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“We Don’t Just Talk About Rowing – We Actually Row!”

Is Rowing Resistance Training or Cardio?

is rowing resistance training

Hello everyone! It’s Petra here once again, to clarify any confusion with all the terminology out there. Is rowing resistance training? Or is it a cardio or aerobic exercise?

You’ll be happy to know that your rowing workouts provide you with one of the best cardio and resistance training combined! So yes, rowing is a cardio exercise that’s also a form of resistance training.

So what’s the difference between weight training, resistance training, strength training, cardio workouts, and aerobic exercise?

I sympathize! It can be very confusing, I agree, especially since these terms are tossed around as though they mean the same thing! Or do they?

In today’s article, I want to clarify what these terms mean as well as how they apply to your rowing workouts.

Is Rowing a Form of Weight Training?

No, it isn’t.

Weight training involves using increasingly heavier weights to accomplish your goal (whether that be muscle definition, growth, or competition).

man at gym trying resistance training on a rowing machine

Rowing is a combination of cardio (also called aerobic exercise) and resistance training.

What is resistance training? Resistance training refers to all forms of exercise involving the use of some form of weight (resistance), including bodyweight.

You wouldn’t call the use of resistance bands weight training (unless you are just starting off your weight training journey).

Rowing machines give you a full-body workout that includes resistance training. You use your own bodyweight to strengthen the legs, and pulling on the handle provides resistance for the upper body.

While doing the above, you are also getting in a serious cardio workout!

Is Rowing Good Resistance Training?

It absolutely is!

man at crossfit doing resistance workout on rower

Rowing workouts provide you with low-impact resistance training that will give you muscle definition, along with all the big benefits that you get from cardio workouts.

To top it all off, your joints get a break because you are doing this exercise in a seated position. This is the one big advantage that rowing has over other types of exercise.

With rowing machine workouts, you can build strength, burn calories, and work 86 percent of the muscles in your body, including your heart, all at the same time!

Is Rowing Considered Weight-Bearing Exercise?

Technically, it is, but it isn’t one of the best forms of exercise for improving bone density.

Rowing is considered to be a low-impact, minor form of weight-bearing exercise. This means that you can row and grow new bones, but you won’t have super dense bones or grow new bones as quickly as you could with other types of exercise.

concept 2 crossfit rowing class

The great thing about rowing workouts is that you will greatly reduce your risk of joint and muscle injury because it is a low-impact exercise, and you will still grow new bones while improving your heart health all at the same time.

Now you know why I frequently say that rowing is perhaps the most perfect type of exercise on earth!

What Type of Workout Is Rowing Then?

You usually hear me say that rowing is a full-body workout, but that doesn’t really describe what it is, right?

If I had to narrow it down, I think I would say that rowing is a cardio/resistance training workout.

This means that first, a rowing machine will give you a cardio workout that will improve the cardiovascular system.

man learning resistance training on a rower

Second, a rowing machine provides for resistance training.

Since you get both workouts from a single machine, I suppose this means that you could call rowing a form of cross-training!

However, when I think of cross-training, I often think of elliptical machines that allow you to work just the legs or just the upper body, or you can do a total body workout.

While a rowing machine could be used like an elliptical, it’s really not the same.

So let’s just call a rowing machine a cardio/resistance training machine, and leave it at that.

What Resistance Should I Use on Rowing Machines?

Unfortunately, every rowing machine is different, and they each measure their resistance levels in different manners.

For example, one machine might have 8 levels of magnetic resistance, while an air rower doesn’t really have resistance settings, only air damper settings.

Whether it’s called level 5 or 17, you want enough resistance that you feel challenged, but not so much resistance that you can’t complete the workout or you’re so sore the next day that you can’t row.

You also want enough resistance so you work up a sweat. You will never reach your next fitness level if you do rowing workouts that are too easy for you.

This is what makes smart rowers the perfect answer for beginners (or even those with intermediate skills).

Side view of my Hydrow Rowing Machine

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Smart rowers, such as Hydrow and Ergatta, have beginners programs that not only show you how to perform the strokes properly but also have software that determines your current fitness level.

Once it has measured your current fitness level, the rowing machine gives you workouts that will push your muscles a bit and increase your heart rate without wearing you out or making you super sore.

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These are premium rowers, no doubt, but they are worth every dime in my opinion. For the price of a gym membership, you can own one of these smart rowers and get real workouts that will give you results you can see.

Can I Do Resistance Training Every Day?

While you could do resistance training and/or use your rowing machine every day, the truth is that there are no more benefits towards your goal (unless it’s weight loss) than using your rowing machine 4-5 times per week.

Beginners should focus on form in their workouts, whether they are using resistance bands or indoor rowing machine, no more than 3 days per week.

I always recommend that beginners use a HIIT (high-intensity interval workout) rowing workout. This type of workout is done every other day, allowing you to do other forms of exercise on your off days.

Once you start getting stronger, you can always do a longer workout or do a harder workout. It’s always a good idea to give your body at least one day of rest to help it repair damaged muscle and build new ones.

When it comes to weight loss, you will need to exercise more often, even as much as 5 or 6 days per week. This doesn’t mean that you need to use your rowing machine during each of those workouts. You can still do HIIT programs on the rowing machine and then do other full-body workouts such as swimming, running, walking, or weight training (including kettlebell swings and dumbbells) on your off days.

Get in some type of cardio workout at least 5 days per week, and you will see results in a matter of weeks!

Isn’t a Rowing Machine Just Cardio?

Nope. This is a common misconception.

lady working out on a rower in a green t-shirt

While it’s true that you will get a great cardio workout, a rowing machine works 86 percent of the muscles in the body. The resistance your machine provides will give you a daily dose of resistance training that builds and defines muscles.

Many people also believe that using an indoor rowing machine will give you low back pain or bulky thighs. Neither of these is true.

If you feel low back pain during your workouts, you are not using the proper form. Try some free online videos explaining proper form.

You won’t get bigger thighs, either. You will get more muscle definition, but think gymnastic or dancer thighs, not weight lifting thighs.

Rowing works your core muscles, shoulders, arms, legs, and even your glutes, all while saving your knees from serious pain!

The Bottom Line

Rowing workouts are full-body workouts involving both cardio and resistance training. While it can’t be considered weight training, using a rowing machine regularly has many benefits that other machines can’t hold a candle to!

Rowing workouts are definitely what you need if you want to build new muscle, want to lose weight, can’t use other exercise machines due to bad knees or other injuries, or if you prefer to have a great cardio workout right in your own living room or home gym.

So what are you waiting for? Get all the rowing machine benefits you deserve and make a commitment to start your rowing program tomorrow!

Keep rocking and rowing on, friends!

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