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How Many Calories Burned On A Rowing Machine

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calories burned rowing

While the exact number of calories you will burn on a rowing machine depends on a number of variables, a 175-lb man will burn around 379 calories in 30 minutes of moderate-intensity training on a rower. 

When it comes to losing weight, calories matter. The more you can burn, the quicker you’ll lose your stored energy. As a gym owner and personal trainer, I have guided thousands of people in their weight loss journey. When it comes to cardio workouts, my exercise of choice has always been the rowing machine. 

In this article, I’ll get into the details of how many calories you can burn on a rowing machine. I’ll also explain why the rower is such a good choice for burning calories and losing body fat. In addition, I’ll lay out just what a calorie is and how to calculate calorie burning on a rowing machine. You’ll also find tips on how to burn more calories on a rowing machine.

What Is A Calorie?

A calorie is a measure of energy. When it comes to nutrition and exercise, calories refer to the amount of energy that the food delivers and the amount of energy burned through exercise. 

A calorie represents the amount of heat required to raise the temperature of one kg of water by one degree Celsius. Calories are burned by the body to provide the energy that allows us to do everything from breathing to tying our shoelaces.

Calories that are not needed for our energy needs are stored as potential energy in the form of body fat. So, if a person consumes more calories than they use up in energy, they will lose weight. On the other hand, those who burn off more calories than they take in will lose weight.

If you are trying to lose stored body fat, then you should make it your goal to end each day in a calorie deficit state. This is where you have burned more calories than you need to supply your energy needs. 

The number of calories needed to meet your daily needs is known as your maintenance calorie level. You can work it out here

The excess calories that we consume and don’t utilize are stored as fat, much the same way as the money we bank and don’t use increases our bank balance. One pound of fat contains 3,500 calories.

The energy from food comes from three sources. These are the macronutrients protein, carbohydrates, and fat. Scientists used a measurement called the Atwater system to calculate how many calories are contained in each of these macronutrients as follows:

  • Protein = 4 calories per gram
  • Carbohydrates = 4 calories per gram
  • Fat = 9 calories per gram

The only other compound that provides calories to the body is alcohol which delivers 7 calories per gram. 

To achieve a calorie deficit, you should combine eating less food with doing calorie-burning exercise.

Why You Should Choose A Rowing Machine

woman burning calories on rowing machine

There are many options you can choose for your calorie-burning exercise. Here are the reasons I steer my personal training clients toward the rowing machine. 

Full Body Workout

Unlike most forms of cardio exercise, the rowing machine doesn’t just work the lower body. Rowing provides you with a full-body workout, working more than 80 percent of your muscles. 

Rowing directly activates the latissimus dorsi, deltoids, trapezius and biceps, triceps, and forearms of the upper body. It also does a great job of engaging the core. When it comes to the lower body, rowing hits the quads, glutes, hamstrings, and calves.

Low Impact

Rowing is a closed-chain exercise. That means that your feet never leave the platform that they are placed on. As a result, there is virtually no impact stress on the ankles, knees, and hips. 

Contract this to other cardio choices, like the treadmill, where every step results in a pounding impact on your joints, and it’s not hard to see why rowing ranks so highly as a low-impact exercise option.

Great Cardio Workout

At the same time that your rowing workout is challenging your skeletal muscles and burning calories, it also challenges your most important organ – the heart. It will make your heart stronger so that it can more effectively pump blood around the body. 

Increased blood flow brings more oxygen and nutrients to your muscle cells. This allows you to have more training endurance so you can train harder for longer. 

Versatility

The rowing machine is a very versatile cardio workout option. You can row at a slow, medium, or fast pace to achieve a range of training goals. Rowing is also ideal for high-intensity interval training (HIIT) as it lets you quickly switch between high and low-intensity strokes. 

Check out more benefits of using a rowing machine

How To Calculate Calories Burned On A Rowing Machine

Watts

Your rowing machine monitor is likely to show you how many watts you have generated. A watt is a measure of electrical power and tells you the average power you have generated during your workout. One watt is equivalent to an electricity flow on one joule per second. It is similar to a miles-per-hour measurement.

You can convert the watts displayed on your rowing machine monitor to calories burned with the following formula …

                             energy (kcal) = avg power (Watts) X duration (hours) X 3.6

Let’s consider an example …

Your average watts for a 90-minute row is 205. When we put that into our formula we get …

                                   205 watts x 1.5 hours x 3.6 = 1,107 Calories

METs

METs stands for metabolic equivalents. Some rowing machines will display METs as one of your workout diagnostics. One MET is equivalent to 3.5 ml of oxygen per kg of body weight per minute.

You can change METs to calories burned with this formula …

                                       1 METs = 3.5 x weight in kg ÷ 200

Let’s say that a 75 kg man is working out at a pace of 12 km (7.5 miles) per hour for 30 minutes. This person will be working at 12.5 METs. 

Here’s what the calculation will look like …

                                     12.5 METS x 3.5 x 75kg ÷ 200 x 30 mins = 492 calories

Heart Rate

You can use your average heart rate to work out the calories burned during exercise. However, the formula will only work if your heart rate is between 90 and 150 beats per minute. 

There are separate formulas for men and women.

For men to convert average heart rate to calories burned, the following formula should be used …

Calories per minute = (-55.0969 + (0.6309 * Heart rate) + (0.1988 * Weight) + (0.2017 * Age)) / 4.184

For women to convert average heart rate to calories burned, the following formula should be used …

Calories per Minute = (-20.4022 + (0.4472 * Heart Rate) – (0.1263 * Weight) + (0.074 * Age)) / 4.184

How Many Calories Does a Rowing Machine Burn?

There is no definitive answer to the question of how many calories you will burn on a rowing machine. That’s because there are a number of variables that impact that number. The most obvious is workout intensity. The same person could burn between 200 and 800 calories in an hour-long workout depending on how intensely they are rowing.

Research conducted by Harvard Health provides us with some average calories burned numbers at vigorous intensity for different body weights. Here are three examples …

  • A 125-pound person may burn around 225 calories in 30 minutes
  • A 155-pound person may burn around 369 calories in 30 minutes
  • A 185-pound person may burn around 440 calories in 30 minutes

What Impacts the Number Of Calories Burned On A Rowing Machine?

Intensity:

When on the rowing machine, you can choose to do a light, moderate or intense workout. The amount of energy required to fuel each of these workouts will obviously differ greatly. According to Harvard research, the difference between calorie burn on a moderate versus vigorous workout may be as much as 75 calories in a 30-minute workout.

Duration:

The more you do the activity, the greater the energy requirement will be. So, if the pace was constant, a person would burn twice as many calories from a 60-minute workout compared to a 30-minute session.

Weight:

Just as it takes more work to lift a heavy than a light weight, so too the body has to work harder to move a heavier than a lighter body. We can see this from the examples given from the Harvard study in the last section. A 185-pound person will burn nearly double the calories of a 125-pound person, even though they are both working out at the same intensity level.

Calorie Calculators On Rowing Machine Monitors (Be Careful) 

The caloric readouts on rowing machines can be notoriously inaccurate. Most of them are giving your estimates based on your weight rather than actual real-time calculations. 

Some machines are better than others, with the Concept 2 RowErg, which uses the PM5 monitor being the most accurate of all. Cheaper rowing machines may have calorie counters that are off by as much as 40 percent. 

Even inaccurate calorie counters can be useful as a standard for comparison from workout to workout. However, for a more accurate calculation, you should wear a chest strap heart rate calculator when rowing and use the heart rate calculation outlined in the previous section.

High-Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) vs. Steady-State

HIIT and Steady State is like the Yin and Yang of cardio fitness. HIIT involves going at your workout, hard fast, and short while steady-state is all about long duration, moderate intensity. 

Which is best for calorie burn?

HIIT Rowing

HIIT Rowing involves doing very intense but short bouts of heart-pounding exercise interspersed with even shorter rest periods. The original HIIT workout was the Tabata protocol, which involved doing eight rounds of 20-second all-out sprints with 10-second rest periods between them.

HIIT rowing will burn more calories than steady-state exercise for the same length of time. However, most HIIT workouts are much shorter than steady state. That’s because you don’t sprint for as long as you can train at moderate intensity.

The real benefit of HIIT training comes after the workout. The intensity of your training brings on what is called the EPOC response. EPOC stands for enhanced post-exercise oxygen consumption. It leads to an increase in your metabolism for the next 24-36 hours.

HIIT Pros:

  • High-calorie burn
  • EPOC effect
  • Short Duration
  • Improves insulin sensitivity
  • Boosts heart health

HIIT Cons:

  • Hard work
  • Not beginner-friendly
  • Injury risk

Steady-State Rowing

Steady-state training is what you are most likely to see in the cardio areas of most gyms. It involves long-duration exercise at a moderate intensity. When doing steady state, most people would be able to engage in a conversation with someone alongside them.

Because it is of lower intensity than HIIT, steady-state does not burn as many calories for the time invested. However, the lower intensity means that you are able to train for longer, so you may end up burning about the same number of calories. However, steady-state does not bring on the EPOC effect anywhere near the same effect as HIIT.

The advantage of steady-state over HIIT is that it is not as taxing on the body, HIIT workouts are not for the faint-hearted. People who have health problems are probably better off doing lower-intensity workouts for longer. 

Steady-State Pros:

  • More beginner-friendly
  • Allows you to train longer
  • More comfortable

Steady-State Cons:

  • Less effective EPOC effect
  • Many find it boring
  • Takes longer

Tips On How To Burn More Calories When Using A Rowing Machine

Here are three things you can do to boost your rowing workout calorie burn. 

Use The Correct Rowing Technique

Learning to row properly will not only make your workout safer and more effective, but it will also help to increase your calories burn. Here’s a quick primer on power rowing form …

  • Sit up straight and grab the handle with your arms out straight. Your ankles and knees should be slightly flexed.
  • Pull your shoulders down and tense your core.
  • From this position, lean forward slightly.
  • Begin the drive with your legs.
  • When the legs are fully extended, hip hinge to lean back until your torso is at 45 degrees. 
  • Pull the handle toward your torso, just above the navel.
  • Pause for a moment in the finish position; your legs should be fully extended, with your torso leaning slightly backward, shoulders back, and lower back in a neutral position. Tuck the elbows in.
  • Reverse your movements to return to the start position; extend your arms, hinge forward with the hips, and then bend the knees. 

Check out our article for a more detailed explanation of the correct rowing machine form.

Stroke Rate

Your stroke rate is a measure of the number of rowing strokes you complete per minute. Most people will have a stroke rate between 10 and 18, depending on the intensity of the workout. Of course, it is possible to have a much higher stroke rate than 18. Keep in mind, though, that you will burn more calories with 18 perfectly performed strokes than 30 where your form is compromised. 

Switch Up Your Workout Types

Varying your type of workout will prevent you from getting bored with the rowing machine. This, in turn, will help you to train with the consistency you need to make ongoing progress. Switching up your workouts will also prevent your body from adjusting to your straining. This keeps the body stressed and requires it to use more energy to meet the ever-changing demands being put upon it. 

I recommend interchanging between steady-state, HIIT, timed challenge, and circuit workouts on a revolving basis. Check out our rowing workout article for a bunch of options.

Calories Burned On A Rowing Machine Compared With Running

Both rowing and running on a treadmill are effective calorie burners. So how do they stack up in a  head-to-head comparison?

The following chart provides a breakdown by weight and intensity level …

WeightActivity LevelCalories in 30 mins RowingCalories in 30 mins Running
100 lbsLight/Medium/ Vigorous159/168/273210/235/240
125 lbsLight/Medium/ Vigorous199/242/341235/254/291
150 lbsLight/Medium/ Vigorous239/290/409260/331/440
175 lbsLight/Medium/ Vigorous279/338/478336/379/420
200 lbsLight/Medium/ Vigorous319/387/546350/422/580
225 lbsLight/Medium/ Vigorous359/435/614392/475/650
250 lbsLight/Medium/ Vigorous399/483/682455/523/738

These calorie estimations were derived from the Compendium of Physical Activities through Cornell University’s METs to Calories Calculator.

As we can see from this chart, running generally burns 10 percent more calories than rowing. However, it does so at the expense of your joints and doesn’t work the muscles of your upper body. 

Check out how the rowing machine compares with the treadmill for calorie burn.

What You Should Combine With Rowing To Increase Calories Burned

Your rowing machine workouts are just one part of your weight loss journey. Here are two more key elements.

Strength Training

To increase your calorie burn, you should complement your rowing workouts with strength training to build muscle.

Every ounce of muscle that you add to your body will make you a more efficient calorie burner. That’s because muscle is very metabolically active. As a result, it increases your resting metabolism so that you’re burning more calories all day long.

The most effective strength training for fat loss involves a circuit routine that elevates your heart rate as it works your individual muscles.

Diet / Nutrition

The most effective way to establish a daily negative caloric balance is to cut back on your food consumption. After all, it takes a lot more work to burn off a blueberry muffin than it does to not eat one in the first place!

I recommend reducing your caloric intake by 500 calories below your maintenance level each day. Focus on consuming lean proteins, and healthy fats in the form of fatty fish, coconut and olive oil, avocado, and nuts. When it comes to carbohydrates, you should mainly be eating those that are low on the glycemic index, such as green leafy vegetables, sweet potatoes, fruit, broccoli, and silverbeet.

Closing Thoughts

You will get a very effective calorie burn on a rowing machine. While the exact number will depend on a range of variables, a 175 lb person will churn through between 279 and 478 calories during a  30-minute workout, depending on the intensity of the session. 

Even though you will burn calories for the same amount of time running, rowing offers a more joint-friendly option that also works the muscles of your upper body.
Ready to get started on your rowing machine weight loss program? Check out the best rowing machines to find a rower to help you achieve your goals.

Calories Burned On A Rowing Machine FAQs

How many calories do 30 minutes of rowing burn?

The number of calories you can burn in 30 minutes on a rowing machine will vary according to your weight and intensity of training. A 175-pound person will burn between 279 and 478 calories in a half-hour, depending on the intensity of the workout.

How many calories do 20 minutes of rowing burn?

In 20 minutes on a rowing machine, a 175-pound person can expect to burn between 184 and 315 calories, depending on the intensity. Lighter people will burn fewer calories while heavier individuals will churn through more calories in 20 minutes.

How do I burn 500 calories on a rowing machine?

To burn 500 calories on a rowing machine you should be rowing at a vigorous pace for 45-60 minutes. It will take a lighter person longer to burn 500 calories than a heavy person.

Why does rowing burn so many calories?

Rowing burns so many calories because it works both your upper and lower body at the same time. In fact, rowing calls into play more than 80 percent of your muscles. This requires more energy in the form of calories than cardio exercise options that primarily use the muscles of the lower body. 

What burns more calories walking or rowing?

Rowing burns more calories than walking. That is because it is a more intense form of exercise. Rowing also makes use of the upper body muscles more than walking.

References

  1. https://www.health.harvard.edu/diet-and-weight-loss/calories-burned-in-30-minutes-for-people-of-three-different-weights
  2. https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/how-do-food-manufacturers/
  3. Tucker WJ, Angadi SS, Gaesser GA. Excess Postexercise Oxygen Consumption After High-Intensity and Sprint Interval Exercise, and Continuous Steady-State Exercise. J Strength Cond Res. 2016 Nov;30(11):3090-3097. doi: 10.1519/JSC.0000000000001399. PMID: 26950358.
Steve Theunissen

AUTHOR

Steve Theunissen is a freelance writer living in Tauranga, New Zealand. He is a former gym owner, personal trainer, and school teacher and is the author of six hardcopy books and more than a hundred ebooks on the topics of bodybuilding, fitness, and fat loss. Steve also writes history books with a focus on the history of warfare. He is married and has two daughters.