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How Long Should You Work Out on a Rowing Machine? 

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The answer to the question of how long you should work out on a rowing machine is similar to that of the proverbial question ‘how long is a piece of string?’ It all depends on what your workout goals are, your current level of stamina and endurance, and how much time you can realistically devote to your workouts on a consistent basis.

As a gym owner and personal trainer, I have been using the rowing machine as a primary cardio tool to help my clients achieve their workout goals for around 35 years. During that time I’ve formulated hundreds of rowing machine workouts to meet every type of training goal. That experience has provided me with plenty of insight to help you answer the question of how long your workout on a rowing machine should be.

In this article, we will examine all of the factors that go into determining how long your workout on a rowing machine should be. 

What Are Your Workout Goals?

The length of your rowing machine workout will depend a lot on what your workout goals are. If you are wanting to lose a lot of weight in a hurry, you will need to spend more time on the rowing machine in order to burn the maximum amount of calories. However, if your main training goal is stamina and endurance, your workouts will most likely be shorter. 

It is important, then, to formulate and write down your workout goals before you even start training on a rowing machine. If you don’t, it would be like playing basketball with no hoops. So, determine just what you want to achieve from your rowing machine exercise at the outset.

Rowing For Weight Loss

Setting goals is especially important when you are rowing for weight loss. Many people are unrealistic when it comes to their weight loss goals. You can realistically lose 1 to 2 pounds of body fat per week. Anything more than that, and you will likely be losing muscle tissue and water, neither of which are healthy.

Let’s say that your goal is to lose 8 pounds of body fat in a month. That works out to 2 pounds a week. One pound of that weight loss should come from reducing your caloric intake by 500 calories below your daily maintenance level. The other pound should come from your workouts.

To burn off a pound of fat you have to churn through approximately 3500 cal. If you are going to be using the rowing machine every day, that means you’ll be burning 700 cal a day. So how long does it take to burn 700 cal on a rowing machine?

If you are rowing at a medium pace, It will take about an hour to expend 700 calories, depending on your weight. So, it’s quite a commitment to go hard out for an hour every day for a month with no rest. 

It is probably a more realistic goal to aim for a smaller, more realistic weight loss. A goal of losing 1 pound a week may not sound like much, but imagine what you will look like in a year’s time when you are 52 pounds lighter. By cutting back your goal and only having to exercise for half an hour a day on the rowing machine, you are far more likely to be successful.

If you’d like to delve deeper into this, check out our article on how many calories are burned on a rowing machine

What’s the Time Frame For Your Goals?

As mentioned previously, it is extremely helpful to first set a goal and then establish a realistic timeframe to achieve it. This will allow you to work backward to figure out how long you need to be exercising every workout to achieve your goal. 

In the example, we looked at earlier, to achieve a weight loss of 8 pounds of body fat in two months, you should be rowing for about half an hour each day. For most people, that is a realistic goal.

Do not be in a hurry to achieve your goals. Doing so is likely to set you up for failure. Remember, you want to build permanent lifestyle habits. The best way to do so is slowly and incrementally.

How Much Weight Do You Want To Lose?

Decide firstly how much weight you want to lose. Remember, too, that it is vital that you distinguish between weight loss and fat loss. You only want to lose fat, not muscle tissue or water. However, the scale does not distinguish between the two. So don’t rely on it as a gauge of your success. 

Instead, you should use a tape measure, the mirror, and, if available, the measurement of your body fat percentage to accurately determine how much fat you are actually losing.

My recommendation is to set the goal of losing 1 pound of fat per week and to do so consistently every single week. That is a loss of more than 50 pounds of body fat in a year. That will achieve a stunning transformation both in how you look and how you feel.

Rowing For Weight Maintenance

If you are rowing with the goal of maintaining your current weight, you need to burn enough calories so that the number of calories that you consume through food and the amount that you burn through energy are the same. 

To be able to do this, you need to know what your caloric maintenance level is. That is the number of calories you need to take in to meet your daily energy needs.

There are a number of ways to calculate your caloric maintenance level, but the easiest is simply to use a calculator designed for that purpose. You can do that here.

Once you know how many calories you burn each day, you should then determine what your average caloric intake is through food. To do this you’ll need to count your calories for three days and then work out your average. 

You will now be able to compare your calories in versus your calories out. The difference represents the number of calories you need to burn through your rowing machine workouts in order to maintain your current weight.

Let’s say, for example, that your caloric maintenance level is 2300 calories. After keeping count of your caloric intake for three days, you find out that your average is 2550 calories. That means that you are eating 250 more calories per day than your body is burning. If you don’t do anything about it, those extra calories will be converted to stored body fat.

To burn 250 calories, you will have to row for between 20 and 30 minutes, pending on your weight and the pace of your rowing workout.

Cardiovascular Benefits From Rowing

For some people, their main motivation for working out on a rowing machine is not to lose weight, or burn calories, but to improve their cardiovascular fitness. Cardiovascular benefits can be achieved from both aerobic and anaerobic exercise.

Rowing has the advantage over other cardio exercises of being both a strengthening and a conditioning workout. Unlike most other cardio options, it also allows you to work the muscles of both the upper and lower body at the same time. The majority of cardio machines are very lower body-centric, yet the rowing machine works more than 80% of the muscles of the body.

Another reason that the rowing machine is a great cardio training option is that it is very joint-friendly. Rowing is an example of a closed chain exercise as your feet never come off the foot platforms. This makes it far easier on your ankles, knees, and hips than exercises like running on a treadmill, where every footfall places stress on the joints.

Here you can read more about the benefits of rowing

Rowing Machine For Anaerobic Conditioning (fast and short)

If your goal for working out on the rowing machine is to boost your anaerobic fitness, your workouts should be shorter and more intense. I recommend doing high-intensity interval training (HIIT), where you do repeated bouts of fast sprints and short recovery periods. 

One of my favorite HIIT workouts involves doing eight rounds of 20 seconds sprints followed by 10-second rests. You start and finish with a two-minute warmup and cool down. That means that the total workout time is only eight minutes. Yet you will produce an afterburn effect that will spike your metabolism for the next 24 hours. 

Rowing Machine For Aerobic Conditioning (long and slow)

If your goal is to improve your aerobic conditioning, your workouts will be the mirror opposite of those just described for anaerobic conditioning. Aerobic conditioning improves the efficiency of your heart and lungs and boosts your muscular and cardiovascular endurance levels.

Training for aerobic conditioning involves doing what is known as low-intensity steady-state (LISS) training. The workouts can last anywhere between 45 and 90 minutes.

For the best results in terms of overall fitness and conditioning, your exercise plan should involve a mixture of both anaerobic and aerobic workouts. When done together, they have a synergistic effect where one improves the other.

What Is Your Rowing Pace?

The pace of your rowing is another factor that goes into how long your workouts should be. Just as you can sprint for as long as you can jog, you cannot row at a fast pace for as long as you can at a shorter one. 

If your strokes per minute pace is sitting at around 30, you will obviously cover more distance than if it was at 20. So if you are training for distance, your workout will be shorter. 

However, a person who doesn’t have the stamina to maintain a fast pace, but makes up for that in endurance, will be able to train for longer.

Ideal Duration: How Long Should You Row For? 

Now let’s go over some durations and what results you can expect from rowing for this amount of time.

Rowing for 15 Minutes A Day

Spending 15 minutes on a rowing machine at a moderate pace will expend between a hundred and 150 and 300 calories, depending on the intensity of your workout and how much you weigh. To lose a pound of body fat at that level will take anywhere between 12 and 23 days. Realistically, then, 30 minutes per day is not enough for fat loss if you are rowing at a moderate intensity.

However, if you perform a 15-minute high-intensity interval training workout, you will burn about 100 more calories during the workout and boost your metabolism so that you are burning even more calories over the next 24 hours. This is an effective fat loss strategy.

The bottom line here is that if you want to perform a shorter workout, you need to make it more intense to make up for the time lost.

Rowing for 30 Minutes A Day

Expending half an hour a day on a rowing machine will allow you to lose around a pound of body fat per week. This is what I have been recommending to my clients for the last 35 years as it is the healthiest and most sustainable way to lose weight and keep it off. 

People who lose weight at a more rapid rate than this will often put it back on just as quickly.

A 30-minute daily session on the rowing machine will also greatly enhance your cardiovascular fitness. Blood pressure and heart rate will come down and your heart will become much stronger. The workout also is able to improve the strength of most of the muscles of your body.

Rowing for 90 Minutes A Day

Rowing for 90 minutes at a time is challenging. You should only do it if you are an experienced rower or if you are extremely disciplined to be able to sustain at that rate of exercise.

Over the course of an hour and a half on the rowing machine, you should be able to burn more than a thousand calories. That will allow you to lose around 2 pounds of body fat in a week. 

90-minute daily sessions will vastly improve your aerobics and anaerobic conditioning. If you feel that you can sustain 90-minute workouts, it certainly will give you a lot of benefits. For some people, however, they could lead to overtraining. 

Though, if you are going to go down this route, I would suggest not doing so every day.  Intersperse these longer workouts with shorter, 15-minute HIT sessions on a day-on, day-off basis so that you are not overtraining

Final Thoughts

As we’ve seen in this article, there is no one answer to the question of how long you should work out on a rowing machine. It all depends on your workout goals, and how much time you can realistically put in on the machine on a consistent basis. 

Remember, it is far better to do shorter, more consistent workouts than marathon sessions that are haphazard.

Now that you know how long you should be spending on the rowing machine, why not spend a few minutes learning the proper technique? Check out our ultimate guide on how to use a rowing machine.

FAQs

How long should a beginner row on a rowing machine?

A beginner should spend between 20 and 30 minutes on a rowing machine. The focus should be on learning the proper technique and completing smooth, rhythmic actions that allow the body to move through its full range of motion.

Is 20 minutes of rowing enough?

20 minutes of rowing may be long enough depending on your workout goal and the intensity of your workout. If you are rowing with high intensity, then 20 minutes should be about the limit of your session. For more moderate-intensity workouts, people who are trying to lose weight should extend their time to around 30 minutes.

What is a good distance to row on a rowing machine?

Beginner rowers should focus on rowing for between 250 and 500 meters every 30 seconds, and then gradually decrease the time it takes to reach that distance.

Is it better to row faster or longer?

The question of whether you should grow faster or longer depends on what your workout goal is in the intensity of your training. Longer, slower workouts are better suited for endurance and cardiovascular conditioning. The longer you spend on the rowing machine, the more calories you will also burn. Shorter workouts are better for anaerobic conditioning and for developing explosive strength.

Is it OK to row every day?

Yes, it is okay to row every day. However, we do not recommend doing marathon rowing sessions that last for up to 90 minutes every single day, as this could lead to overtraining and burnout. Instead, you should alternate between longer and shorter workouts, day by day.

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.