rowing Captain, British Concept 2 Record Holder & Rowing YouTube Influencer
Max is a rower at Vesta Rowing Club based in London, UK. He started rowing at the University of Sheffield, where he also was the Captain of the Novice Men’s Rowing Team, Max has a well know YouTube channel where he vlogs about his rowing training and experiences.