The rowing machine workout is becoming a gym staple, and for good reason.
Research shows this increasingly popular cardio can light up nearly 86 percent of the body with each stroke, pumping the heart and loading the muscles. The stroke begins at the legs, propelling the body backwards, transferring power to the core and back to pull the handlebars towards the chest, engaging almost everything along the way. “The handle should move at the same timeas your seat,” Bryan Volpenhein, a three-time member of the U.S. Olympic rowing team and gold medalist, told Men’s Health. When done with proper form, the machine is great for building muscular and cardiovascular endurance.
Rows on rows of these machines found in CrossFit gyms and Orangetheory studios around the globe has helped increase its popularity. Both franchises have made rowing a large component of their everyday workouts, often using the implement in competitions and challenges. New gym franchises, like RowHouse and CITYROW, are popping up all over the United States with their rowing-centered classes.
They might be onto something, given their success. You might even consider keeping one of these machines in your basement. Companies like Peloton are making rowers that suit your at-home workout needs.
Benefits of Rowing Workouts
Regardless of where you find a machine, a quick rowing segment can make a great addition to your workout routine. The low-impact aspect of the activity can make it more tolerable compared to its high-impact cardio counterparts, like running. Minimising shock to the joints can help people with nagging issues workout pain-free longer. Research has shown that rowing can help those with arthritis gain muscular strength and endurance while minimizing pain. Shaking up your workout plan by including something like rowing can give your body a break from your norm, helping to prevent overuse injuries.
“It’s a total-body workout that uses most of the muscles in your body during every stroke with little to no impact,” says Lisa Niren, a group fitness instructor and CITYROW trainer. “It burns fat while providing extreme cardiovascular fitness and ridiculous muscular endurance.”
Compared to other full-body cardio sports—swimming and cross-country skiing, for example—you’ll build more strength and power while rowing, says Eric Von Frohlich, CrossFit Level 1 certified trainer and founder of EVF Performance and Row House NYC. “Rowers tend to be more muscular than other endurance athletes: their backs, shoulders and arms are thicker and stronger. A good, powerful row stroke is similar to a kettlebell swing or a deadlift because you have to engage your core so the power from your legs transfers to the handle.”
Rowing is also by nature a strength movement, essentially a blend of a deadlift and a barbell row. That’s an ideal combination that everyone should do, hitting all the posterior-chain muscles that can easily get weakened by all the sitting that takes place in 2019 society.
Rowing is also easy to program into any workout, because you can get plenty of oomph from a rowing workout in just 10 to 15 minutes, and you can easily work in other implements, mixing rowing with, say, kettlebell swings or some other movements to create well-rounded, full-body routines. Need a few examples? Check out the workouts below.
Renegade & Row EMOM
This is a great workout finisher to burnout the back and core, by combining rowing with some renegade rows. The rowing goal based on calories burned, so the faster you go, the faster you’ll hit your target (and the longer you get to rest). Every minute, you will complete three renegade rows, and then hop on the rower for eight calories to start, and then start again at the top of the next minute, adding a calorie each round for five rounds. This will incentivize you to speed up to finish quickly, getting break as possible before the next minute begins, but that rest will decrease as the calorie goal grows. You can tailor the difficulty of this workout by moving the original calorie goal either up or down.
How to Do It:
• Start by grabbing two light to medium sized dumbbells.
• Set up in a high plank position to begin.
• Perform three renegade rows.
• Row once each arm, and complete with a pushup. This is one rep.
• Hop on the rower, and make sure your screen is set to zero.
• Row until you’ve hit 8 calories.
• Rest until the next minute begins.
• Redo all the above, adding a calorie every time.
• Complete five rounds.
The 1000-Meter Mixup
Set your rower for 1,000 meters, and set the timer. Begin rowing, using powerful strokes. That’s just the start; you have work to do off the rower when you’re done in the form of hollow rocks. This will encourage you to finish the workout that much faster; the sooner you wrap up, the fewer hollow rocks you have to do. Meanwhile, doing the hollow rocks will allow you to row with more aggression, creating larger and larger breathers between your rowing. Hollow rocks are a solid offset to the rowing work. Rowing teaches you to extend at the hip, while the hollow rocks force you to be in control of hip extension. The blend of moves creates a well-rounded overall workout.
How to Do It:
• Set your rower for 1,000 meters and begin rowing.
• At the start of every minute (so when the rower hits 1 minute, then 2 minutes, then 3 minutes, and so on), get off the rower and do a hollow rock ladder.
• The first time you get off the rower, do 5 hollow rocks.
• The second time you get off, do 6; keep adding one hollow rock on every time you get off the rower.
• Aim to finish in 5 to 7 minutes.
The Row and Burpee Challenge
There’s nothing quite like a burpee penalty to make you row your fastest. This rowing workout will encourage you to stay with your pace; if you’re off on your pace, you’ll have to do burpees as a result.
How to Do It:
• You’ll do 5 500-meter rows. Your target goal: Finish each row in 1:40.
• Rest 5 minutes between each round.
• If you finish under 1:40, enjoy the rest. If you finish over 1:40, count how many seconds you’re over. You’ll do that many burpees. (So if you finish in 1:50, you’d do 10 burpees. If you finish at 1:42, you do 2 burpees).
Bobby Maximus’ Row to Hell
You’ll need a partner and a single rower for this workout from veteran trainer Bobby Maximus. The beauty of the workout: The rest period. Both you and your partner, if you’re evening matched, rest for about as long as you row, giving your body a chance to recover. That means you can push yourself at each distance, rowing as hard as you can and working to be explosive.
The rules for this one are simple. You and a partner are working a descending ladder of row work, providing each other with a rest period.
How to Do It:
• Start by rowing 500 meters. Then get off the rower quickly and have your partner row 500 meters.
• Immediately get back on the rower and go 400 meters, then have your partner row 400 meters.
• Follow that by each rowing a 300, then a 200, then a 100, in the same rhythm.
The Calorie Count-Up
This workout starts out slowly but ends with a flourish. The best part: It has a natural built-in warmup.
How to Do It:
• Set a rower to count 1-minute intervals. Your goal is to reach the required amount of calories before each minute is up.
• The first minute, you’ll row for 5 calories, then rest until the next minute begins. The next minute, row for 6 calories, then rest until the next minute begins. Continue working up the ladder.
• Aim to complete as many rounds as possible. The workout ends when you can no longer complete the required amount of calories in the minute.
• Try to make it through at least 15 minutes of work.
From the Ground Up Workout
Directions: Warm up for five minutes. Then do the following exercises in the order shown.
- Row, 100 meters
- Bodyweight squat, 10 reps
- Row, 200 meters
- Bodyweight squat, 10 reps
- Alternating reverse lunge, 20 reps
- Kneeling biceps curl to overhead press, 10 reps
That’s 1 round. Do 3 total rounds, resting when needed.
Pump and Row Pyramid
Directions: Warm up for 5 minutes. Then do the following exercises in the order shown.
1.Row, 100 meters, as fast as you can
2. Bodyweight squat, 5 reps
3. Pushup, 5 reps
4. Feet-elevated mountain climber, 5 reps
That’s 1 round. Repeat for the following rounds, resting as needed, but adjust the number of reps according to the directions below.
Round 2: Row 200 meters, then do 10 reps of each move
Round 3: Row 300 meters, then do 15 reps of each move
Round 4: Row 200 meters, then do 10 reps of each move
Round 5: Row 100 meters, then do 5 reps of each move
Finish with a 60-second plank.
The 20-Minute Metabolic Thruster Blast
This total body blast will torch your legs as you work through the squat motion of the thruster and the deadlift-like motion that the row calls for. Get ready to break a killer sweat. You can do this workout with either dumbbells or kettlebells in addition to your rower.
Warm up for five minutes. Then do the following exercises in the order shown.
How to Do It:
• Row, 500 meters, as fast as possible.
• Dumbbell or kettlebell thruster, 25 reps
• That’s 1 round. Do 4 total rounds, resting as needed between rounds and reps of thrusters. Aim to complete the workout in less than 20 minutes.
Burpee Blast Challenge
Warm up for five minutes. Set the rower’s monitor to display calories. Row hard for 2 minutes. Remember your calorie score—that’s the number of calories you’ll aim hit in each subsequent row. Now do 10 burpees. Row until you reach your calorie score from the previous 2-minute row. Now, do 9 burpees. Row again, hitting the same calorie goal, then do 8 burpees. Continue this descending ladder pattern until you finish the round that has just 1 burpee. Try to complete the workout as fast possible, resting as needed throughout. Aim to finish in less than 30 minutes.