Is the Rowing Machine Good for Cardio?

The rowing machine is good for cardio workouts because you can burn calories and tone all the major muscle groups efficiently. The rower outperforms other tedious cardio machines by achieving more muscle work in less time for both endurance and strength.

As a matter of fact, because of this hybrid nature, the rowing machine might be the only equipment you need in your home gym. Here’s how to make the most of your indoor rowing machine cardio workouts

What’s a Rowing Machine and What Workouts Can You Do with It?

The rowing machine imitates boat rowing and is used for full body workouts, high-intensity intervals, endurance, and strength training. You can burn 260 kcal in 30 minutes and continue to burn hundreds of calories after the workout as well.

Rowing is a low-impact form of cardio that you can add to your home workouts and train both your upper and lower body. Being weight- and impact-free, the row machine is safe for every fitness level and especially for people who suffer from joint problems.

Since your quads, hamstrings, and glutes are the main muscles propelling your body forward and backward, rowing involves a lot of leg work. Also, the row machine increases stamina and core strength by forcing you to stabilize your body. 

Meanwhile, when you pull the handle, your arms, back, shoulders, and chest muscles aid the motion. All the major muscle groups are thus trained while you burn calories to shed off those extra pounds. 

Top Benefits of Rowing for Cardiovascular Endurance

a man using a rowing machine

Cardiovascular endurance is the ability of the heart to pump enough blood to engage and train the muscles. Endurance allows you to push through the fatigue and hard work and successfully finish the workout. By increasing your heart rate, rowing trains you to push more and harder over time. 

So, even though you might keep your workouts light you’ll still be getting significant benefits. For example, you’ll be able to work out for extended periods without being out of breath, thus improving your aerobic fitness.

You can adjust the resistance on the rowing machine by setting the damper (the lever on the side of the flywheel that controls how much air flows into the cage) to various positions, allowing more or less airflow. Most rowing machines have 10 levels of difficulty.

While as a beginner you can keep the damper in the 3-5 level, over time, as your cardiovascular endurance and stamina improve, you can switch to more challenging levels.

The benefits of rowing do not stop here! Rowing is low-impact cardio, ideal for both upper and lower body conditioning and boosting your mobility. 

And, since rowing works the posterior chain (backside) of the body, your daily posture will improve as well. Your muscles will be strong and balanced, correcting any faulty posture caused by a sedentary lifestyle.

Comparing The Rowing Machine to Other Cardio Machines

We’re so hyped about the rowing machine due to its major advantages compared to other cardio machines. First, unlike other cardio options, rowing builds endurance and strength simultaneously.

Treadmill, stationary bicycle, and elliptical all make for aerobic exercise, but they work fewer muscles than the rower and don’t actually mirror any movement for strength training. If done extensively, they can even burn muscle mass, decreasing the calories you burn during and after the workout.

The row machine allows you to perform weight-free pull-ups, deadlifts, squats, rows, and other exercises, avoiding injuries or a bulky physique. In one machine, you can switch from cardio to strength training to lose weight or build muscle.

No other cardio machine requires and builds this much core strength and stability. A strong core will help you prevent any back injuries and increase muscle balance. Even intense rowing workouts won’t hurt your muscles and joints, as long as you follow the proper technique and form.

The stationary bicycle with treadmill require much more effort to burn calories and train endurance, and they have very limited muscle-building benefits. Both of these machines train mainly the lower body meanwhile the row machine trains 86% of your muscles.

For this reason, due to its versatility, the rowing machine is great in itself, and for cross-training and fares way better than other cardio machines. 

How to Use the Rowing Machine for Cardio Workouts?

group of men using rowing machine

In the rowing machine, you constantly challenge yourself and always have room to push a bit harder. But, it is still a great machine for people who don’t want to train in high intensity and use it for low-impact cardio workouts

Rowing is more about control and power than about speed, so it is adjustable for every fitness level. If you’re overweight and lack mobility, the row machine provides a full body workout that can help you wake up your muscles and make you sweat. 

At first, it may seem exhausting and hard to master the proper rowing stroke. A lot of people want to go full in rowing from the beginning, but just like in other machines, it takes time to build the necessary stamina, endurance, and body coordination. 

The key is to keep rowing at a comfortable level for a while. In this case, staying consistent and planning a sustainable workout will yield the best results.

How Many Times Should You Do Rowing Machine Cardio Workouts?

For low-impact rowing workouts, you can train every day for 30-45 minutes, keeping the difficulty level between 3 to 5.  To learn more about working out on a rowing machine every day, take a look at this article I wrote called ” Should I Use a Rowing Machine Everyday?“. 

Since the rowing machine is so efficient you don’t have to row at very difficult levels all the time. You’ll still achieve great results if you row for 30 minutes daily at a level where you feel comfortable and safe.

But, if you’re not a beginner and want to test your strength and power with rowing, you can still create great cardio workouts to lose weight and build muscle. Nonetheless, it is recommended to not go over 28 strokes per minute because then your posture will suffer. 

3 Rowing Machine Cardio Workout Ideas

group of people working out

In this article, we will show you 3 efficient ways to work out in the rowing machine. These cardio workout ideas will burn calories and help you build endurance and stamina. 

But, before you start any workout in the rowing machine, make sure you know the proper technique and form of rowing in an indoor rowing machine.

Beginner Workout #1 – 500 Meters Intervals 

A good way to perform cardio workouts on a rowing machine is to do rowing intervals of 500 meters and then rest for double the time it took you to reach 500 meters. For example, if it took you 2 minutes to complete it, rest for 4 minutes before going in again. You can repeat these intervals 5-10 times and call it a day.

Intermediate to Advanced Workout #2 – Pyramid Rowing

Pyramid training is a harder version of the first workout where you increase the intensity by raising the difficulty level. Start by rowing at level 2 for 3 minutes, and rest for another 3 minutes.

Next, switch up to level 4 and row for 3 minutes, and rest for the same amount of time.

Here’s what your workout would look like:

Level 2: 3-minute row, 3-minute rest

Level 4: 3-minute row, 3-minute rest

Level 5: 3-minute row, 3-minute rest

Level 6: 2-minute row, 4-minute rest

Level 7: 2-minute row, 4-minute rest

Level 7: 2-minute row, 4-minute rest

Level 6: 3-minute row, 4 minutes rest

Level 4: 2-minute row, 4 minutes rest

Level 2: Cool off for 2-4 minutes.

Beginner to Advanced Workout #3 – Cross Training

Another way to use the rowing machine for cardio workouts is through cross-training. You go for 5 minutes of rowing at medium intensity (levels 3-5) and then follow it up with jumping squats, burpees, push-ups, and other bodyweight exercises.

If you already have a cardio routine you do at your home gym, just add rowing machine intervals to double the results and gains.

Final Words: Is Rowing Machine Good for Cardio?

A rowing machine makes for a great cardio workout, and it might be the only fitness machine you need. Adding one to your home gym equipment will allow you to stay healthy and fit as you switch between cardiovascular endurance and strength training.

The row machine activates and trains all major muscle groups providing a safe, full body, low-impact cardio workout. As long as you keep rowing in proper form, you’ll strengthen your bones and joints, build muscle and lose fat like with no other cardio machine.

Recommended Reading

What is the Best Cardio Machine?

Best Cardio Equipment for Small Apartment

13 Amazing Rowing Machine Health Benefits

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