A rowing machine, or ergometer, might be your best choice for a cardio machine workout, depending on your fitness goals. Unlike treadmills, ellipticals, stationary bikes and stair climbers, a rowing machine creates a full-body workout with considerable resistance. Adding rowing to your fitness plan will help you burn more fat, build more muscle and improve your shape.
Rowing machines used to look and work similar to rowboats or lake or river sculls, with levers that looked like abbreviated oars you pulled from a siting position. Today’s ergometers use either longer handles, or oars, rely on cables to create the pulling and pushing motion that works your body in a back-and-forth motion.
Rowing machines help you work most of the muscles of your body by requiring you to pull your body’s weight using a motion that recruits your legs, hips, butt, back, chest, shoulders and arms. If you use less resistance, work at a higher speed and row longer, you’ll improve muscular endurance, which will help improve your sports performance. If you use more resistance, you’ll build more muscle. If your goal is toning, you’ll need to burn fat and build muscle, and a rowing machine will help you do both.
Beginners, intermediates and athletes can all create workouts that improve your cardiovascular system. Using less resistance, beginners can row for longer periods at a moderately intense pace as they get used to exercise. Intermediates can increase resistance or row faster to create workouts near the high end of their aerobic target heart rate range. Using less resistance, intermediates athletes can create high-intensity interval workouts.
Rowing burns close to the same number of calories per hour as an elliptical trainer, according to the Harvard School of Public Health. Vigorous rowing offers a higher calorie burn than high-impact aerobics, an exercise bike, stair stepper, circuit training, vigorous calisthenics workouts or running at 5 mph. Because of the resistance aspect of the exercise, you’ll also build more muscle than while performing these other exercises and create a longer post-workout calorie burn.
If your goal is to improve bone density, rowing is not a weight-bearing exercise. While resistance does help improve bone healthy because of the action of your tendons and ligaments pulling away from your bones, you might want to add walking, step aerobics, calisthenics or another form of exercise that puts you on your feet. Another downside of rowing is that its repetitive motion against resistance creates stress on your joints and back. If you don’t perform your workouts with proper technique, especially as you begin to fatigue at the end of your workouts, or if you use too much resistance, you can injure hurt your knees, hips or back.
- Harvard Health Publications: Calories Burned in 30 MInutes for People of Three Different Weights
- Dr. Ray Sahelian, M.D.: Osteoporosis Herbs, Supplements, Vitamins Information, Natural Treatment
- American College of Sports Medicine: Selecting and Effectively Using a Rowing Machine
- Pittsburgh Post Gazette: Fitness Q&A: On the Benefits of Rowing; Toning Flabby Arms
Sam Ashe-Edmunds has been writing and lecturing for decades. He has worked in the corporate and nonprofit arenas as a C-Suite executive, serving on several nonprofit boards. He is an internationally traveled sport science writer and lecturer. He has been published in print publications such as Entrepreneur, Tennis, SI for Kids, Chicago Tribune, Sacramento Bee, and on websites such Smart-Healthy-Living.net, SmartyCents and Youthletic. Edmunds has a bachelor's degree in journalism.