Rowing is a full-body, low-impact workout, and the good news is that you don't need to be an Ivy League student rowing crew at Harvard to get the benefits. Most gyms have rowing machines, and though they may not be as popular as the elliptical machines, they can offer good cardio exercise without stressing your joints. If you are fortunate enough to live near a body of water and are able to row outside, you will get the same benefits that you obtain from using a machine inside, with the added bonus of scenery and fresh air.
To get the most out of your workout and avoid injury, it is important to use correct form when rowing. Sit on the seat and place your feet in the stirrups. Lean slightly forward with your back straight and your core muscles engaged. Your knees should be bent and your arms out in front of you with your hands grasping the handles of the rowing machine in an overhand grip. Lean back slightly and press through your legs to straighten them. Bend your elbows to pull the handle in to your chest in a fluid movement until your hands reach your ribcage. Bend your knees to come back to the starting position and repeat.
The amount of calories that you burn when rowing depends on a few factors: the intensity of the exercise you are doing, how much you weigh and how much muscle mass you have. The Harvard Health Publications website reports that a 155-pound person will burn 260 calories in a half hour of moderate intensity rowing and 316 calories at high intensity. If you weigh less, you burn less, and if you weigh more, you burn more. Rowing machines can be adjusted to increase the resistance, that and the pace at which you row will determine the intensity of your workout.
Vary your Workout
You can vary your workout by combining rowing at a lower intensity and then upping the intensity to work hard while doing sets of rowing, in the same way you would do repetitions and sets if you were lifting weights. Start with 10 to 15 minutes of rowing on a low-resistance setting to warm up. Then set the machine at a high resistance and do sets of 15 power strokes, pulling as hard and fast as you can. Between the sets, do low-intensity rowing for one or two minutes. Repeat the cycle of power strokes and light rowing until you have done 20 minutes of exercise.
Other Tips and Considerations
Do a warm-up of 10 to 15 minutes of cardio and stretching before you start high-intensity rowing. Do a full range of stretches that work all of your major muscle groups. If you are new to rowing, pay particular attention to your form; increase the challenge of your workout only after you have the basics down. If you have any back problems, consult with your doctor before rowing as it can place strain on your back. If you feel any pinching in your back or pain in your muscles, stop rowing.
Based in New York City, Rebecca Jones has been a writer, reporter and researcher for more than 20 years. Her reporting and researching has helped inform the pages of Glamour, Giant, and Ladies' Home Journal among other publications. In addition to her professional work in the editorial departments of magazines, Jones is an avid poet and as yet unpublished fiction writer.