The rowing machine is the perfect low-impact and full-body cardio machine for beginners. Here are five rowing machine workouts for beginners and tips for doing them like a pro.

Rowing Machine Workouts for BeginnersRowing Machine Workouts for Beginners

Ready to get sweaty and work hard to burn some serious calories?

Time for a rowing machine workout!

Rowing machine workouts are a full-body training option that will engage nearly all your muscles, push your cardiovascular system to its limits, and activate a lot of fat to use for energy.

With just a few workouts a week, you can get in better shape in no time.

In this post, I’m going to share with you some of my favorite rowing workouts for beginners, which you can do even if you’ve never rowed a day in your life.

Trust me: by the time you get through all five workouts, you’ll be thrilled to add them to your monthly workout plan so you can benefit from the amazing cardio training method. It’s a whole lot of fun and will deliver excellent results! 

Why the Rowing Machine is so Awesome

Before we get into the workouts themselves, I want to take a minute to talk about some of the benefits of rowing machines, and what makes it worth spending time on the rowing machine instead of other cardio machines at the gym.

Rowing Machine Workouts for Beginners - The BenefitsRowing Machine Workouts for Beginners - The Benefits

Here are what I consider the four greatest reasons the rowing machine is one of my all-time favorite cardio machines for weight loss:

Full Body Workout

If you look at the list of muscles worked on the rowing machine, you’ll be pretty impressed. Unlike other cardio machines (I’m looking at you, treadmill and stair climber) that just work your legs, the rowing machine works pretty much your entire body.

  • Your legs (quads, hamstrings, glutes, and calves) do all the hard work of sliding your body forward and driving it backward on the seat.
  • Your core (abs and lower back) keep your upper body stable and moving steadily as you lean forward and backward.
  • Your “pull muscles” (upper back, shoulders, biceps, and forearms) all engage to complete the rowing motion of pulling on the handle.

Really, the only muscles not worked are your “push muscles” (chest and triceps). Everything else is engaged to go through the rowing motion properly.

Building muscle with a rowing machine isn’t just possible; it’s all but guaranteed!

No Impact

I’m a big fan of no-impact and low-impact exercise, especially for those suffering from joint problems (such as lower back pain or knee injuries).

With high-impact exercise—like running or stair climbing—there is a great risk of wearing out your joints, injuring yourself, or worsening existing injuries.

But no- and low-impact workouts like rowing will be amazing for your joints. It will give them a break between high-impact workouts, giving your bone and muscle and joint tissue time to regenerate and repair itself. 

Easy to Add Variety

When the time comes to work out, you never have to be stuck doing the same type of training day after day after day. You can speed up the workout, slow it down, add more intensity, switch to HIIT, or try any number of workouts (as you’ll see below)

Whether you’re doing your first beginner cardio workout or trying out a more advanced row machine HIIT workout, you’ve got plenty of options for smart, effective training—training with variety enough you’ll never get bored. 

Great Calorie-Burning

If you compare the calories burned on the rowing machine to the calories burned on pretty much any other cardio machine, the rowing machine wins hands down nine times out of ten.

Oh, there are a few other machines that burn more—for example, the elliptical machine, or the Jacob’s Ladder—but compared to the lower-body-only machines (like treadmill and stair climber), the rowing machine wins.

You’ll be smart to use the rowing machine for weight loss because of this. Burning more calories (and fat calories) will be the key to effective weight and fat loss, helping you to get fitter and in better shape at the same time.

All pretty solid reasons to choose the rowing machine as your cardio machine of choice, isn’t it?  

Rowing Machine Workouts for Beginners

Workout #1: Slow Row

If you’re absolutely brand new to the rowing machine, it’s a good idea to start yourself off easy with a workout that you can confidently do every time.

Rowing Machine Workouts for Beginners - The WorkoutsRowing Machine Workouts for Beginners - The Workouts

This isn’t going to push your fitness too hard, just make sure you can actually get through the workout without collapsing from exhaustion.

The Workout:

  • Spend the first 5 minutes warming up by rowing at a slow pace (18-20 SPM) to get your body ready to work out.
  • Speed up to 21-23 SPM and maintain that pace for 2-3 KM (which will be roughly 20 to 30 minutes, depending on your rowing speed).
  • Cool down with 5 minutes of slow rowing (at 18-20 SPM) once more

Workout #2: Tabata Rowing Session

If you want to see the maximum results with the least amount of time invested, HIIT/Tabata is the way to go!

This workout will have you done and ready to move on in just 20 minutes, but be prepared: they’re going to be an intense 20 minutes!

The Workout:

  • Spend the first 5 minutes warming up by rowing at a slow pace (18-20 SPM) to get your body ready to work out.
  • Row fast (25-28 SPM) for 20 seconds, then row slow (21-23 SPM) for 10 seconds
  • Repeat this fast-and-slow cycle 8 times, for a total of 4 minutes
  • Row at a slow pace (18-23 SPM) for 2 minutes
  • Repeat the 4-minute fast-and-slow-cycle 4 times, for a total of 16 minutes of hard rowing
  • Cool down with 5 minutes of slow rowing (at 18-20 SPM) once more

Workout #3: Pyramid Rowing Workout

I love and hate pyramid workouts!

They can be absolutely exhausting, but boy do they work.

They’re amazing for pushing your body to its absolute limits and testing your endurance at high intensity, while also allowing for just enough low intensity that you don’t collapse.

(Doing squat pyramids is another one of my “favorite” ways of going Quadzilla on your lower body.)

Get ready for a challenge similar to the last workout, but one that pushes your body for longer periods.

The Workout:

  • Spend the first 5 minutes warming up by rowing at a slow pace (18-20 SPM) to get your body ready to work out.
  • Speed up to 22 SPM. Row at this speed for 3 minutes
  • Speed up to 24 SPM. Row at this speed for 3 minutes.
  • Speed up to 26 SPM. Row at this speed for 3 minutes.
  • Speed up to 28-30 SPM. Row at this speed for 1 minute.
  • Slow down to 26 SPM. Row at this speed for 3 minutes.
  • Slow down to 24 SPM. Row at this speed for 3 minutes.
  • Slow down to 22 SPM. Row at this speed for 3 minutes.
  • Cool down with 5 minutes of slow rowing (at 18-20 SPM) once more

Workout #4: Bodyweight Rowing Workout

This workout combines rowing with bodyweight resistance training to ensure you get a truly effective workout—one that both burns fat and builds muscle.

It’s going to be an exhausting session, but I guarantee it’ll be more fun and effective than just rowing.

The Workout:

  • Spend the first 5 minutes warming up by rowing at a slow pace (18-20 SPM) to get your body ready to work out.
  • “Sprint row” (at 26+ SPM) for 200 meters
  • “Slow row” at (21-23 SPM) for 100 meters
  • Do a set of 10 push-ups
  • “Sprint row” (at 26+ SPM) for 200 meters
  • “Slow row” at (21-23 SPM) for 100 meters
  • Do a set of 10 squats
  • “Sprint row” (at 26+ SPM) for 200 meters
  • “Slow row” at (21-23 SPM) for 100 meters
  • Do a set of 10 Pull-ups
  • “Sprint row” (at 26+ SPM) for 200 meters
  • “Slow row” at (21-23 SPM) for 100 meters
  • Do a set of 20 crunches
  • Repeat this cycle of 4 exercises 2-3 times
  • Cool down with 5 minutes of slow rowing (at 18-20 SPM) once more

Workout #5: Distance Row

Rowing doesn’t have to be all about the speed; it can also work your endurance, pushing your body to work for longer even at a lower intensity.

This distance rowing session focuses on rowing as far as you can in a single sitting, burning more calories over a longer period of time despite the slower pace.

The Workout:

  • Spend the first 5 minutes warming up by rowing at a slow pace (18-20 SPM) to get your body ready to work out.
  • Speed up slightly (to 21-24 SPM) and maintain that pace for as long as you can.
  • On your first workout, aim to row around 3,000 meters. If you can hit that goal with ease, aim for 3,500 meters.
  • On your second workout, aim to row around 4,000 meters. If you can hit that goal with ease, aim for 4,500 meters.
  • On your third workout, set a goal of 5,000 to 6,000 meters.
  • Every workout, increase your goal by 500 to 1,000 meters, until you can row 10KM without stopping.

Rowing Machine Workouts for Beginners – Tips for Rowing Like a Pro

If you’re new to rowing and are just learning how to use a rowing machine, here are a few tips that will help you make every rowing session the best you possibly can:

Rowing Machine Workouts for Beginners - TipsRowing Machine Workouts for Beginners - Tips

Let your legs do most of the work.

No matter what type of rowing machines you’re using, you need to remember that most of the power should be coming from your legs, not your arms.

It should be about a 70/30 split—your legs drive hard during the drive phase, and your arms only work after your legs are nearing full extension.

Letting your legs do most of the work is the key to getting in a truly effective workout and avoiding lower back, shoulder, and elbow injury.

Watch videos on rowing technique.

Unless you’ve got a coach on hand to teach you how to row properly, it’s worth watching someone else do it correctly rather than just reading about it.

You can spend a grand total of 5-15 minutes on YouTube and learn exactly what the correct rowing technique is and how to execute the correct movement every time.

Always warm up and cool down.

One of the biggest mistakes newbies can make it failing to take the time to warm up before their workout.

When your muscles and joints are cold, you’re more prone to injuring yourself if you start rowing or working hard.

Spending those 5 minutes warming up before getting into the proper workout is crucial for safe, effective training.

Cooling down for another 5 minutes after completing the workout will also ensure your muscles and joints get to stretch out and un-clench properly, which will reduce the risk of post-workout soreness.

Test your pace.

If your current stroke pace (as marked by SPM) feels too easy, try increasing the pace. Your body will adapt to the exercise over the course of your training session, as well as over weeks and months of regular training.

What might have felt like a fast pace when you just started out might actually be slow after a few months, and won’t push your body as hard as it should.

On the other hand, if you’re fatigued or injured, what felt like a slow pace before might be too hard at the present.

Raise the resistance.

To make the workout slightly more challenging, raise the resistance of the machine (or, if you’re using a water rower, row a little faster).

Increasing the resistance will increase the demands on your muscles, which in turn will increase the energy demands placed on your cardiovascular system.

You’ll burn more calories and build more muscle thanks to the increased difficulty.

Try HIIT.

For those days when you don’t have time for a drawn-out rowing session but you still want to burn a lot of calories, HIIT training can be your best friend.

Working at higher intensity burns through a lot of energy and pushes your cardiovascular system to its max capacity, and the low-intensity intervals are just enough to keep you from tiring out too quickly.

All you need is 15 to 25 minutes of HIIT training, and you’ll see results!

Keep these tips in mind next time you’re on the rowing machine, and you’ll find that every workout is a whole lot more effective!

The Bottom Line

No matter how much (or little) experience you have on the rowing machine, you’ll find there are plenty of workout options for you.

The rowing workouts for beginners that we shared above will help you to push your fitness, burn more calories, build muscle, and see real results for the time you invest into working out on the rowing machine at home or the gym.


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