Rowing Machine Workouts for CardioRowing Machine Workouts for Cardio

If you’re looking to step up your fitness game at the gym, it’s time to give the rowing machine a try!

The rowing machine delivers a (nearly) full body cardio workout that will push your heart, lungs, and muscles to full capacity.

With a good rowing workout, you can burn a lot of calories and improve your overall conditioning—all in as little as 15-25 minutes of training.

Below, I’ll share with you some of my favorite rowing machine workouts for cardio, workouts you can try no matter what fitness level you’re at. Whether you’re a total newbie, have been training for years, or are a hardcore endurance or strength trainee, there’s a workout for you.

By the end of this post, you’ll have a lot of workouts to try out and incorporate into your weekly training sessions.

To the cardio!

Benefits of Rowing Machines for Cardio WorkoutsBenefits of Rowing Machines for Cardio Workouts

Why the Rowing Machine Rocks for Cardio

Before we dive into the workouts, I want to take a moment to highlight the four greatest benefits of rowing machines.

It’s important you understand why the rowing machine is truly an amazing choice for cardio—that way, you can prioritize it over the other less-effective gym machines.

💪 Almost Full-Body Workout

If you look at the list of muscles worked on the rowing machine, you’ll see that there are A LOT of them. Really, it’s almost your entire body:

  • Upper back
  • Shoulders
  • Biceps
  • Forearms
  • Abs
  • Lower back
  • Quads
  • Glutes
  • Hamstrings
  • Calves

The only muscles missing are your chest and triceps (because it’s a “pull” movement with no “push” engagement), as well as your obliques (because there is no twisting or leaning-to-the-side component).

You’ll find building muscle with a rowing machine is a lot more efficient than on other cardio machines because of how many muscles it targets.

💪 Newbie-Friendly

Even if you’ve never rowed a boat in your life or tried your hand at the rowing machine, you’ll find it’s pretty easy to master.

It won’t take much to learn how to use a rowing machine correctly; just a few minutes spent working on your form and posture should be enough to help you get the sequence of movements down right.

By comparison to some of the more challenging cardio machines (like the Jacob’s Ladder or the elliptical cross-trainer), the rowing machine is one of the easiest machines to master.

And, because you can row at whatever speed suits you best, you can start out slow and work your way up to a faster rowing session at your own pace, according to your fitness level.

💪 Great Cardiovascular Conditioning

When it comes to conditioning your cardiovascular system, you won’t find many better options than the rowing machine.

Because you’re activating most of the muscles in your body, your body has to feed those muscles with oxygen and energy. The oxygen is absorbed by your lungs into your bloodstream, and pumped by your heart through your blood vessels to send it where it needs to go.

Rowing Machine Cardio WorkoutsRowing Machine Cardio Workouts

The harder you work, the stronger and more efficient your cardiovascular system will be. You can prevent a wide range of heart problems, obesity, diabetes, and countless other health problems by increasing your cardiovascular capacity.

And, as you’ll see explained more below, it’s also a truly great cardio machine for weight loss, too!

💪 Excellent for Weight Loss

As mentioned above, using the rowing machine for weight loss can be an absolute game-changer. Really, any machine that engages your whole body leads to faster weight loss, because of the amount of calories burned.

When your muscles work, they need oxygen (supplied by your cardiovascular system), but they also need energy. This energy comes from both the glucose in your bloodstream, as well as the fat stored around your body.

The number of calories burned on the rowing machine is high enough that you’ll burn quickly through the glucose energy in your bloodstream, so your body is forced to tap into that stored fat sooner rather than later. Over the course of a 30 to 60-minute rowing workout, you can actually end up burning as much fat energy as glucose energy.

This is the key to effective weight loss—given time and repeated training, your body will eliminate that fat energy and you’ll see the fat present in your body decreasing.

Rowing Machine Workouts for Cardio (for Every Level)

🏆 Workout #1: Beginner Rowing Workout

Let’s start off easy with a rower machine workout for beginners.

Rowing Machine Cardio Workouts - BeginnerRowing Machine Cardio Workouts - Beginner

Don’t worry if you’re totally new to rowing or even the gym itself. The workout is one anyone can do, and it’s a great way to get started on the rowing machine.

The Workout:

  • Start out with a few minutes of light stretching, followed by a warm-up of 5 minutes of rowing at a slow pace (18-20 SPM).
  • Speed up your pace slightly, adding 1-3 SPM. Evaluate how you’re feeling over the next 5 minutes of rowing.
  • Speed up again, adding 1-3 SPM to your pace for the next 5 minutes. By this point, you should be feeling the burn, and that’s how you know you’re working hard.
  • Speed up one last time, with an additional 1-3 SPM (depending on how you feel). Spend the 5 minutes rowing at a faster pace, pushing your cardiovascular system as hard as you can.
  • Slow your pace by 2-4 SPM for the last 5 minutes. You should still keep up the exertion, but it should be “light” enough that you can talk while rowing.
  • Cool down with 5 minutes of slow-paced rowing (18-21 SPM)

🏆 Workout #2: HIIT Workout

Time to take things up a notch!

This row machine HIIT workout is well-suited to intermediate trainees, those who are trying to take their fitness to the next level. It’ll burn A LOT of calories and leave you drained but fired up at just how hard you were able to push yourself.

The Workout:

  • Start out with a few minutes of light stretching, followed by a warm-up of 5 minutes of rowing at a slow pace (18-20 SPM).
  • Row at maximum speed (26-30 SPM) for 30 seconds.
  • Slow down to a “normal” speed (22-25 SPM) for 90 seconds.
  • Alternate between the high-intensity rowing and low-intensity rowing intervals 10 times, for a total of 20 minutes.
  • Cool down with 5 minutes of slow-paced rowing (18-21 SPM)

🏆 Workout #3: Endurance Training

For endurance athletes, it’s all about training longer, not necessarily harder.

This rowing endurance workout will give you the best of both worlds, enabling your muscles and cardiovascular system to sustain the pace for more time while also giving your body a power-up.

The Workout:

  • Start out with a few minutes of light stretching, followed by a warm-up of 5 minutes of rowing at a slow pace (18-20 SPM).
  • Set your pace at medium intensity—typically, 21-24 SPM is a good target to set. Set the resistance to 50-75%. Row at this setting for a total of 45 minutes.
  • Every 5 minutes, speed up to max speed (26-30 SPM) for 30 seconds. This will increase your cardiovascular capacity while still giving you energy enough for the endurance session.
  • Cool down with 5 minutes of slow-paced rowing (18-21 SPM)
Rowing Machine Cardio Workouts - EnduranceRowing Machine Cardio Workouts - Endurance

🏆 Workout #4: The Calorie Burn

Ready to torch some calories?

This workout will leave you dripping buckets of sweat but will give you a very clear idea of just how many calories you’ve burned during the rowing session.

The Workout:

  • Start out with a few minutes of light stretching, followed by a warm-up of 5 minutes of rowing at a slow pace (18-20 SPM).
  • For the first minute of the workout, row until you’ve burned 5 calories. Once you hit that target, rest for the remainder of the minute.
  • Add another calorie, so for the next minute, you row until you’ve burned 6 calories, then stop and rest.
  • Every minute, add one more calorie to burn before you can rest. You may need to row faster/harder in order to hit your goal as the calorie count increases.
  • Shoot for a total of 20 minutes of exercise—by the end, your goal will be to burn 25 calories in a single minute. That’s not an easy target to hit!
  • Cool down with 5 minutes of slow-paced rowing (18-21 SPM)

🏆 Workout #5: Advanced EMOM Sprint

This is a wonderful training session to take your workout to the next level using high-intensity interval training, that will not only build muscle, but also increase your cardiovascular capacity significantly.

It’s just 20 minutes, but I guarantee you’ll feel the burn before the end!

The Workout:

  • Start out with a few minutes of light stretching, followed by a warm-up of 5 minutes of rowing at a slow pace (18-20 SPM).
  • Every minute on the minute, row to burn 15 calories. Once you hit that goal, rest for the remainder of the minute.
  • If that goal feels too easy, increase your calorie-burning to 20.
  • Adjust your pace and the resistance to burn more calories per stroke.
  • Keep working for 25 minutes at this pace—burning 15-20 calories, then resting.
  • Cool down with 5 minutes of slow-paced rowing (18-21 SPM)

Rowing Machine Cardio Workouts – FAQs

What other cardio machines are good for doing cardio?

All cardio machines are good for cardio—that’s why they’re called “cardio machines”, after all. But if you want to know what the best are, here are my top three (not including rowers):

These are the machines I recommend most highly if you want to get in a truly next-level cardio workout.

How often should you use the rower for building cardio?

Regardless of what type of rowing machine you use, the workout remains the same, and the muscles recruited by the action of rowing remain the same. If you use those muscles EVERY SINGLE DAY, you not only increase your risk of injury, but also prevent recovery and muscle growth.

Your muscles need at least 48 hours of rest between workouts (up to 72 hours if you’re doing very heavy resistance training). That means you shouldn’t use the rowing machine more than every other day for your muscles’ sake.

The cardiovascular system needs to be trained every day, so it’s worth spending time on the other gym cardio machines to increase the function of your heart, lungs, and blood vessel without tiring out the muscles recruited by your rowing machine workout. That’s just smart training!

The Bottom Line

The great thing about the rowing machine is that there are so many workouts you can do. Whether you’re total newbie sitting down on the rower for the first time or a veteran-level resistance trainee who has seen and done it all, the rowing machine can be adapted to the ideal workout for your fitness, strength, endurance, and cardiovascular capacity.

As you’ve seen above, there are many ways to train, and it’s worth trying them all to see which you enjoy most, and which delivers the best results.

By mixing things up, you can keep your body guessing so it never grows too accustomed to one form of training.

That’s the key to really increasing your functional fitness across the board—making you a healthier, fitter person overall!

More Rowing Machine Guides and Articles

Rowing Machine vs. Stationary Bike – Which is Best for Your Workouts? The rowing machine and stationary bike are two of the most popular cardio machines in the gym. But which one is best for you? Read on as we highlight the key differences and who each cardio machine is perfect for.

Is the Rowing Machine Good for Bad Knees? (and How to Stop Knee Pain on the Rower). Wondering if the rowing machine is a good match for people with bad knees? Here is how to stay pain-free on the rowing machine, benefits, and more.

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