Rowing Machine Workout Plan for Beginners

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rowing workout plan for beginners

Have you ever watched someone at the gym who obviously didn’t know how to use a machine? Did others laugh behind their back or worse yet, sneak a cellphone video so they could upload it later on?

Even if you don’t go to the gym and are lucky enough to have a rowing machine at home, you need to learn the basics and have a plan if you’re new to rowing.

Do you enjoy the machine but aren’t really sure how to get the most out of your routine?


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Rowing workouts are the best all-around exercise you can get, but you do need to know how to use the machine properly to avoid snickers and enjoy all the benefits of your cardio workout.

In today’s article, I’m going to address beginners so you won’t find a video of yourself using a rowing machine on social media, and so that you can get a terrific workout without hurting yourself.

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Proper Form Is Everything

One of the very first things I want to address is how to perform the proper rowing motion.

lady doing her rowing routine for weight loss

For beginners, I cannot stress the importance of proper form enough. If you fail to learn the proper rowing technique, you risk hurting your lower back, shoulders, elbows, and more.

Very much like driving a car, when you first start, you feel overwhelmed and it may even feel like the car is driving YOU. Remember when driving over 30 MPH seemed so fast and so dangerous because you didn’t feel that you had control over the vehicle?

After a few years, chances are that you drive home and sometimes wonder how you got there because you don’t even remember the trip!

The same is true with your rowing machine. Speed will come with time, but for complete newbies, you should practice your form until it becomes second nature.

You can find a very informative video on how to do the strokes correctly here.

Use a mirror or film yourself on your cellphone so that you can see yourself in action and correct any mistakes.

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Beginner Friendly Guided Rowing Workouts

Once you have the proper form down, you’re ready to start doing some rowing machine workouts.

lady exercising at gym performing indoor rower training plan

Rowing is measured in either SPM (strokes per minute) or by the time it takes you to row a certain number of meters, such as 500 meters or 2,000 meters. As you become stronger, the time it takes you to row a set of meters decreases.

Are you ready to get started with some rowing machine workouts? Put those foot straps on tight and let’s get going!

Rowing Workout Plan Ideal for Beginners

Mix and match the following workouts for a terrific beginner’s training plan.

Workout #1

  • Aim to do 500 meters in 3-minutes (or as fast as you can).
  • Rest for 30 seconds.
  • Repeat either 8 times or as many rounds as you can manage.

Again, don’t feel bad if you can’t do 500 meters in 3 minutes. You will improve with time.

Tips for Rowing Workout #1

I love using an indoor rowing machine because I can do my rowing sessions anytime I want.

rowing machine training program performed in a group

If you’re a true beginner, you may be disappointed that you can’t reach even the very first goal right off, but don’t worry about it. Like anything in life, practice makes perfect.

Remember that even Olympic rowers started as beginners! You will get stronger, and your fitness level will increase with time.

If your erg doesn’t track your progress (many gym machines won’t keep track), then be sure that you write down your time for whatever workout you are doing. This way you can track your progress over time.

For example, you may find that during your first week of rowing, it takes you about 7 minutes to complete 500 meters. After 4 weeks, you may be surprised to find that it now only takes you 4 minutes!

You can also monitor your heart rate if you wish, either on the machine or with your third-party heart rate monitor.

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Workout #2

This is a slightly easier workout, but it will still improve your health, fitness, and more. You don’t want a high workout intensity with this one; this is an endurance-building workout.

rowing weights program being performed on a concept 2 rower

For this full-body workout, simply row at a steady pace for as long as you can over a 30-minute period.

The trick here is to try to keep a steady rowing pace. You want to burn fat and get your heart rate up, but you don’t want to tire yourself out quickly. Maintain a steady rowing stroke, and try to go for the full 30 minutes.

Is 15 Minutes of Rowing Good Enough?

If you can’t manage 30 minutes yet, go for 20 minutes or even 15 minutes. However, you must remember that your body needs constant challenge. Every time you do this workout, try to increase your time by 1 minute.

Workout #3

lady training at gym do a rowing machine fat loss program

Depending on your current fitness level, you may find this one challenging.

  • Row 1,500 meters.
  • Rest for 3 minutes.
  • Repeat 5 times.

Again, if your upper body isn’t strong enough to do this much, repeat the 1500 meter row as many times as you can. You will find that as you lose weight and get stronger, this type of workout will become easier and easier.

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Step It Up!

Once you have the above three workouts down, and you’re ready to take it one step further, we are going to do a strength training workout, a core workout, as well as those full-body workouts.

home rower workout plan

Rowing Workout Program – Strength Training Workout

Rowing machines are also good for strength training. If your machine has settings so you can change the resistance level, now is the time to turn it up a notch or two.

Don’t put the resistance setting or damper setting on high, you want to avoid injury, but by increasing the resistance one number or two, you will really feel that full-body burn.

Are you ready? Let’s step things up and push ourselves a bit more, OK?

For this workout, you will rest for 30 seconds after every goal.

  • Row 250 meters.
  • Rest for 30 seconds.
  • Row 500 meters.
  • Rest for 30 seconds.
  • Row 750 meters.
  • Rest.
  • Row 500 meters.
  • Rest.
  • Row 250 meters.
  • Rest.

If you can, repeat this sequence. Use strong, power strokes and go as fast as you can while still maintaining your proper rowing form.

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Rower Training Plan: Ripped Abs Workout

Everyone wants those 6-pack abs, and did you know that you can totally get them using your rowing machine?

Now you need to be very careful here to avoid hurting your lower back. In the same way that you hinge forward at the hips when you start your stroke, you want to really pull on that handle and lean backward to work those abs.

For a terrific demonstration of how to do this, you can watch this short video here.

Ready? Let’s work those core muscles!

  • Row 1,000 meters at a stroke rate of about 25 SPM and activate your core muscles!
  • Rest for 90 seconds.
  • Row 750 meters at about 23 SPM.
  • Rest for 2-minutes.
  • Row 500 meters as fast as you can.

If you can, repeat this core workout. Be sure that you are not rounding your back. If you feel any low back pain, stop and check your form.

You might also want to do some cross-training. On your active recovery days, try some weight lifting or use resistance bands to strengthen those core and lower back muscles.

All the sitting that we do each day really stresses out the lower back, so by strengthening it with cross-training, you can row more effectively.

Increase the Intensity of Your Rowing Machine Workouts

Do you feel as though you are getting the hang of things? I bet by now no one would ever guess that you were a novice just a few weeks before.

Let’s take one last step to increase the cardio workout and workout intensity with more power strokes on your indoor rowing machine.

Ready? You got this!

Up the Stroke Rate Workout Plan #1 

If you’ve been doing about 26-29 strokes per minute, it’s time to pick up the pace. When you row faster and reduce your split time, you will find that weight loss comes naturally.

We are going to work your entire body with this one, so get ready for these incredible rowing workouts that will get you motivated!

  • Row 4,000 meters as fast as possible.
  • Rest for 5 minutes.
  • Repeat if you can.

It sounds easy, and if it is, then row another 4,000 meters. Repeat this until you are gasping for breath!

Turn on the Burn Workout Plan #2

I know you’ve got this down, and you’re starting to feel the burn, right?! Let’s go for it one more time before you can say that you are now an intermediate rower and no longer a newbie.

  • Row 3,000 meters as fast as you can.
  • Rest for 90 seconds.
  • Row 2,500 meters.
  • Rest for 1 minute.
  • Row 1,000 meters.
  • Rest for 30 seconds.
  • Repeat.

You can also mix up all of these beginner workout programs so that your body does not become accustomed to doing the same thing over and over again.

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Final Tips

indoor rower workout plan

My Rowing Machine Training Plan & Tips:

My last pieces of advice when it comes to beginner workouts would be:

  1. Practice your form first!
  2. Try to workout for at least 30 minutes, 5-days per week.
  3. Always give your body at least 1 day of rest to build new muscle and recover.
  4. Don’t keep a death-grip on the handle.
  5. Push straight back with your legs. If your butt comes off the seat, you are pulling or pushing upwards. Push straight back.
  6. Keep your shoulders down.
  7. Keep your elbows at your side, not sticking out like chicken wings.
  8. Exhale as you drive back. Inhale as you recover.
  9. Picture your upper body like a pendulum, going back and forth between 11 and 1 on a clock face.
  10. Have fun!

If you aren’t having fun, you may need a new machine! There are tons of smart rowers on the market today that allow you to play games or row on beautiful water-filled backgrounds.

Consider buying the ultimate rowing machine, Hydrow or Ergatta, for really fun workouts that you will look forward to.

The Bottom Line

Everyone has different opinions about which rowing programs work best, not only for beginners but even the super-advanced.

simple rowing machine workouts

If you find a rowing workout that gets you results, that you like to do but challenges you, then that’s the perfect program for you!

Don’t get discouraged if you take a few months to reach your new fitness goals. Any new exercise or workout program will take time not only to learn but for your body to change and improve.

Beginners should feel good after rowing and be happy that they are taking care of their bodies.

Good luck to you and may you have many happy years of rowing!

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