Is a Rowing Machine Good for Weight Loss?

Weight loss is at the top of many people’s to-do list. Unfortunately, this isn’t something that can easily be checked off. However, with time and persistence, a solid nutrition plan, along with a strategy to build muscle and burn fat, will get the job done.

The best means of physical activity is a highly debated topic: strength training vs cardio; interval training vs steady state. Wouldn’t it be nice to cover all of your bases with one type of exercise? Thanks to the rowing machine, you can!

Man using a rowing machine

Rowing machines have surged in popularity over the last few years. Why? They offer a low-impact option to improve total-body endurance, strength and power. In addition to these benefits, rowing machines are also a useful tool in the battle for weight loss.

How does rowing help you lose weight?

Rowing is a full-body movement, literally working every muscle group from your feet up to your shoulders. All of these working muscles require energy/calories. The longer you row or the more intensely you row, the more calories you will use.

The energy used to complete a rowing workout creates a caloric deficit. This caloric deficit then requires your body to tap into its fat stores for energy, thereby causing you to lose weight. It should be noted, however, that weight loss will only occur if you resist the urge to undo all of your hard work by overindulging in the kitchen.

How Effective Is Rowing?

The large number of muscles recruited for rowing is a huge asset in terms of weight loss. Considering the fact that higher levels of muscle activation are known to have an advantageous effect on anabolic hormonal response, rowing can help provide an optimal environment for muscle growth to occur.

Along with muscle building, the high muscle activation is also effective for fat loss. In fact, rowing five days per week has been shown to significantly decrease total body fat over six weeks. Rowing at a moderate pace burns approximately 260 calories every 30 minutes for a 68-kilogram person. Over the course of several weeks, regular bouts of rowing will result in significant calorie burn, culminating in weight loss.

In terms of the potential to build muscle and burn fat, rowing is an effective means of exercise. Ultimately, it’s one of the best forms of cardio you could add to your workout routine. Because you can add muscle with a rowing routine, you can also improve your metabolic rate, even at rest. This means you’re not only burning fat during your actual workout, but throughout the rest of the day as well. This is not the case with other modes of cardio that do not use added resistance, such as running on the treadmill.

Advantages of Using a Rowing Machine to Lose Weight

Why is a rowing machine advantageous over other cardio machines you may find in the gym? There are several reasons, but for starters, it creates virtually no impact on your joints. Low-impact forms of exercise are essential for individuals with injuries or chronic lower-body joint problems, such as arthritis.

Overweight and obese individuals may especially find a rowing machine useful due to its low-impact nature, along with the fact that it evenly distributes the weight of the body. Running and even biking can be largely uncomfortable for a heavier person and can cause unnecessary stress on the joints. The rowing machine removes these problems and provides a comfortable means for prolonged bouts of exercise.

This was discussed earlier, but another huge advantage of a rowing machine is the fact that you can combine resistance training with cardiovascular exercise. Working at a higher resistance increases the intensity of the workout as well as the potential for building muscle.

Lastly, you can row to your heart’s content in the comfort of your own home. Purchasing a rowing machine gives you the freedom to have a full-body workout whenever you get the chance.

Beginner Workouts

The types of workouts you can do on a rowing machine are limited only by your creativity. You can opt for a slow and steady row, up the intensity and shorten the duration, or mix it up with a combination of intensity levels. Using these different techniques will help maintain your interest which, in turn will benefit your weight loss.

Below you’ll find a handful of beginner workouts to get you moving in the right direction for weight loss on a rowing machine, whether that machine is in your home or the gym.

Slow and Steady

Have you ever heard slow and steady wins the race? Well, it also makes for a nice relaxing bout of exercise. For a slow and steady workout, choose a resistance you can stick with for the duration. For a total beginner, you’ll want to go with a lower resistance, but it you’ve been exercising for a while you can choose a higher resistance. Next, decide how long you’d like to row. The longer you row, the more calories you’ll burn. But keep in mind, because rowing is a full-body exercise you may find it more challenging than walking, jogging or cycling. You can always start small, like 10 minutes, and work your way up to a longer rowing session.


If slow and steady is a little tame for your taste, you can take on a 5K row. For this workout, you simply row five thousand meters as fast as possible. As a rowing novice you may find your first couple of 5K times less than impressive. However, if you stick with it and try for one per week, you’ll find that your time gets a little quicker each time you “race” yourself. This is a fun way to keep track of your improving fitness and stamina.

Interval Training

Interval training allows you to train harder in shorter bursts with periods of recovery between bouts. This type of training is more challenging than the steady state, but it also provides greater gains in cardiorespiratory fitness and improvements in body composition than steady state exercise i.e. you get to burn more calories!

Long Intervals

This type of interval training employs longer periods of work followed by long periods of rest. For example, row for 5 minutes, working at the highest intensity you can maintain over that period and then rest for 3 minutes. Repeat the cycle four times. If that’s not enough for you, try rowing 1500 meters as fast as possible, rest 5 minutes and do it again, completing a total of three 1500-meter rows.

Short Intervals

If long intervals sound like your idea of torture, you can give short intervals a try. For this type of workout, you work hard for short periods followed by similar rest periods. A short interval workout may consist of you rowing as hard/fast as possible for 1 minute, rest for 1 minute, and repeating the cycle for a total of 20 minutes. You could also try four to six sets of 500 meter rows followed by 2 to 3 minutes of rest after each row.

Varying Intervals

Finally, we have varying interval workouts which are essentially a mix of the long and short intervals. With this training set-up, you could row hard for 5 minutes, rest for 2, row for 4 minutes, rest for 2, row for 3 minutes, rest for 2, row for 2 minutes, rest for 2, row for 1 minute – done.

A pyramid-style workout would also help keep your workout interesting. For example, row 250 meters, rest 2 minutes, row 500 meters, rest 2 minutes, row 750 meters, rest 2 minutes, row 1000 meters, rest 2 minutes, row 750 meters, rest 2 minutes, row 500 meters, rest 2 minutes, row 250 meters, and rest.

There are endless possibilities to create a taxing rowing workout that will help you lose weight, build your fitness, improve your body composition and drastically overhaul your health. You just have to start rowing.

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Team MT

Team MT is the editorial team of MuscleTalk. With over 20 years experience we write quality, evidence based, articles. In addition to creating original content, we also edit and fact-check any articles we feature by external writers.

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