In this article, we are going to break down all the reasons why rowing is an amazing addition to your cardiovascular fitness routines, and why rowing machines mimic this process so well. We will also give you tips and tricks for maximizing your cardio routine on a rowing machine.
Ready to learn more? Keep on reading!
Is Rowing Cardio?
Yes, it certainly is! Rowing is a fantastic form of cardio. We’ve all seen rowers from our university’s team, or on TV while watching the summer Olympics. While it may look like rowers use their core and arms only, they are also pushing with their legs.
In fact, rowing is mainly a leg exercise, but because the entire body is engaged in the workout with added resistance, it’s easy to see that rowing is one of the best cardiovascular routines out there.
Is a Rowing Machine Good Cardio?
Yes, a rowing machine offers good cardio exercise because it activates all muscles in the body, providing a full-body workout that maximizes calorie burn.
A rowing machine is an absolutely wonderful way to get in your cardio workout. What’s more, the resistance included on a rowing machine is also going to give you a bit of strength-training, which will be even better for your health overall.
Is Rowing the Best Cardio?
Rowing is certainly one of the best cardio workouts you can find. Not only because it’s a great way to get your heart pumping and take you closer to your target heart rate zone, but rowing is also one of the most low-impact cardiovascular exercises out there.
It means that it’s easier on the knees and legs than running or other high-impact exercises. For that reason, rowing is a great cardio option for those who are overweight or are having issues after years of distance running or high-impact sports such as gymnastics.
In fact, swimming is the only cardio that is more low-impact than rowing, but a home rowing machine is a much cheaper addition to your home than a lap pool… that’s for sure.
How Does Rowing Compare to Other Cardio Workouts?
When done properly, you can burn 600 to 800 calories per hour on your rowing machine, which makes it a great cardio activity. While you can burn more calories per hour while running, you would have to do so at a speed of 6.7 miles an hour or more. Most of us can’t do that, which means rowing takes the crown.
Additionally, unlike running, rowing is very low-impact, so it can be a much healthier option for people who are getting older or for those who are carrying extra weight.
Elliptical training will burn similar amounts of calories per hour while also being low-impact, but many people find the movement of an elliptical machine to be clunky and jarring. Rowing machines, when used properly, provide a much more fluid motion, which will lead to fewer injuries over time.
What Muscles Are Engaged During Cardio on a Rowing Machine?
Rowers like to call the pushing motion you do with your legs “the catch”. While it may look like rowers are mainly engaged in their core and their arms and chest, they are actually getting most of their power from their legs, which is why rowing is so great for cardio.
The catch motion engages the hamstrings, glutes, and quads. The resistance to a rowing machine supply gives even more cardiovascular activation to this motion.
This explosive and repetitive move also requires your core muscles to stabilize you. You must sit upright and maintain a strong and stable core to complete each stroke properly. All of the muscles you use in your core will be part of this, including back muscles. You will engage so much more than simply your abdominals.
But don’t worry, you are getting an arm workout too! The cardiovascular system is even further engaged with your chest and arms through the rowing motion. All the major muscle systems in the upper body are engaged here, including the rhomboids, biceps, triceps, and pectorals. These muscles help to complete each rowing motion.
Rowers Offer More Bang For Your Buck
While we are focusing on cardiovascular workouts for this article, it is worth mentioning that the resistance and full-body workout nature of rowing on a rowing machine is a bit like strength training. For that reason, this is a great exercise for those who want to improve their health and fitness but may be limited on time. You get two workouts for the price of one, which is invaluable in our busy world.
How to Get the Best Cardio Workout on a Rowing Machine
While you may think that rowing is like running – the faster the better – you would be wrong. Getting the most calorie-burning possible in a rowing machine is all about power and explosive movement. Let’s think about doing jump squats for a second – even if you go at a slow and steady pace, the explosive movement of jumping gets your cardiovascular system revving. You can’t do jump squats for as long as you can run – that’s for sure.
Rowing allows you to have a similarly powerful explosive movement but more repetitively and sustainably than jump squats – allowing you to get that all-important 30 minutes of cardiovascular activity without hurting your joints or passing out because you went too hard.
When you do each stroke, about 60% of your effort should be generated from your legs, another 30% from your back, and only 10% from your arms. The legs are the first muscle group to be engaged with each rowing stroke – so this is really where that explosive movement and cardiovascular activity comes from, while your back and arms work to maintain the movement and finish out the stroke.
Don’t Focus on Length
While you may think the length of your stroke will really rev your engines – that’s not the case with rowing. Making your stroke super long may look really cool – but it’s likely to only put more strength on your back and not increase the cardiovascular activity in your body that gives you that awesome calorie-burning workout.
The main thing that you want to focus on is to have that explosive movement coming from your legs while keeping your core stable and straight while also finishing with the arms in one fluid motion.
If your motion is very jerky or awkward, you are likely not completing the stroke correctly. To get the most cardio for your buck, you may need to watch a few youtube videos that show you technique in-depth. You can set up a mirror beside your rowing machine or in front of it to check out your technique and see where you need to make adjustments.
If you go to a gym, a personal trainer may be able to give you a free session where they break down the basics of the stroke and help you get started with the appropriate technique to avoid injury and make sure you are getting the best cardio session you can get.
A Great Cardio Routine for a Rowing Machine
So, you’ve decided that you’re ready to get started on your cardio journey and get a rowing machine, fantastic! Now that you have the machine, let’s discuss a simple 30-minute cardio series to make sure that you are getting a proper cardio workout.
Make Sure to Do a Warm-Up
For a 30-minute cardio session, you should do about 3 minutes of warming up on your cardio machine. This will help your muscles warm up and get loose, which is important to avoid injury. If you are doing an hour-long session, you can go ahead and increase this to 5-6 minutes.
Find That Powerful Sweet Spot
Now you need to focus on getting yourself stabilized and finding your inner explosive power to get you through the remainder of your workout. This should take about 4-5 minutes. To do this, do about 10 super-powerful strokes and then about 20 lighter strokes. This variation will help you find your center and get you accustomed to the machine.
The stroke rate ladder is a method where you are gradually increasing your stroke speed at 1-minute intervals. After you do your power-sets, you should start with a stroke rate of about 26 strokes per minute for one minute. Then, increase to 28 strokes per minute for one minute. Finally, increase to 30 strokes per minute for one minute. Once you complete that, work your way back down the ladder. It will be hard to maintain your wattage while you are changing your stroke speed, so be sure to focus on that. Complete the pyramid before moving on to the next step.
Now it is time to really get your heart rate up. For about 8 minutes, you should do about 40 seconds of maximum effort followed by 20 seconds of lighter style rowing. Do this for four rounds. Then, shorten it! Do about 20 seconds of maximum effort while then doing about 10 seconds of recovery. Do this for 8 rounds
Use the rest of this time to do light rowing and cool down. You deserve it!
Written by Petra Amara – RowingCrazy.com
CEO & Founder of RowingCrazy, National Rower, Coxswain Womens Eight Team, Rowing Coach & Writer
Petra is a Mother of two and owner of Rowingcrazy.com. Petra lives and breathes rowing, she also has a passion for writing which lead her to start RowingCrazy.com to share her rowing experience and expertise with others.