How to Create a Rowing Machine Workout Program

Rowing machines activate major muscle groups.
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If the thought of spending another cardio session on a treadmill or stationary bike is as tantalizing as spending the day at the dentist, then it’s time to add variety to your workout. While cardiovascular exercise is an essential component of living a healthy life, it doesn’t have to be boring and predictable. Rowing machines offer the fluidity of gliding through water while simultaneously calling upon your cardiorespiratory system to push you throughout the workout. Establishing a rowing machine workout program is no different than integrating any other form of cardio into your weekly workout routine.

    Step 1

    Outline your weekly cardiovascular schedule to meet the minimum physical activity requirements. As a general rule of thumb, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention suggests adults should get a minimum of 150 minutes of moderately intense activity or 75 minutes of vigorously intense activity per week. Since rowing machines are powered by your own momentum and self-chosen resistance, you choose exercise intensity. Take the talking test to find intensity levels: If you can speak clearly in conversation, the intensity level is moderate; if you can barely speak without having to take a breath, the intensity level is vigorous. For enhanced health benefits, double the minimum weekly requirements.

    Step 2

    Determine rowing session duration based on frequency. For example, to meet the 150-minute moderately intense recommendation, row for 30 minutes five days per week or 50 minutes three days per week. To meet the 75-minute vigorously intense recommendation, row for 15 minutes five days per week or 25 minutes three days per week. However, if time is an issue, break up sessions into smaller chunks performed throughout the day. If you follow this mode of training, the CDC suggests each session last a minimum of 10 minutes. While you may row on weight training days, keep the intensity level relatively low; engage in higher intensity rowing sessions on non-weight training days.

    Step 3

    Incorporate high intensity interval training, or HIIT, in your rowing workouts to burn subcutaneous fat. Begin with a five-minute warmup on the rowing machine. Do not add any resistance and move at a somewhat slow pace. Immediately after the warmup, increase resistance and quicken your pace until your exertion level rates seven to nine on a scale of 10. Continue at this level for 60 seconds. Follow this burst with a 120-second recovery period by reducing any added resistance and slowing your pace until you reach a five to six intensity level. Cycle between 60 second energy bursts and 120-second recovery periods for seven cycles. Finish the workout with a five-minute cool down.


    • If you’ve never used a rowing machine, speak with a fitness professional to learn proper techniques.


    • Only engage in HIIT rowing sessions one to two times per week on non-weight training days. Engage in steady-pace rowing between HIIT rowing sessions.


    • Consider adding resistance to increase the intensity of this exercise.


    • If you’re recovering from an injury, speak with your doctor before engaging in rowing machine exercises.

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