If you already have a full workout routine for the treadmill, and always know just what to do on the elliptical, then it may be time to incorporate a rowing machine into the mix. While rowing may look complicated, it’s actually pretty easy to do, and can be a fun way to add a little extra something to your typical exercise lineup.
It’s also chock-full of benefits, according to Caley Crawford, a NASM-certified personal trainer and director of education for rowing-based workout gym Row House. Rowing is a great way to improve your cardiovascular health and it’s also a versatile workout option — you can row at a steady pace or aim for a full-body HIIT workout. Either way, rowing uses the lower body, core, and upper body all at once to work over 85% of muscles with each stroke, she tells Bustle.
One rowing stroke is made up of four parts: the catch, drive, finish, and recovery. Moving your body through this full range of motion effectively minimizes stiffness and increases your flexibility, Crawford says. Rowing is considered one of the best low-impact exercises, so you can condition your muscles and joints without straining them. Want to give rowing a try? Here’s how to get started.
How To Row With Good Form
There are tons of videos online you can check out, like the video above, before hopping on the rowing machine — also known as an ergometer. By learning a proper stroke, you’ll engage different muscle groups properly to reap the full benefit of your rowing workout and avoid injury, says Aisyah Rafaee, a Hydrow Athlete and Singapore’s first Olympian in rowing. “If you start your stroke correctly, you’ll feel your legs, glutes, core, and back muscles engage and your arms will naturally flow with your momentum,” she tells Bustle.
As you get started with rowing, it’ll also help to learn more about the damper setting on the machine. “Damper setting is similar to bicycle gearing,” Crawford says. “It affects how rowing feels but does not directly affect the resistance. A lower damper setting on the indoor rower is comparable to easier gears on a bike.” This is something you can adjust to make your rowing experience more comfortable or more challenging.
How Often Should You Row?
If you’re brand new to rowing, Crawford recommends implementing it into your routine no more than three times a week. It’s important to allow space for rest days between workouts to give your muscles a chance to recover, she says. On your chosen rest days, you might want to try active recovery workouts, like yoga or walking.
As a beginner, the best way to start is to row at a speed and intensity that feels right and try not to overdo it. “Just 10 minutes of steady rowing would calculate out to about 200 strokes of work, which is more than enough to get your blood flowing and break a sweat,” says Rafaee.
To raise your endurance levels as you get more experienced, Crawford suggests rowing three to five times a week. When in doubt, you could aim for 30 minutes at a moderate intensity or 15 minutes at a vigorous intensity.
Common Rowing Mistakes To Avoid
It’s common to want to get your heart rate up by yanking on the handles and doing fast strokes. But to make the most of your workout, it’s way better to slow down and focus on utilizing your legs as a source of power, Crawford says.
Another common mistake? Leaning too far forward. This habit can place a lot of strain on your knees, she says, so make sure you only lean slightly forward while keeping your core engaged. With these tips in mind, you should be able to create a solid rowing machine workout plan.
How To Supplement Your Rowing Routine
If you really start to love rowing, you might want to take the extra step to condition the muscles used during a rowing stroke, like the quads, hamstrings, glutes, and deltoids. Crawford recommends bodyweight moves like squats, lunges, and push-ups, saying “all of these engage the same muscles you would use if you were rowing.” You could also cross-train as a way to keep your workout plan fun and engaging, Rafaee says. She likes to do power yoga or a quick 20-minute Pilates class to supplement her rowing routine.
A Rowing Machine Workout Plan For Beginners
Rowing is something you can do as a standalone cardio workout, or one you tack onto strength training days, says Amanda Diver, PT, DPT, a doctor of physical therapy who utilizes the rowing machine in her practice. “I usually recommend strength training first followed by rowing,” she tells Bustle. That way you’ll have the energy to focus on proper form when weight lifting, before jumping into cardio.
For a weekly workout routine, Diver recommends taking it slow by following the plan below, especially if you’re just starting out. Rowing is not a natural movement like walking,” she says, so it’s best to spend some time learning to row with good form. With that in mind, here’s a solid rowing routine to get you started if you’re a beginner looking to focus on form and function before taking it to the next level.
- Row 1,000 meters at a comfortable pace.
- Rest for 1 minute.
- Repeat 2 to 5 times
- Aim to row 2,000 or 5,000 meters total, depending on your fitness level.
- Rest day.
- Row 250 meters at a moderate pace.
- Get off the machine to do 15 push-ups, then 15 squats.
- Repeat 5 rounds.
- Rest day.
- Row 20 minutes at a comfortable pace.
- Active recovery. Go for a walk, do yoga, run, etc.
- Rest day.
Ian Gee, T. 2016. Investigating the Effects of Typical Rowing Strength Training Practices on Strength and Power Development and 2,000 m Rowing Performance. Journal of human kinetics. doi.org/10.1515/hukin-2015-0153.
Wong, RN. 2021. Exploring exercise participation and the usability of the adaptive rower and arm crank ergometer through wheelchair users' perspectives. Disabil Rehabil. doi: 10.1080/09638288.2021.1894245.
Amanda Diver, PT, DPT, doctor of physical therapy