How to Master Proper Form on the Rowing Machine (and Classic Mistakes to Avoid)

How to Master Proper Form on the Rowing Machine (and Classic Mistakes to Avoid)

The rowing machine is one of the best cardio machines in the gym for losing weight and getting in shape. Here’s how to master proper form and technique, plus some classic mistakes commonly made when rowing.

Rowing Machine Proper FormRowing Machine Proper Form

One very important thing I try to highlight to everyone I talk to about fitness or training is the importance of the proper form.

Correct form is crucial in both weighted resistance training and cardio training, but for very different reasons.

With heavy-weighted resistance training, incorrect form can lead to higher risk of acute injuries, as well as uneven muscle development.

But with cardio training, you’re repeating the same movement over and over again hundreds or even thousands of times. Over that many repetitions, even minor flaws in your form can lead to chronic or over-use injuries.

That’s why I preach the value of proper form no matter what exercise you’re doing!

In this article, we’re going to talk about how to have the right form when on the rowing machine.

It doesn’t matter if you’re doing a row machine HIIT workout, mixing up rowing and resistance training, or going for a low-and-slow hour-long workout—any workout you do, you have to have the right form in order to prevent injuries!

Rowing Machine Proper Form - Benefits of Rowing MachineRowing Machine Proper Form - Benefits of Rowing Machine

Why the Rowing Machine Rocks Our Socks Off

Before we dive into the proper form, I want to take a moment to highlight the benefits of rowing machines specifically as it pertains to your fitness efforts.

There are a lot of reasons to use the rowing machine—and use it correctly by learning the right form:

💪 Full-Body Workout

If you look at the list of muscles worked on the rowing machine, you’ll see that the machine delivers a nearly full-body workout.

Every time you row, you work your:

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

That’s a lot of muscles engaged in just this one movement!

Instead of focusing on just your lower body (like so many other cardio machines do), the rowing machine will get your upper body and core working, too, which will be game-changing for developing your overall fitness.

💪 Great for Weight Loss

The rowing machine is one of my favorite cardio machines for weight loss, hands-down.

There are A LOT of calories burned on the rowing machine—according to Harvard Medical School, a big guy of my size (~200 pounds) can burn upwards of 300 calories in a 30-minute moderate rowing session, or 450+ in a 30-minute vigorous rowing session.

Now that’s results!

What’s great about the rowing machine for weight loss is that it engages a lot of muscles (as you saw above), so it forces your body to not only burn calories for energy to expend while training, but also to replenish the depleted muscular energy stores after training.

You’ll keep burning calories for an hour or so after the workout is done because your body is working hard to “refuel” your muscles. The more muscles you work, the more energy your body has to mobilize (from your fat stores).

The end result: better fat burning!

💪 Compatible with All Fitness Levels

Whether you’re totally new to the gym or an expert, the rowing machine will be a great choice for you!

For advanced trainees, there are all sorts of awesome ways you can make your rowing machine workout more challenging—EMOM sprints, mixing up bodyweight training and rowing, ladder rowing, Tabata cycles, HIIT, and the list goes on.

But even for those who have never learned how to use a rowing machine, the machine is fairly simple to master. Really, you just have to learn the correct form (which we’ll explain in the next section), and you can start rowing efficiently from Day One.

There are so many options for rower machine workouts for beginners, too, helping you to start pushing your fitness to the next level no matter how inexperienced you are.

All pretty great reasons to love the rowing machine, right?

How to Use Proper Form on the Rowing MachineHow to Use Proper Form on the Rowing Machine

Tips for Proper Form on the Rowing Machine

If you’re going to get on the rowing machine, it’s important that you learn the correct posture and form in order to move correctly.

Otherwise, you’re more prone to injuries (both acute and chronic due to overuse) that could impair your training.

Below, I’ll walk you through the correct technique for using the rowing machine.

It’s broken down into four basic parts:

The Catch

This is both the “setup” and the “end” of the rowing stroke.

  • Sit with your back straight and head up, leaning slightly forward at the hips to an 11 o’clock position.
  • Your arms should be fully extended but your elbows slightly bent—NEVER lock out your elbows!
  • Keep your shoulders level and relaxed, never hunched.
  • Your shins should be perpendicular to the floor, as close to “vertical” as possible.
  • Allow your heels to lift up from the pedals if needed.

From this position, you’re ready to move into the Drive.

The Drive

This is the “work” part of the rowing stroke, when your lower body pushes and your upper body pulls.

  • Drive first with your legs, pressing your heels into the pedals and extending your legs.
  • As your legs straighten, hinge backward at the torso moving toward fully vertical.
  • Only once your legs are nearly straight should you begin pulling with your arms.
  • Keep your hands moving in a straight line from the flywheel to your belly—do not raise or lower them above the “flat” level.
  • Keep your shoulders relaxed and let your arms and back do the work of pulling.

The Finish

Now you’re “finishing” the backward part of the stroke.

  • End with your upper body at roughly 1 o’clock position (a slight backward lean).
  • Your legs should be fully extended but your knees remain unlocked.
  • The handle should be touching your belly just below the level of your ribs.
  • Your wrists should be flat, your grip on the handle relaxed.
  • Your shoulders should remain relaxed, never allow them to hunch or round.

The Recovery (or Return)

Now it’s time for the “recovery”, when you return to the start position doing the original movement all in reverse.

  • Start by extending your arms, keeping the handle on a “flat” level without allowing it to rise or dip.
  • Begin to lean forward as you extend your arms, moving your body from the 1 o’clock position toward vertical.
  • Once your arms are extended past your knees, bend your knees and slide the seat forward on the rail.
  • Slide forward until your shins are once more vertical to the floor, your upper body is at a 11 o’clock position, and your arms are fully extended.

You’re now ready to start the rowing stroke all over again!

Common Mistakes on the Rowing MachineCommon Mistakes on the Rowing Machine

Technique Mistakes People Make on the Rowing Machine

The rowing machine is definitely one of the easiest of the gym cardio machines to master, with a form that you can learn fairly quickly.

However, just because it’s easy, that doesn’t mean people don’t still make mistakes. On the contrary, in fact—some people get so accustomed to a certain way of rowing that they fail to realize they’re even making a mistake that could A) compromise the efficiency of their workout, and B) lead to higher injury risk.

Here are the three most common technique mistakes people make on the rowing machine, their risks, and what you can do to correct and avoid them:

Technique Mistake #1: Moving Your Upper Body Too Much

There is a real temptation to let your upper body do a lot of the work, because you may think that’ll help you increase your rowing stroke speed or pull harder.

Well, this can be a big mistake with big consequences for your lower back.

If you lean too far back during the Finish, your core will have to engage to keep your upper body from falling backward, which will actually take a lot of power away from the actual stroke.

Plus, just like with sit-ups, there is a risk of lower back strain with this repeated engagement of the core muscles.

Another upper body technique mistake is collapsing your chest too far forward during the Catch. This is usually your body’s way of trying to speed up by extending your arms back toward the “start position” more quickly.

The problem is, this will A) compromise your ability to breathe properly, which will lead to fatigue; and B) increase your risk of lower back and shoulder strain. The collapsing of your chest forces your lower back and shoulder muscles to engage incorrectly.

Keeping your chest up and restricting your body to just the correct range of motion—11 o’clock to 1 o’clock—is crucial for maximizing performance while minimizing risk.

Technique Mistake #2: Incorrect Arm Movement

Your arms do only some of the work; in truth, it’s your legs that should be pushing through the drive, with your arms only coming in at the end.

If you begin to pull with your arms too early in the stroke, you’ll reach the Finish and have very little power. You’ll also tire your arms out unnecessarily, increase the risk of back and shoulder injury, and reduce leg muscle engagement.

Make sure that your legs are almost fully extended before you bring your arms into the mix. That way, you’ve already driven hard with your lower body 60% of the way, and the rest is divided evenly between your core and arms.

Also, when returning to your starting position in the Recovery phase, make sure that your arms are nearly fully extended before you bend your knees.

Incorrect Technique on the Rowing MachineIncorrect Technique on the Rowing Machine

One very common mistake newbies make is bending their knees too soon, which forces them to lift the handle to get it over their knees. This will slow down your stroke and reduce efficiency.

The key is to bend slightly forward at the waist while extending your arms, then bend your knees at the end to bring you sliding forward to the Catch.

Done right with both the Drive and Recovery, you’ll have a much more efficient rowing form.

Technique Mistake #3: Leading With Your Butt

This is one mistake you will definitely regret!

Some athletes, thinking they can gain more power during the drive, will sort of shoot their butts out backward before straightening their legs. This isn’t a “secret technique” or “sneaky hack”, but a mistake that can compromise your form and increase your risk of injury.

You see, when you shoot your butt backward, you’re placing greater emphasis on the lower back, specifically the spinal muscles around and above your pelvis. These muscles are the ones most prone to injury, which is why this movement can be so dangerous. You’re risking lower back problems by shooting your butt out.

Instead, keep your butt firmly planted on the seat, and focus on driving through your legs. Let your quads do the majority of the work—they’re the largest lower body muscle group, and can generate the most power. 

The Bottom Line

The rowing machine is an absolute game-changer for your fitness, a cardio machine that can build both muscular and cardiovascular endurance efficiently if used right.

Learning the proper form is crucial for not only a more effective workout, but also smart prevention of injuries.

The tips above will help you master the basics, and you can put them into practice starting TODAY to become a better rower.

Over time, you’ll find that rowing with the proper form will do wonders to keep you safe while also yielding better fitness results.

Now that’s what I call a win-win!


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Rowing Machine vs. Stairmaster – Which is Best for Your Workouts?

Rowing Machine vs. Stairmaster – Which is Best for Your Workouts?

Wondering if the rowing machine or the Stairmaster is best for your training and weight loss goals? Here’s a detailed look at the rowing machine vs Stairmaster so that you can maximize your time in the gym.

Rowing Machine vs StairmasterRowing Machine vs Stairmaster

When it comes to workouts, we all want the most effective and efficient option that will get us to our goals faster.

No fiddling around on the easy-breezy machines, no wasting time on a “light” workout. It’s full intensity, full efficiency, all the way!

If that’s your approach to your training, then you’re going to love what I’ve got for you today…

In this post, I’m going to compare two of the most commonly used cardio machines for weight loss—the stair climber and the rowing machine—and see how they stack up against each other.

We’ll compare all the most important metrics, including calories burned, muscles worked, the injury risk, impact to both your body and your wallet, and more. The goal: to ensure you know which of the two machines will deliver the best results for your workouts.

By the end of this article, you’ll have a much clearer idea which of the two machines will be the better use of your time.

So let’s jump right in and find out, shall we?

Stairclimber Machine vs Rowing MachineStairclimber Machine vs Rowing Machine

🔥 Calories Burned

Let’s start off with an easy one: the number of calories burned on the rowing machine and the stair climber, respectively.

“Calories burned” is a great metric because it’s a quantifiable one—it’s literally a numerical value that tells you just how much energy you expend in your training session.

As you well know, burning more calories is crucial for weight loss, so the more calories a machine burns, the more effective it is for your weight loss—and, specifically, fat loss.

According to the Harvard Medical School1:

  • A 125 pound person can burn 210 calories in a 30-minute “moderate” paced rowing workout
  • A 155 pound person can burn 252 calories in a 30-minute “moderate” paced rowing workout
  • A 185 pound person can burn 294 calories in a 30-minute “moderate” paced rowing workout

Not bad, right?

But what happens if we increase the pace slightly, add some intensity to our rowing?

  • A 125 pound person can burn 255 calories in a 30-minute “vigorous” rowing workout
  • A 155 pound person can burn 369 calories in a 30-minute “vigorous” rowing workout
  • A 185 pound person can burn 440 calories in a 30-minute “vigorous” rowing workout

All right, now that’s getting us some results! Using the rowing machine for weight loss is absolutely worth it.

How does the stair climber stack up? Well, according to the same experts:

  • A 125 pound person can burn 180 calories in a 30-minute “general” stair step machine workout
  • A 155 pound person can burn 216 calories in a 30-minute “general” stair step machine workout
  • A 185 pound person can burn 252 calories in a 30-minute “general” stair step machine workout

Ahh, so you see the difference there! While both machines burn calories, the rowing machine has a slight advantage in overall caloric expenditure.

Why is that, you ask? Simple: it comes down to the muscles worked (see the next section) and the way the two exercises engage the body.

Stairclimber Machine vs Rowing Machine - Calories BurnedStairclimber Machine vs Rowing Machine - Calories Burned

As you know, your muscles burn through stored energy when they work, meaning they force your body to mobilize stored energy (from your bloodstream, liver, and fat cells) in order to keep them supplied.

The longer you work and the more calories your muscles burn through exercise, the more it taps into stored fats, which in turn leads to weight loss.

Because the rowing machine burns more calories than the stair climber (even on a “general” and “moderate” level of exercise), it’s the better choice for weight loss and fat-burning.

💪  Muscles Worked

As I mentioned above, it’s your muscles that burn the calories, because your muscles burn through existing energy stored and force your body to mobilize more.

When it comes to exercise, the simple formula is often “more muscles worked, more calories burned”.

So, when we look at the muscles worked on the rowing machine versus the muscles worked on the stair climber, you can clearly see why the rowing machine is the better choice for burning calories and fats.

Whether you’re doing a rower machine workout for beginners or a truly expert-level training session, the muscles engaged during the rowing movement remain the same:

  • Upper body: Upper back, shoulders, biceps, forearms
  • Core: Abdominals, lower back (spinal supporters)
  • Lower body: Quadriceps, hamstrings, gluteals, and calves

As you can see, that’s nearly all of your muscles. The only ones that aren’t getting invited to the rowing party are the “push muscles” (the chest and triceps) and the obliques (because there’s no real sideways or twisting movement). Otherwise, it’s your entire body getting to work in the rowing movement.

Now, how does the stair climber stack up? What kind of muscle engagement can you get when climbing stairs?

Well, it’s pretty much entirely lower body-focused. That means it’ll recruit the same lower body muscles as rowing—the quads, calves, hamstrings, and glutes—to push your body up stair after stair. There is some core engagement, too, your abs and lower back working to keep your upper body balanced.

Stairclimber Machine vs Rowing Machine - Muscles WorkedStairclimber Machine vs Rowing Machine - Muscles Worked

However, if you’re doing the workout right and not leaning heavily on the rails for support, your upper body is basically removed from the equation. It’s all on your legs to do the hard work!

While this makes the stair climber great for training just your lower body, I’m always in favor of more full-body workouts, because they use more muscles more efficiently to strengthen them with less time spent training.

Ultimately, the rowing machine ends up being the better choice because it works more muscles overall.

🏋️ Functional Fitness

The term “functional fitness” refers to fitness that translates into more effective performance of your activities of daily life.

What activities are those, you ask? They could be anything, including:

  • Running with your pets
  • Playing with your kids
  • Carrying the shopping into the house
  • Taking out the garbage
  • Hiking or trekking with your buddies
  • Paddling a canoe or kayak
  • Cycling around town
  • Walking
  • Climbing stairs

Basically, any sort of activity that you’re likely to perform on a daily or regular basis, those would be considered your “activities of daily life”.

When considering which cardio machine is “best”, I always look at which help me to perform those activities of daily life most effectively.

The “functionality” of the rowing machine is pretty much restricted to a single activity: rowing a boat. That wasn’t an activity I had much chance to get involved in during my younger years, until I came across the delightful summer sports of kayaking, canoeing, and paddleboarding.

That year was the year I learned how to use a rowing machine.

Though the rowing movement isn’t exactly identical to paddling a kayak or paddleboard, it works the same muscles and is close enough that the strength and cardiovascular endurance I built during my row machine HIIT workouts translated into better performance when out on the water.

Granted, this is very limited, and it’s not something I can use year-round.

On the other hand, the stair climber really is a functional machine that trains for one of the most common activities in daily life: climbing stairs.

Stairclimber Machine vs Rowing Machine - Functional FitnessStairclimber Machine vs Rowing Machine - Functional Fitness

Think about how many stairs you climb every day, and it will shock you just how often you do it without really thinking:

  • Climbing up and down the stairs in your home
  • Climbing up and down the stairs in your office building
  • Climbing up and down steps outside
  • Climbing up and down steps at a football game or soccer stadium

Really, there are stairs everywhere. You can’t go through an entire day in your normal life without climbing at least a few.

So any exercise that trains you to climb stairs more efficiently is definitely going to be a very functional form of exercise.

🩹 Impact and Injury

There are two aspects that tie together and are critical elements to consider when planning your workouts:

1) Impact to Your Joints

Every time you lift your feet off the ground, there is impact when your foot again strikes the ground and you transfer your weight onto it. The faster and harder that striking and weight transfer takes place, the higher the impact.

For example, jumping is the highest-impact form of exercise, with running being slightly lower, jogging being lower still, and walking being very low impact.

Why is this a factor to consider? Simple: more impact means more strain on your bones, joints, and muscle.

Some high-impact exercise is good for you, because it forces your bones, joints, and muscles to grow stronger and more resilient. However, over-training at high-impact exercise can lead to breakdown of these tissues, in turn leading to injuries.

So it’s always best to combine low- and high-impact exercise to ensure your body isn’t being overworked.

One of the best benefits of rowing machines is that it’s a very low-impact form of exercise. In fact, because your feet remain firmly planted on the pedals throughout the entire training session, there’s virtually no impact.

On the other hand, because you’re lifting your feet to climb a step and then shifting all your weight forward onto that foot, stair climbing is a higher-impact form of exercise. It’s not as high-impact as running or jumping, but it’s not as gentle on your joints as rowing.

2) Injury Risk

It’s important as you age (but even while young) to consider how likely any kind of exercise is to lead to injury—both acute injury (from a fall or sudden strain/sprain) and chronic injury (from overusing the muscles, bones, and joints).

When you’re young, your body is more resilient and can heal faster from any injuries. But the more you age, the longer it takes to recover, so the more “vulnerable” you are to any injuries you sustain. Too many piled on top of each other can compound small problems, turning them into big ones.

With rowing, there is very low risk of acute injury, because A) your muscles are working at significantly below “strain” level, and B) because there is minimal risk of falling off the machine.

You’re most at risk of over-use and chronic injuries, such as:

  • IT band friction in the knee
  • Lumbar back pain
  • Wrist extensor tenosynovitis
  • Shoulder impingement

However, with the proper form and sufficient rest between workouts (24-48 hours), your injury risk is fairly low.

With the stair climber, you’re also at a fairly low risk of acute injury, because the machine is safe and stable and you’re not really working at full output. And, because you’re working only your lower body, the joints that may suffer damage from over-use and over-training are limited to your lower body:

  • Hips
  • Knees
  • Ankles
  • Foot bones

Be warned, though: your knees are at the greatest risk with the stair climber.

Because of the nature of the movement (pushing upward with your knee bent), you’re far more prone to suffering knee pains and joint problems with the stair climber than with nearly any other machine in the gym.

💰 Cost and Footprint

Last, but certainly not least, you’ve got to consider the cost of the machine you’re adding to your home gym, and the footprint, or the amount of space it takes up.

Cost

A rowing machine will run you anywhere from $300 to $2,000, depending on quality. Lower-end machines will run in the $300 to $500 range, with mid-range machines costing you $600 to $1200.

At the highest end of the spectrum, the top-of-the-line rowing machines will end up costing you no more than $2,000—and that’s with all the fancy tech bells and whistles included.

On the other hand, stair climber machines tend to be pricey. You won’t find a good-quality stair climber machine for under $2,000, and some can rise as high as $7,000 or $8,000. That’s a lot of money to spend on a single gym machine!

Stairclimber Machine vs Rowing Machine - Cost and FootprintStairclimber Machine vs Rowing Machine - Cost and Footprint

Footprint

When looking at the footprint of the two machines, there’s usually a pretty clear winner.

Your average rowing machine will be around 90+ inches long and 24+ inches wide. However, many of them are designed to fold or stand up, and when in “stored position”, their footprint is really only around 24-28 inches wide and long.

On the other hand, stair climber machines are big and very bulky by comparison. You’re looking at minimum 36 inches wide and long, and another 65+ tall. There is no way to shrink them down or fold them up—they’re always going to take up that much space in your gym.

Rowing Machine vs Stairmaster – The Final Verdict

The rowing machine is perfect for people who:

  • Love a beginner-friendly HIIT workout
  • Enjoy spending their summers paddling or rowing on the water
  • Prefer to burn more calories with every training session
  • Want a full-body workout
  • Need a low-impact, low-injury form of exercise
  • Want to keep their gym setup cost-efficient and space-efficient

The stair climber machine is perfect for people who:

  • Want to improve their functional fitness specifically for climbing stairs (or steep mountain trails)
  • Have more money to spend on a pricey machine and a much more spacious gym
  • Prefer to focus on training only their lower body

The Bottom Line

As you can see, both cardio machines have their pros and cons, and any smart trainee will know that both deserve a place in their workout regimen.

For example, if you’re hammering your upper body with your weight training, you can give your muscles a break and switch to stair-climbing to burn some extra calories and work on your cardio without pushing your body to the point of burnout.

On the other hand, if you’re using your cardio as your resistance training, you can get in a 30, 45, or 60-minute rowing session to really see results.

It’s all about being smart with the way you train, and using the machines in your gym to maximum efficiency.


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Which One is Best for Your Workout Goals?

Which One is Best for Your Workout Goals?

Wondering if the rowing machine or air bike—commonly known as an assault bike—is best for your fitness goals? In this comparison, we look at the pros and cons of each and where each cardio machine shines best, so you can choose the right cardio machine for your goals.

Rowing Machine vs Air Bike - Which One is BestRowing Machine vs Air Bike - Which One is Best

The rowing machine and the air bike (aka assault bike) are two of the very few cardio machines in the gym that give you a nearly total-body workout.

As a result, they are both awesome for HIIT workouts, general cardio workouts, and are absolute monsters for burning fat and improving functional fitness.

But which of these two dynamos is the right one for you?

That’s what we will find out in this article.

Below, we will stack up the rowing machine against the air bike in key categories, from calories burned to muscles worked, so that you can choose with confidence the next time you hit the gym (or invest in new cardio equipment for your home gym).

Unleash the cardio!

Rowing Machine vs Air Bike – Comparison

🔥 Calories Burned

Whenever comparing different workouts, I always start off by looking at the calories burned.

It’s certainly not the only metric to factor in (as you’ll see by the others below), but I see it as one of the simplest and most quantifiable, thus a good one to open the debate with.

After all, what makes a good cardio machine for weight loss is the ability to burn calories. Doing cardio, you burn more fat-based calories than sugar-based, which is essential for getting rid of stored body fat.

The more calories you burn, the more you’re eliminating your existing fat storage. That’s the key to long-term weight—and fat—loss.

Rowing Machine vs Air Bike - Calories BurnedRowing Machine vs Air Bike - Calories Burned

Let’s start off with my tried-and-true favorite: the rowing machine. According to the folks over at Harvard Medical School1, the number of calories burned on the rowing machine are:

  • 210 calories for a 125-pound person rowing at a moderate pace for 30 minutes
  • 252 calories for a 155-pound person rowing at a moderate pace for 30 minutes
  • 294 calories for a 185-pound person rowing at a moderate pace for 30 minutes

But what if you step up the pace and row a bit faster, adding some extra “oomph” into the workouts?

Well, you’ll see the calorie-burning increase notably:

  • 255 calories for a 125-pound person rowing at a vigorous pace for 30 minutes
  • 369 calories for a 155-pound person rowing at a vigorous pace for 30 minutes
  • 440 calories for a 185-pound person rowing at a vigorous pace for 30 minutes

Not bad, right? That’s some pretty decent calorie-burning, isn’t it?

Time to see how the air bike stacks up against the rowing machine.

Because the air bike is so new, it hasn’t been rigorously tested and included on the list created by Harvard Medical School (linked above).

Rowing Machine vs Assault BikeRowing Machine vs Assault Bike

However, according to PreCor2 a manufacturer of air bikes, a “slow average” is roughly 40-50 RPMs, which burns 5-8 calories per minute. Multiplied over 30 minutes, that comes out to 150 to 240 calories burned.

But, let’s say you picked up the pace a bit and set a “moderate” velocity—of 55 to 65 RPMs. Calorie-burning increases significantly at that point, burning anywhere from 10 to 15 calories per minute, or 300 to 450 calories in a 30-minute workout.

If you’re going for very vigorous and trying to sustain a faster pace for 30 minutes, you can reach as much as 20+ calories burned per minute, which translates to over 600 calories burned in that 30-minute workout.

Verdict: While the rowing machine is a great workout overall, it can’t quite stack up against the assault bike in terms of sheer calorie burning.


💪 Muscles Worked

If you look at the list of muscles worked on the rowing machine, you’ll see that it’s pretty lengthy. In fact, it’s nearly all of your muscles worked!

Yes, you read that right: nearly all of them.

  • In your upper body, your upper back, shoulders, biceps, and forearms (all your “Pull” muscles) engage to haul on the handle.
  • In your core, your abs and lower back engage to move your torso forward and backward.
  • In your lower body, your quads, hamstrings, glutes, and calves engage to drive forward and backward with each stroke.

Pretty impressive, right?

Well, one of the benefits of air bikes is that it doesn’t just activate your “Pull” muscles, but it also gets your “Push” muscles (your chest, shoulders, and triceps) working, too.

That’s because with rowing, you only pull on the handle, but you have to both pull and push on the handles.

At the end of the day, the air bike activates just a few more muscles, making it a more effective full body workout overall than the rowing machine.

Verdict: It’s a tight race when comparing muscles worked with a rowing machine vs. air bike, but the air bike wins by a whisker.


🏋️ Functional Fitness

When I talk about “functional fitness”, I mean fitness that will translate into more effective performance of your activities of daily life—taking out the garbage, playing with your kids, taking your dog for a walk, loading and unloading groceries, doing chores and DIY home improvements, playing sports with friends, etc.

One of the best benefits of rowing machines is that they will train you to row and paddle better, a fact I was thrilled to discover last summer when I took up paddleboarding and kayaking.

Though the motion of the rowing machine is closer to the two-handed rowing stroke of a small boat, the muscle strength and cardiovascular conditioning it develops translates very nicely into the sort of movement you do when paddling in a canoe, kayak, or paddleboard.

It’s all the same “Pull” muscles, the same leg muscles, and the same core muscles activated during the workout. The months I spent over the winter training on the rowing machine made it so much easier to get out on the water and spend hours paddling around without tiring.

Rowing Machine vs Air Bike - Functional FitnessRowing Machine vs Air Bike - Functional Fitness

However, beyond watersports, the rowing machine doesn’t really have many “practical” (or functional) applications. Yes, it’ll build endurance in your “Pull” muscles and will develop your cardiovascular conditioning, but there aren’t a lot of everyday movements too similar to rowing a boat.

Riding an air bike, on the other hand, is a fairly functional workout. I’m a huge fan of cycling around my city (easy and cheap commute) or taking the occasional overnight bike camping trip. The strength I develop doing an air bike workout does translate into more efficient cycling on the streets and around town.

The upper body portion of the workout (the pushing and pulling on the handles) can translate into some more effective functional fitness—movements like hauling on a chainsaw’s starter cord or pushing a snow shovel are fairly similar.

However, the most “functional” part of the air bike workout is the improvement in lower body muscular endurance, as well as overall increase in cardiovascular capacity.

🩹 Impact and Injury

As I get older, I’ve got to be aware of how workouts affect my body. What started out as minor injuries when I was younger can grow into more serious problems in joints, muscles, and bones, causing aches and pains that take longer to heal with every passing year.

So whenever considering any new workout, I look at 1) the impact on my skeletomuscular system, and 2) the risk of injury.

Impact

With the rowing machine, there is nearly zero impact. Your feet stay firmly planted on the pedals as you row, so it’s much gentler on your joints than a higher-impact workout like running or stair climbing.

The air bike, like all stationary bikes, is a low-impact workout. Your feet largely stay on the pedals, but there is some minor impact when you push downward and forward when pedaling.

Both workouts are fairly gentle on the joints, and are safe to perform even if you have joint, muscle, or bone problems.

Injury

With the rowing machine, your biggest risk of injury is developing some over-use injury from repeated motion.

Most commonly, you’ll experience pain in your wrists, knees, or lower back. This is the result of repeating the same rowing stroke over and over again. Usually, correcting your rowing form will help to reduce the risk of joint injury. Or, if the injury worsens, you can take a break to give your body time to repair.

With assault bike workouts, the risk of injury is slightly higher because of the increased resistance.

Remember, the faster you cycle, the more the resistance increases. At high speeds and high resistance, there is a risk of straining a muscle or spraining a joint, and there is greater wear and tear on the entire skeletomuscular system.

Verdict: Both machines are low impact. The rowing machine presents a higher risk for people with lower back issues.


💰 Cost and Footprint

Which of the two machines are the better choice for you will often come down to these last two factors: how much it’ll cost to install one (or both) of these machines in your home, and how much space they’ll occupy.

Cost

Budget-model rowing machines start as low as $200 or $300. Mid-tier models will run you about $500 to $800. Higher-end models will run upwards of $1,000, with some of the higher-tech models reaching around $2,000.

Rowing Machine vs Air Bike - Cost and FootprintRowing Machine vs Air Bike - Cost and Footprint

Budget-model air bikes will start around $400, with mid-tier models running you between $800 and $1,200. You won’t find many rising as high in price as $2,000, though.

The best air bike on the market, the Rogue Echo Bike, retails for around $1,000 and is easily the top option for home gyms.

Footprint

When we talk about footprint, really we’re talking about how much floor space the bike will occupy.

There is no “standard” footprint for either types of rowing machines or air bikes, because both come in a variety of sizes.

However, there are some “general” dimensions you can factor into your calculations:

  • Rowing machines tend to be at least 90 inches in length, and 24+ inches wide. However, many of them are designed to fold or stand up, so when stored, may have a footprint as small as 26 x 28 inches.
  • Air bikes tend to be at least 50 inches in length, and 24+ inches wide. They do not fold up, and so will always have the same footprint.

Verdict: The small footprint of both cardio machines—as well as the portability of some rowers—make them excellent choices for small spaces and home gyms.


Rowing Machine vs Air Bike – The Final Verdict

The rowing machine is perfect for people who:

  • Spend their summers kayaking, canoeing, paddleboarding, and rowing
  • Love a good HIIT workout that can be combined with bodyweight exercises (it’s easy to hop on and off the machine)
  • Tend to experience knee or back problems in a cycling position
  • Want to avoid saddle sores and bruised bums
  • Have limited space in their home gyms and want a machine that can be folded/stood up and tucked into a corner

The air bike is perfect for people who:

  • Like to feel the burn and get a truly hardcore muscle-building and calorie-burning workout
  • Spend the warmer months cycling (mountain biking, long-distance travel, bike camping, etc.)
  • Tend to experience knee, wrist, or back problems when rowing
  • Love pushing their bodies to work harder and feel the burn

The Bottom Line

As you can see above, there’s a lot to love about both the air bike and the rowing machine!

By doing this comparison, you can see all the areas where the air bike is the clear winner, and all the areas where the rowing machine is the better choice. Which you use will depend entirely up to you.

My advice as a trainer: incorporate them both into your weekly workout if possible and get the best of both worlds.

By alternating between the two types of cardio, you not only improve your overall fitness, but avoid repetitive motion injuries and prevent workout boredom.

But, if you can only pick one machine to install in your home gym, I strongly recommend considering which of the above factors matter most to you, and choose the machine that delivers the best results for your fitness goals and daily activities.


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How to Use the Rower for a Rock-Solid Core

How to Use the Rower for a Rock-Solid Core

Wondering if the rowing machine is a good way to target your abs? You bet it is—here are best practices for working abs on the rower and some sample workouts to get you started.

Rowing Machine for Abs - How to Use the Rower for a Flat StomachRowing Machine for Abs - How to Use the Rower for a Flat Stomach

Training your abs is abs-olutely essential for a strong, resilient body.

Think about it: your abs work with your back to support your upper body and enable your lower and upper halves to move in coordination. From jumping to lifting to having that strong and flat mid-section—training your core is crucial.

And one of the best cardio machines for targeting your abs is the rowing machine.

In this post, we’re going to look at how the rowing machine can be a highly useful tool for training your abs. Though it’s usually more of a back-focused cardio machine, we’ll see ways that you can adapt it to concentrate more on your abs.

We’ll look at tips and strategies to increase the activation of your core on the rowing machine, and I’ll even share some of my best ab-blasting workouts you can do on the rowing machine.

By the end of this post, you’ll be ready to use the rowing machine for abs workouts like a boss!

Let’s jump right in.

Why the Rowing Machine is Awesome for Training Abs

What makes the rowing machine a useful cardio machine to train your abs?

Why should you spend time on the rowing machine rather than, say, the treadmill or elliptical in order to train your abs?

Here are my top three reasons why:

🚀 Excellent Core Activation

One of the benefits of rowing machines is that the constant leaning forward and backward does an amazing job of activating your core muscles.

Your lower back engages when you lean forward to set up for the stroke, and your abs work as you begin to lean backward, stopping your upper body from merely flopping onto your back.

When you hold that leaning-back position at the end of the drive, that’s your abs doing the work, and again they engage when your torso leans forward during the recovery.

It’s a constant contraction-and-relaxation of your abs and lower back, which will lead to a much stronger, more resilient core.

Add to that all the other muscles worked on the rowing machine—including your upper back, biceps, shoulders, forearms, quads, glutes, hamstrings, and calves—and you’ve got yourself one heck of an amazing full-body workout!

🔥 Solid Fat Loss

Did you know the hardest part of building six-pack abs isn’t building the muscle itself? That’s actually one of the easiest parts—you can do that just by training the muscle regularly (crunches, planks, and so on).

No, the hardest part is burning off the belly fat that covers/conceals those abs muscles. And that’s where cardio machines—and the rowing machine, in particular—come into play.

Using cardio machines for losing weight is the key to burning off your belly fat. The aerobic exercise allows your body to burn oxygen and fat (rather than the sugar-based energy burned during anaerobic exercise like weightlifting), so it taps into your existing fat stores—including those around your belly—to use for energy.

Benefits of Rowing Machine for Working ABsBenefits of Rowing Machine for Working ABs

Over time, not only are there a lot of calories burned on the rowing machine, but they’re calories of fat specifically. The more consistently you work out and burn a lot of fat-based calories, the easier it will be eliminate your belly fat, exposing the abs muscles beneath.

Using the rowing machine for losing weight—and fat weight, specifically—is how you’ll finally develop those six-pack muscles you’ve been wanting for so long, and working so hard toward.

🏅 Newbie-Friendly

One of my favorite things about the rowing machine is just how easy it is to use. There’s no steep learning curve; you just have to understand the biomechanics of the rowing stroke, and once you master it with a bit of practice, you’re off to the races!

There are so many rower machine workout for beginners that you can try to start burning a lot of calories even on your first day using the machine. If you’re struggling, you can slow down your rowing stroke to give your body a breather, or speed up if you find it too easy.

Even row machine HIIT workouts can be fairly newbie-friendly. You should have no trouble picking up the pace and rowing your heart out for those high-intensity intervals, and it’ll feel amazing when you can finally slow down and enjoy those slower-paced workouts.

How to Work Your Abs on the Rowing Machine

Here are a few tips and strategies to try to get a better core workout while on the rowing machine:

💪 Concentrate on Squeezing

The best thing you can do to work your abs while rowing is to really focus on squeezing your abs muscles with every stroke.

Remember, your abs are going to contract to help your upper body lean backwards and stop it from leaning too far backward. During every stroke, pay attention to how your body feels, and see when your abs engage and when they relax to let your lower back engage.

How to Work Abs on Rowing MachineHow to Work Abs on Rowing Machine

Once you understand how much your abs are doing during the training, it’s time to double down on the emphasis.

Slow down at the end of the rowing stroke, making sure to emphasize that squeeze in your abs muscles as you bring the rowing machine handle to your belly. Blow out your breath explosively to really cement that engagement of your abs muscles.

💪 Twist With the Stroke

One highly effective means of engaging your abs is by twisting with every stroke. It’s a slight variation on the traditional rowing workout, but it can be quite effective for building abs muscles.

To do this, you’ll need to grip the rowing machine handle with just one hand. Yes, I know this will feel a bit odd and imbalanced, so shift your grip to the center of the handle, with the cable running between your middle and ring finger. That way, when you pull, you’re pulling from as close to “dead center” as possible.

Start with your right hand. Lean forward the way you normally do to set up the stroke, then go through the motions of driving through your legs, leaning backward, and engaging your back, shoulder, and arms muscles to haul the handle toward you.

But this is where the variation comes in. Instead of facing straight forward and pulling the handle toward your belly, twist to the right and pull the handle until it’s slightly behind you (or, at least, parallel with your body on the right side). This will engage your abs, obliques, and lower back.

Return to starting position, and repeat it again, again with that twist to the right. Do this for a full minute, then switch hands (left hand gripping) and twist to the left side.

Trust me, after 6-10 minutes of switching back and forth, you’ll feel the burn and will do wonders to engage all your core muscles. 

💪 Hop Off and On

The great thing about rowing is that you can easily incorporate calisthenics or resistance training exercises into your workouts. All you have to do is hop off the machine, work in a set, then get back on and keep rowing.

A few of my favorite abs-focused resistance training exercises I like to include in my rowing workouts is:

  • Plank for 45-60 seconds
  • Abs crunches
  • Mountain Climbers
  • Bear Crawls

You can do this with pretty much any bodyweight exercise, making it easy to work any muscle you want, but for your abs’ sake, these are the exercises to work into your routine.

Sample Ab-Blasting Rowing Machine Workouts

Ready to take your rowing machine workouts to the next level and really shred those abs? Here are my three favorite workouts to try:

Workout #1: Oblique Twist

If you’re experiencing or prone to back pain, this is a workout you should do with extreme caution. Adding in the twist at the end of the row may exacerbate existing injuries.

However, done right, this is one of the most effective ways to incorporate more core training without ever leaving the rowing machine!

Sample Ab Blasting Rowing Machine WorkoutsSample Ab Blasting Rowing Machine Workouts

The Workout:

  • Spend 5 minutes stretching before your workout, and another 5 minutes rowing at a slow pace to get your muscles warm and your joints limber.
  • Speed up to a moderate rowing stroke (21-24 SPM) and row for 2 minutes.
  • For 1 minute, grip the handle in only your left hand and twist to the left at the end of every stroke, pulling the handle to your left side or (if you can) slightly behind your body.
  • For 1 minute, repeat the one-handed rowing on your right side.
  • Grip the rowing machine in both hands and row for 2 minutes.
  • Repeat another minute each of one-handed rowing on your left and right side.
  • Complete his 4-minute cycle 5 times, for a total of 20 minutes.
  • Spend 5 minutes rowing at a slow pace to cool down.

Workout #2: Bodyweight Circuit

Looking to spice up your rowing workouts with some resistance training? This workout is designed to specifically target your abs using exercises that will engage your core while also activating the muscles that you’re using during your rowing workout.

It’ll be a tough one, but if you can get through it, you’ll walk away feeling like a million bucks!

The Workout:

  • Spend 5 minutes stretching before your workout, and another 5 minutes rowing at a slow pace to get your muscles warm and your joints limber.
  • Row at a moderate speed (22-25 SPM) for 1 minute.
  • Row at a fast speed (26-30 SPM) for 30 seconds
  • Jump off the rowing machine to perform 30 Crunches
  • Repeat the cycle of 60 seconds of moderate pace, followed by 30 seconds of vigorous rowing.
  • Jump off the rowing machine to perform 60 seconds of Plank
  • Repeat another 60-30 cycle
  • Do a set of 15 leg raises
  • Repeat another 60-30 cycle
  • Do a set of 12 Bicycle Crunches
  • Repeat another 60-30 cycle
  • Do a set of 20 Mountain Climbers
  • Repeat another 60-30 cycle
  • Do a set of Plank jacks
  • Spend 5 minutes rowing at a slow pace to cool down.

Workout #3: Abs Plank Blaster 

With this workout, it’s all about the plank, baby!

Plank is an amazing isometric (static) exercise that involves no movement, but through consistent muscle contraction, does an amazing job of building strength.

Pair it with a cardio-focused rowing workout, and you’ll see both muscle-building and fat-burning results in no time.

The Workout:

  • Spend 5 minutes stretching before your workout, and another 5 minutes rowing at a slow pace to get your muscles warm and your joints limber.
  • Row for 250 meters at a moderate or fast pace
  • Hop off the rowing machine and hold Plank pose for 30 seconds
  • Row for another 250 meters
  • Hop off for another 30-45 seconds of Plank
  • Repeat this cycle for 2,000 to 3,000 meters, with a set of Plank between each 250-meter segment
  • Spend 5 minutes rowing at a slow pace to cool down.

Rowing Machine for Abs – FAQs

Will a rowing machine flatten my stomach?

It absolutely will! As I explained above, the cardio portion of the workout will help to burn a lot of fat, including the fat around your belly.

Over time, consistent training will do wonders to flatten out your belly, and building abdominal muscle using the workouts above will ensure those six-pack abs show through.

What other cardio machines are good for abs?

There are a few other machines that I like to use for better abs workouts, including the Jacob’s Ladder,  elliptical machine, spin bike, and air bike. At the end of the day, though, the rowing machine is probably the most efficient for building abs.  

The Bottom Line

If your goal is to develop rock-hard abs, strengthen your core, and burn belly fat, the rowing machine may just become your best friend at the gym (or at home).

The machine does an amazing job of activating your abs and lower back, building a more solid center that facilitates easier movement and makes you more resilient and agile overall.

If you’re not a fan of weights or weight machines, the workouts above will help you to target your abs using just the rowing machine and/or your bodyweight.

You can get in an amazing abs workout without ever touching a weight. Heck, if you’ve got your own rowing machine at home, you can build those abs without ever stepping foot in a gym.

Next stop, Six-Packtown!


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Rowing Machine vs. Stationary Bike – Which is Best for Your Workouts?

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.

Rowing Machine vs. Stationary Bike - Which One is Best for YouRowing Machine vs. Stationary Bike - Which One is Best for You

Smart training is all about choosing the best workout for your goals.

For example, if your goal is to build muscle, you choose the best free weights and machines that will target the specific muscle groups you’re trying to train.

With cardio, you use the machines that are most effective at pushing your cardiovascular system (heart, lungs, and blood vessels) to increase their capacity and make them more efficient at delivering oxygen and nutrients where they’re needed during your workouts.

The question is, which machine will be the most effective in any situation?

In this post, we’re going to look at two of the most popular cardio machines in the gym: the rowing machine and the stationary bike.

As I did in my rowing machine vs treadmill comparison, I’ll evaluate the most important factors, comparing and contrasting the two machines as they pertain to each one.

By the end of this post, you’ll have a very clear idea as to which machine is the more efficient and effective, and thus more deserving of your training time.

Let’s dive right in…

Rowing Machine vs Stationary Bike – Comparison

🔥 Calories Burned

One of the most important factors to consider in any workout, but especially in a cardio workout, is the number of calories burned.

After all, weight loss can (generally) be boiled down to the simple formula of:

Calories burned > calories consumed = weight loss

According to Harvard Medical School1, there’s a pretty impressive number of calories burned on the rowing machine:

  • 210 calories in 30 minutes of moderate-pace rowing for a 125-pound person
  • 252 calories in 30 minutes of moderate-pace rowing for a 155-pound person
  • 294 calories in 30 minutes of moderate-pace rowing for a 185-pound person
  • 255 calories in 30 minutes of vigorous rowing for a 125-pound person
  • 396 calories in 30 minutes of vigorous rowing for a 155-pound person
  • 440 calories in 30 minutes of vigorous rowing for a 185-pound person

Not bad, right?

But how does it stack up against the stationary bike? A stationary bike workout can burn:

  • 210 calories in 30 minutes of moderate-pace cycling for a 125-pound person
  • 252 calories in 30 minutes of moderate-pace cycling for a 155-pound person
  • 294 calories in 30 minutes of moderate-pace cycling for a 185-pound person
  • 315 calories in 30 minutes of vigorous cycling for a 125-pound person
  • 378 calories in 30 minutes of vigorous cycling for a 155-pound person
  • 441 calories in 30 minutes of vigorous cycling for a 185-pound person

Ahh, the numbers don’t lie, then!

According to this, the better cardio machine for weight loss is the stationary bike because, as you can see clearly, stationary biking at a vigorous pace burns more calories than the rowing machine.

I’ve always preferred the rowing machine for weight loss, because I enjoy the workout more. But if the stationary bike can burn more calories-per-hour when I push the pace, it might be worth switching workouts!

Stationary Bike vs Rowing Machine ComparisonStationary Bike vs Rowing Machine Comparison

💪 Muscles Worked

In this, I know the rowing machine wins by a landslide!

One of my favorite benefits of rowing machines is that they are a (nearly) full-body workout.

Look at this list of muscles worked on the rowing machine and you’ll see what I mean:

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

Really, the only muscles that aren’t recruited by the rowing machine workout is the “push muscles”, the best and triceps. Otherwise, the rowing machine works them all.

By comparison, the stationary bike is focused entirely on your lower body, working:

  • Quads
  • Glutes
  • Hamstrings
  • Calves

There is some minor engagement of the core to keep your body upright and balanced, but your core is unutilized if/when you lean on the handlebars because you’re supporting your body weight.

Ultimately, this makes the rowing machine a much better choice for a full-body training session.

🏋️ Functional Fitness

I’m all about anything “functional”—meaning anything that helps me to perform my daily activities of life more effectively and efficiently.

For example, spending more time walking or running on the treadmill translates into more efficient walking, running, and sports. Spending time on the stair climber machine translates into easier climbing of actual stairs.

Between the rowing machine and stationary bike, it can be a bit of a toss-up as to which delivers more “functional” fitness. Really, it all depends on what you do outside the gym.

Me, I like to spend my summers kayaking, canoeing, and paddleboarding in the lakes around my city. That means for me, the rowing machine is going to be much more functional because the time I invest into the rowing machine workouts helps to build the sort of cardiovascular and muscular endurance I’ll need for watersports.

Stationary Bike vs Rowing Machine - Functional FitnessStationary Bike vs Rowing Machine - Functional Fitness

On the other hand, I don’t spend much time cycling around my city (too many hills), so training on the stationary bike doesn’t really benefit me in my daily life outside the gym.

However, that’s just in my case. For some people, watersports aren’t an option, and their summers are spent exploring their state or province by bicycle rather than kayaking or paddleboarding on lovely lakes. For them, stationary biking is a much more “functional” activity.

🩹 Impact and Injury

If you’ve never ridden a bike before or learned how to use a rowing machine, you’ll be glad to know that both cardio machines are equally newbie-friendly and easy to master. Best of all, if you get the form right, you’ll find they are both low-impact and carry a very low injury risk.

Because your feet are planted firmly on the pedals of both machines, there is no impact on your joints when you train. Even if you pick up the pace and speed up to a biking or row machine HIIT workout, it’s still a low- or near-zero impact workout, one that is gentle on your joints.

There are some injuries associated with both workouts, but they are more common as a result of repetitive use/overtraining than the impact.

With stationary biking, the most common injuries are:

  • Cyclist’s knee, or patellofemoral pain syndrome, caused by incorrect knee alignment on the down-stroke
  • Back and shoulder pain, caused by bad posture or hunching over when cycling
  • Wrist strain or pain, caused by excessive pressure on the wrists when you lean on them
  • Foot numbness, tingling, and pain, especially hot-foot syndrome (metatarsalgia), caused by too-tight shoes and incorrect foot placement
  • Saddle sores, caused by all the weight in your body resting squarely on a less-than-comfortable seat

With the rowing machine, the most common injuries are:

  • Lumbar back pain, due to muscle strains or stress caused by leaning forward and backward repeatedly
  • Shoulder impingement, caused by overuse of the muscle joints and incorrect movement
  • Inflammation and irritation of the shoulder, elbow, and wrist joints
  • IT band friction syndrome in the knee, caused by incorrect leg positioning during rowing
  • Extensor Tenosynovitis in the wrist, usually the result of injury, inflammation, or deterioration of the wrist tendons

Thankfully, most of these injuries are easily avoided by mastering the correct form and posture.

💰 Cost and Footprint

Last, but definitely not least, we need to consider both the cost of the machines, and their footprint, how much space they take up in your home gym.

A basic rowing machine can cost as little as $200 to $300, though it will come with minimal functionality and very little resistance.

The more “advanced” machines will start to rise in price–$500 to $800 for the mid-range rowing machines, and upwards of $1200 for the high-end rowing machines.

By comparison, stationary bikes are about the same at the “budget” end of the price range (around $200 to $300) and in the mid-range ($500 to $900), but they can be very pricey when you get to the higher-end.

Stationary Bike vs Rowing Machine Comparison- Cost and FootprintStationary Bike vs Rowing Machine Comparison- Cost and Footprint

You can spend as much as $2000+ for a premium-quality exercise bike (like the Peloton), but it’ll come heavily tricked out with lots of high-tech features and advanced functionality.

Space-wise, the rowing machine has the bigger footprint. Most rowing machines have a track at least 50 inches long—some upwards of 60 inches, built for taller users. But in addition to the rail, there’s also the flywheel or water tank (for water rowers) that adds even more length. It’s not uncommon for rowing machines to be 90+ inches long, and 24-32 inches wide.

By comparison, stationary bikes can be as short as 40 inches long, and from 22 to 28 inches wide. They occupy more vertical space—they can stand easily 50+ inches tall (including the handlebars)—but in terms of ground space, they’re the more compact of the two machines and thus better-suited to a home gym with minimal room to spare.

Rowing Machine vs Stationary Bike – The Final Verdict

The rowing machine is perfect for people who:

  • Spend time enjoying watersports (like me) and want to train their body to paddle and row
  • Love a good full-body cardio workout
  • Want to develop stronger core muscles through their cardio workout
  • Don’t want to deal with saddle sores and hate the feeling of an uncomfortable bike seat

The stationary bike is the ideal choice for those who:

  • Like burning a lot of calories using just their leg muscles
  • Are prone to lower back injuries
  • Spend time enjoying cycling trips around town, mountain biking, or long-distance bike travel
  • Like watching movies/media while exercising

The Bottom Line

At the end of the day, both stationary cycling and rowing are low-impact, low-risk forms of cardio that you can do to burn calories and fat and build muscle.

Which you choose is entirely up to you—hopefully the information above made it easy to see which suits your daily life and preferences better.

Here’s a bit of trainer’s advice for free: try using both machines!

With cardio, just like with resistance training, you don’t want to do the same exercises day after day. Doing so risks overtraining your muscles, and stops your body from repairing and restoring the muscle, bone, and joint tissue damaged by your workout.

Instead, adding in variety will give your body the chance it needs to make repairs. Try cycling one day, rowing the next, and switching back and forth.

That’s the key to developing greater overall fitness, and can prevent overuse injuries like those we listed above.


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5 Rowing Workouts for Cardio (for Beginners, Advanced, and More)

5 Rowing Workouts for Cardio (for Beginners, Advanced, and More)

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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