Rowing Machine Workouts: Get Insanely Fit With These Workouts

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While you could just hop on your rower and plod through the same old workout each and every time, you’ll get a lot more from your efforts if you choose rowing machine workouts that are aligned to your fitness goals. In exercise, there is something called the law of specificity which simply means that the type of exercise you do will result in specific physical adaptations.

For example, if you want to get stronger, you need to lift heavy weights, and lifting light weights will not affect your strength very much. The same is true of rowing; your body will adapt only to the type of workouts that you do. There are several main types of workouts you can do on a rower and many variations of each one.

Long, slow distance training

If you just hop on your rower and exercise at a slow to moderate pace, you are doing a type of workout called long, slow, distance training, or LSD for short. LSD workouts involve working at around 60 to 70-percent of your maximum heart rate or, on a scale of one to ten, around intensity level five.

LSD workouts build basic cardiovascular fitness and muscular endurance and are not overly taxing. If you want to develop general fitness or are training for long-distance endurance sports, LSD training will be one of the cornerstones of your workouts. On the downside, LSD workouts can be quite long and time-consuming.

How to row for long distances

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Threshold training

Where LSD involves a relatively slow pace, threshold training is the opposite end of the intensity scale. Also known as tempo training, threshold training involves working at just below your maximum sustainable pace – say 8.5 to 9 on a scale of one to ten or around 90-percent of your maximum heart rate.

Threshold workouts are usually considerably shorter to reflect the increase in intensity – a 5,000-meter time trial is a good example of this kind of workout. Threshold training increases high-end aerobic fitness and also increases anaerobic fitness – a great workout for when you are short of time.

Fartlek training

This funny word means speed play in Swedish and involves working at a variety of intensity levels selected at random.

Rowing Fartlek workout example:

  • Over the course of 30-minutes, you might mix slow rowing with sprinting with power pulls with threshold speed rowing with some rowing technique drills.

Fartlek training is ideal for when you want to work out but don’t want to be locked into a predetermined program. You can adjust the intensity as you see fit which means if you are feeling strong you can really push yourself but, if but if you aren’t at your best, you can take it a little easier.

Interval training

Alternating periods of hard work with easy recovery is called interval training and is a very effective and time-efficient way to exercise. You can design an interval training workout to address any number of fitness goals or abilities.

For a beginner rower, you might alternate one minute of moderate-speed rowing with two easy minutes whereas a more advanced rower might alternate 500 meters as fast as possible with 90-seconds easy rowing to recover. Interval training is also a supreme fat burner and a very time-efficient workout.

how to perform rowing intervals

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High-intensity interval training (HIIT)

The fitness industry loves buzzwords and one of the most commonly used currently is HIIT. HIIT is a variation of interval training where the work intervals are generally very short and sharp.

Rowing HIIT workout example:

  • Thorough warm-up
  • Row flat out for 30-seconds
  • Rest for 60-seconds
  • Repeat for ten sets.

Another very short but tough HIIT workout is Tabata training which involves doing eight sets of 20-seconds hard rowing with measly ten-second recoveries. Four minutes later you may well see your life flash before your eyes – yes; it is THAT hard! HIIT workouts are, by necessity, very short but will still result in increased fitness and fat burning.

Integrated circuit training (ICT)

ICT involves alternating brief bouts of high-intensity cardio with bodyweight or strength training exercises.

Rowing Integrated Circuit Training workout example:

  • Row 500 meters – 20 push-ups – Row 500 meters – 30 squats – Row 500 meters – 40 sit-ups – Repeat three times.

This type of workout is popular with CrossFit and other high-intensity training groups. If you have very little time to exercise or want to really crank up the intensity of your workouts, ICT is a very useful tool. On the downside, there is no such thing as an easy ICT workout so be prepared to work very hard if you do this type of training.

Rowing Machine Workout For CrossFit

Rowing machines are a popular choice of cardio machine for many Crossfitters. Many of their workouts involve combining multiple movements with rowing to make for a highly intense session. If you want to try a rowing machine CrossFit style workout then have a go at completing the two sessions listed below.

Workout 1:

  • 200M Row Warm-Up 
  • 1200 M Row For Time 
  • 20 Burpees 
  • 800 M Row For Time 
  • 40 Sit-ups 
  • 600 M Row For Time 
  • Body Weight Revere Fly – 30 Reps 
  • 200 M Row Cooldown 

Workout 2:

  • 200M Row Warm-Up 
  • 1600 M Row For Time 
  • 25 Push-ups 
  • 1000 M Row For Time 
  • 50 Mtn Climbers 
  • 800 M Row For Time 
  • 50 Batmans 
  • 200 M Row Cooldown 

Rowing Machine Workout For Weightloss

One of the main goals people have when deciding to train on a rowing machine is weightloss. Below are a couple of workouts that you can alternate between that will help you lose weight and get super fit. You can perform each workout once a week or perform them both twice a week. For example, Mon: Workout 1, Tue: Workout 2, Wed: Rest, Thur: Workout 1, Fri: Workout 2.

Workout 1:

Workout 2:

  • 100 M Row Warm-Up 
  • Lunge – 20-30 Reps 
  • 400 M Row 
  • Step Overs – 20-30 Reps (Step/Hop Over the Rower) 
  • 400 M Row 
  • Plank Push Up – 10-20 Reps 
  • 100 M Cooldown 

Beginner Rowing Machine Workout

If you are just starting out and new to training on a rowing machine, here is a beginner workout you can try.

  • 100 M Row Warm-Up 
  • Squat Curl – 10-20 Reps 
  • 300 M Row 
  • Triceps Ext – 10-20 Reps 
  • 300 M Row 
  • Push-ups – 5-10 Reps 
  • 100 M Cooldown 

Intermediate Rowing Machine Workout

If the beginner workout is too easy for you and you want more of a challenge, try this intermediate level workout.

  • 100 M Row Warm-Up 
  • Squat Curl – 20-30 Reps 
  • 500 M Row 
  • Triceps Extension – 20-30 Reps 
  • 500 M Row 
  • Push-ups – 10-30 Reps 
  • 100 M Cooldown 

Advanced Rowing Machine Workout

For those of you at a more advanced level then you should give this workout a try. This one is tough!

  • 100 M Row Warm-Up 
  • Jump Squat Curl – 20-40 Reps 
  • 800 M Row 
  • Triceps Ext – 10-20 Reps 
  • 1000 M Row 
  • Clap Push-ups – 5-10 Reps 
  • 100 M Cooldown 

Rowing Machine Workout For Seniors

If you are a senior or more elderly then below is a fantastic rowing machine workout you can try that will keep you fit, healthy, and active. It’s low impact and easy on the joints too.

  • 50 M Row Warm-Up 
  • Shallow Squat Curl – 10-15 Reps 
  • 200 M Row 
  • Triceps Ext – 10-15 Reps 

By choosing the right type of training according to your fitness goals, you are much more likely to see progress and experience the results you want. No more just hopping on and rowing mindlessly – choose your workouts to suit your needs!

Frequently Asked Questions

How good is a rowing machine workout?

A rowing machine workout is as good as you make it. Potentially the reward from rowing can be very high. It provides a full-body workout that is low impact and easy on the joints. A good starting place for a workout is the workouts listed in this article. Check out this page if you want to learn more about the benefits of rowing

Do rowing machines make your legs bigger?

Using a rowing machine can increase your leg strength and size, especially if you were previously sedentary. However, if your goal is to increase muscle mass the weighted resistance training will get you the best results. So unfortunately not an excuse to skip leg day.  

Can you get ripped and toned from rowing?

More importantly, to get ripped and toned you should focus on your diet. You will need to have a low body fat percentage. But yes, rowing can certainly help as it is a great fat-burning exercise and can also increase muscle strength. 

Is rowing 20 minutes a day enough?

This depends on your goals. Some people can complete a 2k in under 8 minutes. What you should focus on is the goal that you are trying to achieve and everything you are doing to get there. For example, if your goal is to lose weight then 20 minutes a day could be enough if you are burning more calories than you consume. Are you only rowing or also doing some other form of exercise? It’s all relative. 

What kind of body does rowing give you?

Rowing can help give you a great body. A rowing workout will provide full-body conditioning with an emphasis on the leg, back, and shoulder muscles. Rowing can help decrease body fat and increase your strength.  

How many calories does 15 minutes of rowing burn?

Rowing burns lots of calories. Especially when compared to other types of cardio machines. For example, an average 200lb person exercising on a rowing machine at a moderate pace for 15-20 minutes will burn approximately 168-224 calories. 

Can I get fit just rowing?

The use of a rowing machine can be used as an effective training method to get fitter. It can improve a whole host of things including, muscle strength and size, cardiovascular endurance, and mobility. Check out more benefits from rowing

Patrick Dale


Patrick Dale 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.