You can start to notice results from rowing within the first few weeks of starting a consistent rowing workout routine, but you often experience more dramatic results after 90 days.
Rowing is a calorie-burning cardio workout that can quickly strengthen your body. Rowing machine before and after photos often show improvement across the entire body. But rowing is particularly beneficial for the back, shoulders, abs and arms.
"Rowing requires 86 percent of your muscles to activate in order to perform the stroke properly, says Annie Mulgrew, CPT, founding instructor for CITYROW. "That's a total body effort in each stroke, which makes the row machine one of — if not the — most effective pieces of cardio equipment."
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When to Expect Rowing Machine Results
"Other than the instantaneous results of feeling empowered and energized, you can expect to notice more definition in your muscles within the first few weeks of committing to a consistent rowing workout routine," Mulgrew says. "You'll also notice that your lung capacity has increased." Think: not feeling so winded during each session.
But, as Mulgrew points out, the single most important thing when you want to feel and see rowing machine results is consistency. "A consistent routine, even if that's only twice a week, is better than going too big, too quickly and burning out," says Mulgrew, who recommends aiming to work out four to five times a week for at least 30 minutes.
Another factor to keep in mind is variety, meaning you don't do the same workout every single day — even if that's rowing. "It's important to get variety into your schedule so that your muscles are challenged differently," Mulgrew says.
Once you're working out consistently, it's also important to eat a nutrient-rich, balanced diet, drink enough water throughout the day and get adequate sleep, she says. "All three of these things contribute to your overall health and how quickly you will see results from your rowing workouts."
Then... be patient! "As with anything, it takes 90 days to see and feel the results of your hard work, including overall noticeable muscle tone as well as a positive effect on your body mass index."
Calories Burned on Rowing Machines
Rowing on a machine or in a boat has a positive effect on blood lipids according to a February 2018 study published in Clinical Biochemistry. This study focused specifically on long-distance rowing, but its findings show significant improvements in lipid profiles, which is good news for your overall health.
The number of calories burned while rowing varies based on the intensity and duration of the workout. The growing trend of rowing machine workouts is attributed to the overall strength and conditioning associated with resistance exercise.
This form of exercise may help build lean mass and increase energy expenditure, which ultimately leads to toned muscles and fat loss. Most machines will track your speed, distance and calories burned during the workout, making it easier to track your progress.
The muscle definition is generalized and doesn't focus on a specific muscle group. If you want bigger biceps or shredded abs, rowing will benefit these areas, but more focused exercises like curls and crunches can tone those specific muscle groups. Rowing is best for overall cardio and strength.
Types of Rowing Workouts
Two essential types of rowing workouts exist, and they have very different effects on muscle tone and body weight — although both lead to improvements.
"A combination of conditioning classes matched with some more HIIT-style classes as well as weighted work will yield the faster results," Mulgrew says.
The first — conditioning — is an endurance approach that requires sustained motion over a longer period of time. Endurance workouts continue to challenge the muscles but not in a manner that will burn them out in short period of time. This training method tends to burn more calories as it often involves exercise sessions lasting for one hour or longer.
And the second first is high-intensity interval rowing, which typically require a 20-minute push through a difficult set of resistance and speed. High-intensity workouts push the muscles while raising the heart rate to burn calories.
Both types of workouts are highly effective and help contribute to a "rowing body." Alternating between endurance training and short bursts of exercise is a great approach to developing a well-rounded set of muscles.
The short bursts boosts your metabolism and improve your body's ability to use energy energy due to the increase in oxygen consumption, as the American Council on Exercise notes. Longer workouts torch more calories and boost your cardiovascular fitness.
Take the time to develop a rowing machine workout plan and alternate between workout styles. Variety makes it possible to reap the rowing machine benefits of endurance and strength building sessions. Focusing on the rowing machine exclusively isn't a common approach to building muscle tone. The machine is best used a few times weekly as part of a workout plan.
Getting Started With Rowing
If you're new to exercise — or new to rowing specifically — you should slowly build up your strength and endurance before increasing the intensity of rowing machine workouts.
"Give yourself some time to perfect your rowing technique before working on rowing at different intensities," Mulgrew says. "Laying a solid foundation of technique will ensure that you are able to keep rowing for longer periods of time as well as at higher intensities."
New rowers, especially those without prior conditioning in other resistance training programs must start slowly. The exercise places does work your back muscles, and proper form it critical to not over-stressing them.
Start with short, light rowing workouts and focus on back posture and flexing in the upper back to build the necessary back, leg and abdomen strength required to row properly.
After the muscles gain strength and stamina on the machine, you can gradually increase the intensity and reach your own rowing body transformation. That initial building period will also help with tone and definition as the new muscles gain strength and fat is burned during your workouts.
Track Your Progress
Keeping track of your progress is done by measuring some key stats. Before adding the rowing workouts into your regular schedule, take a before photo for your personal use. Also, note your weight and body fat if desired. Mark areas on the photo where you have excess fat and low tone.
Next, perform a 10-minute rowing workout to determine how you feel. Do a moderate-intensity set — or a low-intensity set if you are not exercising regularly. Take notes about how you feel and which muscles are fatigued and sore during the trial run. These notes create a baseline and open the door for pushing yourself forward while getting in great rowing shape.
Go ahead and set a workout routine with rowing two to four times per week based on this initial trial. Gradually increase the intensity and duration and take weekly notes about how you feel rowing before and after weight loss.
Take weekly or monthly photos and note the changes in your physical appearance. If you eat healthy and stick to your workouts, you should see improvements in muscle tone within weeks.