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How Long on the Rowing Machine for Cardio?

author image Andreas Michael
Andreas Michael has been an experienced writer since 2006, putting a number of articles together for health and fitness Web sites. Andreas primarily writes for LIVESTRONG.COM and is a contributor to the "Ultra-fit" magazine website. He has been within the fitness industry for over 10 years as a fully qualified personal trainer.
How Long on the Rowing Machine for Cardio?
A woman working out on a rowing machine. Photo Credit Wavebreakmedia Ltd/Wavebreak Media/Getty Images

Rowing on the water isn't a practical workout for many city dwellers, but using a rowing machine as an alternative is ideal. This machine not only strengthens a number of your major muscle groups, but also elevates your heart rate and strengthens your cardiovascular system. Whether you tailor your workout by length, distance traveled or even calories burned, many contemporary machines provide such data for you to monitor.


Rowers were designed to simulate water rowing and are now a common feature within gyms and health clubs around the world. Indoor rowing offers low-impact all-body workouts for anyone looking to develop cardiovascular fitness, strength and muscle tone. They are also used by world-class Olympic athletes in competitive competitions, for training, injury rehabilitation and fitness testing.

Total Body Training

Indoor rowing gives the user the ability to adjust the damper level on the side of the flywheel, which acts as a form of resistance and is numbered from one to ten. This isn’t the only form of resistance; a second form, as in water rowing, is pull strength; the harder you pull, the heavier the resistance and force generated. The rower isn’t muscle specific like a bench press, which is aimed at targeting the pectorals and triceps. It’s a total body exercise machine targeting the legs, core, upper body and internal organs, heart and lungs.

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Starting with a straight back, chest lifted and looking forward, push off the footrests with the legs driving back. Once the knees are almost straight, pull the handle bars into the chest, keeping the elbows tucked in and pointing back. At the finish position maintain soft knees (almost locked out). Breathe out as you pull back and breathe in on the return

How Long to Row

A standard set of guidelines, according to the American College of Sports Medicine, calls for performing 20 to 40 minutes of aerobic exercise at a steady pace, which will allow development of the cardiovascular system and maintain good health. This is known as long slow duration training (LSD), which is typically low intensity, at 65 to 70 percent of VO2max, or the body's maximum capacity for oxygen use during exercise. Another form of cardiovascular training used with indoor rowing is interval training. This training is anaerobic in nature and works close to maximum effort, from 80 to 100 percent VO2max. Interval training involves using structured periods of work and recovery, i.e., rowing with maximum effort for one minute, then resting for 30 seconds, and repeating this for an allotted time or total distance. This form of exercise is more for building strength and may be less effective for cardio.

Guaging by Distance

Using set distances to get ahead is another way users can measure strength and speed development within rowing; 500 meters, 1000 meters and 2000 meters are performed against the clock for personal best times.

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  • "Personal Training Theory and Practice"; James Crossley; 2006
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