The Rowing Machine - an all-round workout

The Rowing Machine - an all-round workout

There’s nothing so much fun as messing about in boats – or so Mr Toad says. This is definitely true of rowing, a traditional British sport and an excellent way to keep fit. Rowing is also a great gym workout, so let’s have a look at those rowing machines.


The action of rowing uses legs, back and arms. Using all those muscles means using a lot of calories; an hour on a rowing machine can dispose of between 600 and 1200 calories depending on your fitness level.

Like ‘real’ rowing, the machine supports you and there is no impact on your joints.

Most gyms will feature at least one rowing machine among their cardio equipment, so you won’t need to travel far. Gym machines generally use either air or magnets to simulate the resistance of water. Air machines are more realistic, while magnetic ones are quieter – choose according to your preference.


Form-fitting clothing is best, so that it doesn’t catch in the machine. You also need to wear trainers.

The machine must be set for resistance, pace and mode; as they are all different, ask a member of the staff for help.


Rowing machines are very safe, but as always you need to use them correctly to avoid injury. Here are some illustrations of correct ‘form’ to ensure that you don’t strain your back. Rowing is split into ‘drive’ and ‘recovery’ and both need to be done correctly.

Ready to row? Here are two workouts for you to try. Both use the concept of interval training – more fitness in less time:


For weight loss, the object is to row at a low intensity for as long a time as you can manage. Try this workout to start with:

  • Five minute warm up: jogging, marching on the spot, lunges, knee lifts
  • 20 minute row
  • Stand up, do 10 lunges, stretch gently for 1 minute.
  • 20 minute row
  • Five minute cool down: repeat warm up moves, gradually slowing. End with static stretches.

Need more? Try this combo rowing and dumb-bell workout.


For fitness, you need to push yourself to higher intensities, making those muscles work just a little bit more each time. You can increase strokes per minute (SPM) or times as you get fitter. Try this ‘pyramid’ workout.

  • Five minute warm up as above
  • Row 5 minutes at a low rate
  • Row 5 minutes at 18 SPM, 1 minute rest. Repeat twice
  • Row 3 minutes at 20 SPM, 1 minute rest. Repeat twice
  • Row 2 minutes at 22 SPM, 1 minute rest.
  • Row 3 minutes at 20 SPM, 1 minute rest. Repeat twice.
  • Row 5 minutes at 18 SPM, 1 minute rest. Repeat twice
  • Row 5 minutes at a low rate.
  • Five minute cool down: repeat warm up moves, gradually slowing. End with static stretches.

Want to know more? Take a look at this great guide, packed with practical tips and advice on rowing training.

Want to get more involved? British Rowing is the organisation to check out, and they have plenty of advice for your indoor training session.

Let’s row that boat!


The Author

Jessica Ambrose

Jessica is a fitness writer who loves long distance running, yoga, strength training and healthy eating.


Tom D.
12 May 2015

Tom D.

I always give the rower 10-15 mins of my time but am motivated to stick it out a little longer thanks to this.

Matthew C.
11 May 2015

Matthew C.

It certainly burns a lot of calories but who would stay on a rowing for an hour? 10 minutes is my limit!!

Sarah L.
10 May 2015

Sarah L.

I've always been a bit scared of giving it a try - but am now determined. Hopefully someone at the gym can show me the setup.

Emma C.
9 May 2015

Emma C.

aah, this makes me wish I hadn't given my rowing machine away. Our gym one always seems to be taken. They really do give a great workout quickly.

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