Because exercise helps you burn calories, many people want to know how much they have to do to see the scale change. You can use a rowing machine to lose weight, but you'll also need to cut calories from your diet.
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A rowing machine workout plan for beginners will provide a full-body workout that strengthens your muscles and gets your heart pumping.
Is a Rowing Machine Good for Weight Loss?
Rowing machines combine two types of exercise: cardio and strength training, according to the International Sports Science Association. Cardio raises your heart rate, improves your cardiovascular fitness and helps you burn calories. Strength training builds muscle. The more muscle you have, the higher your metabolic rate and the more calories your body burns.
Calories are a unit of energy. The food you eat contains calories, which give you the energy to go about your day. If you consume more calories than your body can use in a day, the excess calories are stored in your body as fat, per the Mayo Clinic. This fat remains in your body until you burn it.
A pound of fat is equal to roughly 3,500 calories. If you want to lose 1 pound a week, you need to create a calorie deficit of around 500 calories each day. If you want to lose 2 pounds per week, you need to create a calorie deficit of 1,000 calories per day.
The best way to lose weight is through a combination of diet and exercise, according to an August 2012 study published in the journal Obesity. For instance, if you need to create a calorie deficit of 500 calories per day, instead of relying on diet or exercise alone, you could cut 250 calories from your daily diet and exercise so that you burn 250 additional calories per day.
You can cut out calorie-laden beverages such as juices and soda. Or, try cutting your portions a little at each meal. Start choosing more natural foods, rather than processed. Whole grains, fresh fruits and vegetables, lean sources of protein and heart-healthy unsaturated fats will help you lose weight safely and effectively.
Just don't let your calorie intake drop too low, as that could endanger your health. On average, women need a minimum of 1,200 calories a day, and men need at least 1,500 calories a day, according to Harvard Health Publishing.
The number of calories burned on a rowing machine depends on factors like your weight and the length and intensity of the exercise session, per Harvard Health Publishing. The chart below shows how much an individual would burn rowing for an hour.
How Many Calories Does a Rowing Machine Burn?
Rowing at Moderate Speed
Rowing at Vigorous Speed
In addition to weight loss, using a rowing machine also helps with other aspects of physical fitness. A small September 2014 study published in the journal Bio-Medical Materials and Engineering found that using a rowing machine helped lower participants' body-fat percentage, and improved endurance, flexibility and agility.
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A Rowing Machine Workout Plan for Beginners
The Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans recommend that adults get at least 150 to 300 minutes of moderate-intensity cardio exercise each week (or 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity exercise or a mix of the two), along with two strength training workouts.
That could mean that your week looked a little like this:
- Monday: 30-minute rowing workout
- Tuesday: full-body strength training
- Wednesday: 25-minute HIIT workout
- Thursday: full-body strength training
- Friday: 30-minute rowing workout
- Saturday: 45-minute walk
- Sunday: rest
Sample HIIT Rowing Machine Workout for Weight Loss
High-intensity interval training (HIIT) simply means alternating between high intensity and low intensity (or rest). Here's how a 25-minute HIIT rowing workout could be structured:
- 5-minute warm-up at an easy pace
- 30 seconds of all-out effort
- 1 minute of low-intensity active recovery
- Repeat cycle 10 times
- 5-minute cooldown at an easy pace
Get Your Rowing Form Right
According to the ISSA, each rowing cycling consists of four parts. It's important that you get your form right in each of these parts, to reduce your chances of injury and maximize your gains from the workout.
Part 1: Catch
After you sit on the rowing machine, this is the starting position.
- Grasp the handle of the machine and place your feet flat against the footrest, with your knees bent and your shins almost perpendicular to the ground.
- Keep your back straight, your shoulders slightly ahead of your hips and your core engaged. Avoid hunching or rolling your shoulders.
Part 2: Drive
This is the part where you pull backward.
- Keeping your back straight and your core engaged, first push back with your legs and then pull with your arms. Don't push and pull at the same time.
- Once your legs are completely straight, continue pulling with your arms, leaning your torso backward. Don't go too far beyond 90 degrees.
Part 3: Finish
This is the position you should be in at the end of the drive, before you start coming back to the starting position.
- Your back and legs should be straight, your shoulders relaxed.
- Your core should be engaged and your elbows should be bent, so that the handle is almost at your midsection.
Part 4: Recover
This is the part where you return to the starting position.
- Straighten your arms first, then lean forward at the hips and bend your knees as you move forward.
- Keep your knees straight, they shouldn't bow outward.
Other Rowing Machine Benefits
The American Council on Exercise explains that rowing is a great way to improve your physical fitness and lose weight, because it conditions your arms, legs, shoulders, back and cardiovascular system.
In fact, Harvard Health Publishing says that while most machines work only certain parts of your body, rowing machines come as close to providing a full-body workout as possible for a machine. According to the ISSA, rowing machines get almost your whole body involved in each stroke.
The ISSA lists all the muscles that rowing engages. In your lower body, rowing works the glutes, hamstrings, quads and calf muscles. The first part of the pulling action involves your triceps, deltoids, wrist extensors and flexors, pecs, trapezius muscles and rhomboids.
You engage your biceps as you complete the pull-back and bring the handle all the way to your midsection. Rowing also works several muscles within your core, including the abs and obliques.
The ISSA also points out that unlike running, which is a high-impact activity (whether on a treadmill or outside), rowing is a low-impact activity. Low-impact activities put less strain on your joints, thereby lowering your chances of getting injured or suffering pain.
You can opt to use a rowing machine at a gym or health club near you, or purchase one for your home. Rowing machines are in fact a good choice of equipment for your home, since many of them fold up and can be stored easily. The prices of rowing machines can be as low as $100 and as high as thousands of dollars, so you can choose the model that's appropriate for your budget and fitness goals.
- Harvard Health Publishing: “Tips for Choosing the Right Exercise Equipment”
- International Sports Sciences Association: “Rowing for Fitness – Meet the Gym’s Latest Superstar”
- Mayo Clinic: “Counting Calories: Get Back to Weight-Loss Basics”
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: “Losing Weight”
- Obesity: “Effect of Diet and Exercise, Alone or Combined, on Weight and Body Composition in Overweight-to-Obese Post-Menopausal Women”
- Harvard Health Publishing: “Calories Burned in 30 Minutes for People of Three Different Weights”
- Bio-Medical Materials and Engineering: “Comparative Analysis of Basal Physical Fitness and Muscle Function in Relation to Muscle Balance Pattern Using Rowing Machines”
- Harvard Medical School: “Calorie Counting Made Easy”
- American Council on Exercise: “Reap the Benefits of Rowing With Three Fast and Efficient Workouts”
- Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans