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Rowing Machine Before and After Transformations: Weight Loss Results

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rowing machine transformations

When it comes to transforming your body, losing weight, and getting in great shape, the rowing machine is a fantastic tool to get you to your goals. Many people don’t really appreciate just how effective a daily rowing machine workout can be. 

As a gym owner and personal trainer, I’ve been using the rowing machine to help hundreds of clients totally transform their bodies. In fact, it has been my ‘go-to’ combination cardio-resistance exercise for those folks who needed to get in shape fast for a special event like a wedding.

In the paragraphs to follow, I’ll be sharing rowing machine before and after stories of actual rower users and their experiences. I’ll also spell out the benefits of using a rowing machine and how it can change your body. 

I’ll detail the most effective rowing machine workouts, provide diet and nutrition tips to support your rowing machine workouts, and answer the most common frequently asked rowing machine transformation workouts

Let’s get started.

Rowing Machine Benefits

rowing machine before and after
Opting to workout on a rowing machine has many benefits.

The rowing machine offers unique benefits over other cardio training options. Here are four reasons why, if you are after just one cardio machine for your home gym, it should be a rowing machine:

Full Body Workout

Most cardio machines are lower body-focused. The rowing machine is different. Studies have shown that it engages 86 percent of the muscles in your body. In the upper body, you will be working your latissimus dorsi, teres major, rhomboids, deltoids, triceps, biceps, and forearms.

Rowing also gives your core a very good workout. The entire core area works to stabilize and balance your body as you perform the rowing motion.

When it comes to the lower body, rowing works the quads, glutes, hamstrings, and calves.

Low-Impact Workout

Rowing is very joint-friendly. That’s because it is an example of a closed-chain exercise. Closed chain exercises keep your feet in contact with the surface at all times. In contrast, open-chain exercises, such as running on a treadmill, involve bringing your foot off the surface and back down again. This results in ankle, knee, and hip joint impact. 

But there’s more – studies show that rowing can actually improve the rotary motion in your knees, shoulders, and elbows.

Cardiovascular Workout

Rowing delivers a very effective cardiovascular workout to strengthen your heart and lungs. This will improve your blood circulation, and reduce blood pressure. As a result, you will have more cardiovascular endurance so that you can run, jump or play longer and harder.

Weight Loss

Rowing is a great choice if your goal is to lose weight. A Harvard study showed that you can lose 200-300 calories with 30 minutes of moderate-intensity rowing. If you go all out, you can double those numbers. 

The low-impact nature of rowing makes it a smart choice for large people who may have joint problems. 

Want more reasons to choose rowing as your go-to cardio exercise. Check out our deep dive on rowing machine benefits.

How Will Rowing Change My Body? 

After your first rowing machine workout, you will feel quite a lot of soreness in your back, shoulders, and quads. That’s a good sign; it means that they are getting stronger. That soreness will go away as your body gets used to this type of exercise.

You will start to see improvements in your cardiovascular fitness after a week or two of regular rowing machine use. Your heart and lungs will get stronger, allowing for the more efficient transportation of oxygen and nutrients through the blood. 

In terms of weight loss, regular workouts will contribute to the burning of stored body fat so long as they are coupled with a diet that results in a daily caloric deficit, which we will cover shortly. The combination of rowing machine workouts and smart nutrition can result in a weight loss of 1-2 pounds per week.

Because rowing combines strength and cardio exercise, the weight loss you achieve from a sensible rowing program will be all fat, rather than some fat and some muscle. That means that your body shape will change for the better, as your fat disappears and the muscle gets more toned and athletic.

For the best transformation results, you should combine rowing machine workouts with strength training to work the individual muscles of your body.

Calories Burned on A  Rowing Machine

The calories that you burn on a rowing machine depends on a number of variables. These include …

  • Your weight
  • Your metabolism
  • The intensity of your workout

The following chart provides a breakdown of average calorie burn by weight for light, medium and vigorous rowing …

WeightActivity LevelCalories in 30 mins
100 lbsLight/Medium/ Vigorous159/168/273
125 lbsLight/Medium/ Vigorous199/242/341
150 lbsLight/Medium/ Vigorous239/290/409
175 lbsLight/Medium/ Vigorous279/338/478
200 lbsLight/Medium/ Vigorous319/387/546
225 lbsLight/Medium/ Vigorous359/435/614
250 lbsLight/Medium/ Vigorous399/483/682

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

How long will it take to see results from a rowing machine? 

You will only see results from a rowing machine if you establish a consistent workout pattern. Infrequent, hit-or-miss sessions will not get the results you are after. 

You will see cardiovascular improvement with a couple of weeks of working out. You’ll have more energy and take longer to get puffed out. In terms of weight loss, so long as you are combining your workouts with healthy, smart nutrition, you should begin to see a loss of about one pound per week. 

Because rowing is working your muscles at the same time as it is burning calories, you may add some muscle mass initially. This is especially likely to be the case if you have not done any resistance training in the past.

A pound a week may not sound like much. Many people are misled by unrealistic advertising and fake before and after results. Dismiss anything that talks about rapid weight loss and amazing overnight transformations. Slow and steady is what wins the race every time!

If you were to lose a pound of fat every week, you would be 52 pounds later this time next year. Think about what that would mean to how you look in the mirror!

How to Use a Rowing Machine 

There are four phases to the rowing action. Here are the key points on how to properly perform each of them…

The Catch

  • 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.

The Drive

  • 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 in toward your torso, just above the navel.

The Finish

  • Pause for a moment in this 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.

The Recovery

  • 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.

Types of Rowing Workouts 

A rowing machine is a tool that can be used to achieve a range of goals. Each one will require a slightly different type of workout. 

Here are four popular and effective rowing machine workouts for you to experiment with.

Tabata Rowing

Tabata is the original form of high-intensity interval training (HIIT). This is a very short but extremely intense workout. After a two-minute warmup, you do 8 rounds of a 20-second maximum intensity sprint followed by a 10-second rest. You then finish with a two-minute warm-down.

AMRAP Rowing Cindy

AMRAP Rowing Cindy is a popular CrossFit workout. It combines rowing with the following bodyweight exercises …

  • 5 Pull-Ups
  • 10 Push-ups
  • 15 Air Squats

After completing the above three exercises you jump on the rowing machine and keep going until you have burned 20 calories.

This is a twenty-minute countdown workout. Your goal is to get through as many rounds as possible (AMRAP) before the time expires. 

Rowing Calorie Ladder

With this workout, every minute you are targeting a certain calorie count, You then get to rest for the remainder of that minute. Here is how it works …

  • Minute One – burn one calorie
  • Minute Two – burn two calories
  • Minute Three – burn three calories
  • Minute Four – burn four calories
  • Minute Five – burn five calories
  • Minute Six – burn six calories
  • Minute Seven – burn one calorie
  • Minute Eight – burn two calories

You can continue in this pattern for as long as you like. 

Calorie Countdown Rowing Pyramid

With this workout, you set reducing calorie burn mini-goals. You get to have a short rest once you have reached that goal. The work-rest ratio is 1:1. Here is what it looks like …

  • Burn 50 calories
  • Burn 40 calories
  • Burn 30 calories
  • Burn 20 calories
  • Burn 10 calories
  • Burn  5 calories

Work up to doing three or four rounds of the workout. 

Go here for more great rowing machine workouts.

How to Incorporate Rowing into Your Workout Routine? 

As we’ve already seen, rowing makes a great cardio workout option. If you are already doing some other form of cardio such as running on a treadmill or using an elliptical, swap out one or two sessions per week with a rowing machine. Then, build up so that rowing becomes your main form of cardio.

Your rowing workout should be balanced with resistance training. You can combine the two by doing a circuit program similar to the AMRAP Cindy workout detailed above. 

If you are planning to keep your resistance training and your rowing workouts separate, I recommend doing your resistance training before your rowing machine workout. In my experience, a good rowing machine will leave you too exhausted to give 100 percent focus and effort to weights or other resistance workouts. However, resistance training is not going to have the same effect.

Alternatively, you can do your resistance training and rowing workouts on alternate days. 

Tips for Reaping the Benefits of Rowing Machine 

Here are a few tips I’ve picked up over the years to maximize your rowing machine’s return on investment.

Consistency

Consistency is the key to success with any type of exercise program. Avoid the mistake of going all out initially with marathon sweat sessions and then burning out after a few weeks. 

Gradually ease into your rowing workouts, starting with 10-15 minutes duration and then adding a few minutes each week.

You don’t have to row every day, but you should row at least every other day. Find a time that works for you and make that your non-negotiable date with the rowing machine!

Track your progress

Tracking your progress will allow you to see how far you have come. As your time and intensity levels increase, so too will your cardio fitness, strength levels, and fat loss. Monitoring these factors is a very effective form of self-motivation.

Challenge yourself

Your body gets better when it is challenged. Exercise-induced stress is a good thing as it forces the body to adapt by improving. But when you do the same thing every workout, the body, having adapted already, will have no reason to keep getting better. The key to continued progress, then, is to progressively increase the intensity of the workout.

Diet/Nutrition

The key benefit of rowing in terms of weight loss is that it burns calories. In order to lose stored calories in the form of body fat, you need to create a daily caloric deficit. This is when your calorie intake is less than your caloric expenditure. Rowing, in itself, will not create that caloric deficit.

Eating less food is the easiest way to create a caloric deficit. As an example, a blueberry muffin will contain around 385 calories. It would take a 200-pound man less than a minute to eat that muffin, but around 30 minutes to burn its caloric equivalent on the rowing machine. 

Here are some simple nutrition guidelines to go along with your rowing workouts …

  • Reduce your daily calico intake by 500 calories below your maintenance level.
  • Eat a palm-sized portion of lean protein at each meal.
  • Prioritize healthy fats like avocados, nuts, coconut and olive oil, and fatty fish.
  • Cut back on processed carbs, replacing them with vegetables and fruits.
  • Drink half a gallon of water daily

Rowing Machine Body Transformation & Weight Loss Results

It’s all well and good us raving about how great the rowing machine is and giving you information. But we know you want to see some real-life results from people just like you who have put the work in on the rower and have seen amazing progress!

So we’ve done just that. 

We reached out to the Start Rowing community to ask people who have been using a rowing machine to share their fitness journey with us. We asked them about their body transformations, any highlights along the way so far, goals reached, and of course, how the use of a rowing machine played a part in their progress.

Morgan’s Rowing Machine Weight Loss Results

I started about 25 wks ago to get back down to 140ish from 157. I crappily did IF and tried fewer carbs and sugars (like I said crappily), but I was rowing up to 30 or 45 mins every day and doing yoga 20 mins. If I was more strict on myself it would have taken only 2 or 3 months, but, guess what, I’m human.

Around week 20 I was about 149 and see-sawing to 152ish. I started doing yard work and more outside exercise enjoying the weather. After being stuck in that weight range I did almost 48 hours (more like 40 hours) of bone broth fast and that jumpstarted me again. Currently, I see-saw between 146.6 to 148.

I took a month off the rower after week 20, and just recently jumped back on. So now that I am still working outside, and doing the rower I am going to see if we can’t finish off these last 6ish lbs.

Morgan giving the thumbs up after her workout on the Hydrow rower
Morgans all smiles after her Hydrow workout.

I am super proud of myself because I was worried I couldn’t do it again. I gained 15 pounds so fast from stress this winter…I thought I was stuck. BUT sticking with it each day, even if I ate after 8 pm, or ate carbs or sugar, or processed food, or slipped up and ate 2 or 3 times a day…the next day I tried again.

You gotta get back on the horse If you want to ride and it’s always nice to do something for yourself. It’s so important for your mental health. Working out can really help you!

Drinking lots of water, eating less bread and sugar, more activity (especially with the rower working most of your body), and daily fasting has been the freest and most effective way of losing weight I have ever tried in my last 17 years of trying to lose weight.

Morgan Crabtree: Instagram, Twitter

Final Thoughts

Rowing is an awesome transformation tool. In this article, you have discovered why and how to build rowing into your body transformation workout program. Use the sample workouts and training tips to get started on your rowing journey. At the same time, make the needed adjustments to your diet in order to achieve the caloric deficit that will have your body burning stored fat for energy.

Why not add rowing to your transformation program this week?

Rowing Machine Before and After FAQs

Can you get in shape by just rowing?

You can get in shape by just rowing if your definition of ‘get in shape’ is cardiovascular fitness. Rowing is a fantastic form of cardio exercise. But if you want to lose weight, tone up, or build muscle, you will need to include a reduced-calorie, balanced diet and some form of resistance training, either with weights or by using your body weight. 

Is 20 minutes of rowing enough?

20 minutes of rowing can be enough but it depends on your goal. It also depends on the intensity of your workout. An intense 20-minute HIIT workout will be more than enough. If you are training with moderate intensity for weight loss, you need to build up to 30-40 minutes of exercise at least every other day. 

Can you lose belly fat using a rowing machine?

Yes, you can lose belly fat using a rowing machine. You cannot spot reduce fat from any part of the body, so any type of exercise that burns calories will help you lose weight from all parts of the body. However, unless that exercise is combined with a diet that puts you into a caloric deficit, you will not lose belly fat or any other type of fat.

Is rowing good for love handles?

Rowing can be good for love handles. Again, you will only get rid of love handles by creating a  caloric deficit. Rowing will help to create this, but can’t do it alone. You need to eat less in order to lose your love handles. 

Research

  1. Ingham SA, Carter H, Whyte GP, Doust JH. Physiological and performance effects of low- versus mixed-intensity rowing training. Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2008 Mar;40(3):579-84. doi: 10.1249/MSS.0b013e31815ecc6a. PMID: 18379224.
  2. Kang SR, Yu CH, Han KS, Kwon TK. Comparative analysis of basal physical fitness and muscle function in relation to muscle balance pattern using rowing machines. Biomed Mater Eng. 2014;24(6):2425-35. doi: 10.3233/BME-141056. PMID: 25226943.
  3. https://www.health.harvard.edu/diet-and-weight-loss/calories-burned-in-30-minutes-for-people-of-three-different-weights
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.