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Rowing for Weight Loss: Why Is It So Effective?

A very large percentage of the world’s population is overweight and many of those people are obese – obesity being the accumulation of body fat to such a degree that ill-health is the result. Being significantly overweight can reduce life expectancy, increase the risk of developing chronic diseases such as diabetes and coronary heart disease, reduce the quality of life and is one of the leading causes of work absenteeism and depression.

The cause of this obesity epidemic is complex but includes easy access to cheap calorie-rich but nutrient-poor food and a lack of daily physical activity because of automation, mechanized transport, and other technological advancements.

As most people are far more sedentary than they should be, it’s clear that exercise is going to be an important part of losing or controlling weight but what sort of exercise is best? In this article, I’d like to argue the case for rowing for weight loss!

why should you use a rowing machine for weight loss?

You’ll find a rowing machine in most gyms and there are several very good models that are designed specifically for home use. The technique of rowing is quickly learned and as workouts go, rowing is one of the most effective and efficient. Rowing offers several advantages to the overweight exerciser…

  1. As a non-weight bearing activity, rowing is easy on your joints – much easier than running for example. When you run, as much as three times your bodyweight comes crashing down each and every step and that, if you are overweight or just a little on the heavy side, is a lot of stress on your feet, ankles, knees, hips, and spine. Also, as a high impact activity, your internal organs and body, in general, is exposed to a lot of deceleration trauma which, again, will be anything but comfortable if you are overweight. If an exercise regime is going to be effective, you need to be a) comfortable and b) able to stick to it so for heavier people looking for weight loss, running is out and rowing is in.
  2. Rowing works your anti-gravity muscles – rowing places an emphasis on the muscles of your lower and upper back as well as your glutes or butt. These muscles are responsible for holding your body upright against gravity. Because most people tend to hold excess weight around their abdomen and at the front of their bodies, these posterior muscles are under a lot of strain. Rowing will help strengthen these muscles which will help relieve back pain and improve posture – two things frequently associated with being overweight.
  3. Workouts are scalable – although not always the case, overweight people are generally quite unfit. Rowing workouts can easily be adapted to suit even the rawest of beginners. By simply pulling less vigorously and at a slower tempo, you can make a rowing workout much less demanding and more appropriate for an unfit exerciser.
  4. Seated exercise is more comfortable – being significantly overweight means your legs have to do a lot more work than normal. Walking, running or using a cross-trainer can be prohibitively difficult for many overweight exercisers. As rowing is done sat down, excess bodyweight becomes less of a fatiguing factor which means that exercise can be sustained for longer and more comfortably.
  5. Rowing burns a lot of calories – rowing uses virtually every muscle in your body. These muscles must be supplied with copious amounts of oxygen which ensures your heart and lungs get a good workout and also results in a lot of calories being used. A typical 200lb person rowing at a moderate pace for 20-minutes will burn approximately 224-calories which compares very favorably to all other forms of cardio exercise. A similar workout on a stepper, for example, only uses approximately 192-calories.

Combine rowing with a healthy diet

Combined with a sensible diet, rowing can help you lose weight and then keep it off. Don’t try and lose weight too fast though – you’ll just end up tired and hungry and probably fall off the diet wagon all too soon. Instead, be patient, focus on long term nutritional changes rather than fad diets and inject regular physical activity into your daily routine.

Don’t do too much too soon but, instead, start off with short workouts and gradually increase both duration and intensity as you get fitter. Rowing is the ideal exercise for sustainable weight loss so stop reading and get rowing.

rowing workout for weight loss (example)

Here is a workout you can try to get started with your weight loss program. You can increase or decrease your stroke rate to vary the intensity of the workout.

Patrick Dale on rowing machine
Patrick has worked in health and fitness for over twenty years and spent five years as a Royal Marine Commando. Now the owner of a fitness qualifications training company, Patrick splits his time between training prospective personal trainers and gym instructors and writing articles for numerous magazines.