Understanding The Calories Burned On A Rowing Machine

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The fact you are reading this probably means that you are interested in the benefits of using a rowing machine, and in particular how it can help you lose weight. That’s why most people wish to understand the amount of calories something either burns or contains.

Burn calories lose weight

This article sets out to explain how exercising on a rowing machine will help you burn calories. Thereby creating a calorie deficit, where you burn more than you consume, leading to the body to burning energy stored as fat. Ultimately resulting in weight loss.

We will start off by explaining what a calorie actually represents, then move on to what calories do within our body’s systems and how many we need. We will then move on to calorie burning on a rowing machine, the types of workouts involved and how to build a workout plan/strategy. Finally we will cover how to measure calories burned when working out.

What is a calorie?

A calorie is a unit of energy. In every day life calories are associated with food, but in fact they apply to anything containing energy. A gallon of petrol, as used to fuel your car, contains approximately 30,000 calories.

For clarity, note that the term calorie as understood from everyday life (such as food labels), is actually a kilocalorie. There are actually 1,000 calories in 1 kilocalorie, but we use the term calorie to represent a kilocalorie. For the purpose of this article, when we say calorie we mean 1 kilocalorie.

Boiling waterA calorie is the amount of energy required to raise 1 kg of water (1 litre) by 1 degree Celsius (1.8 degrees Fahrenheit). When a bar of chocolate is described as containing 200 calories, it means it contains enough energy to raise the temperature of 200 kgs of water by 1 degree Celsius.

If you started filling 1 litre kettles with 0 degree Celsius water, you would be able to boil 20 of them with the energy in the 2,000 calories the average person burns a day.

What calories actually do

Our bodies need energy to survive, to breathe, to move, to pump blood around our bodies. This energy comes from the food we eat, the amount of potential energy in the food = the amount of calories in the food.

Our food contains caloriesA gram of carbohydrate contains 4 calories, a gram of fat contains 9 calories and a gram of protein contains 4 calories. When you add up the grams of each of these macro nutrients in a piece of food you can work out it’s calorific content.

Our bodies “burn” these calories through metabolic processes. Enzymes break down carbohydrates into glucose and other forms of sugar, break down fats into glycerol and other fatty acids and breakdown protein into amino acids. These molecules are transported through the body in our blood, to our cells. Our cells then either absorb them for immediate use, metabolise them with oxygen to release stored energy, or store them as fat.

How many calories do we need?

The answer to this question is different for each person. The generally accepted average amount of calories is 2,000 a day. The nutritional labels on food which state the % of your recommended daily intake are based on a 2,000 a day calorific intake.

A number of things influence your calorific requirements, these include weight, height, age, gender and level of physical activity. When calculating someones calorie requirements three major factors are used:

  • BMR, Base Metabolic Rate – energy body requires at rest. Includes breathing, heart pumping and keeping warm
  • Level of physical activity – ranging from moving about in every day life to training and exercise
  • Thermic effect of food – energy required to digest food for use and storage

For a guide on your estimated calorie requirements check out this calculator on the freedieting.com website.

A list of calories burned by a range of activities can be found on the Harvard Health Site.

Calories burned rowing

The table below provides a quick look at the amount of calories people of varying weights burn rowing for an hour at different intensities:

Exercise & Calories Burned per Hour130 lbs155 lbs180 lbs205 lbs
Rowing machine, light207246286326
Rowing machine, moderate413493572651
Rowing machine, vigorous502598695791
Rowing machine, very vigorous7088449811117

Note, the information in this table is based on data from NutriStrategy.

It is important to remember this is a guide, and the other factors we mentioned above such as age and gender will have an impact. So will the level of fitness of the person rowing, the fitter the person, the more efficient their body is when faced with exercise, therefore the less challenging it becomes. However if you are looking for a rough guide this is more than adequate.

Rowing workouts for calorie burning

When it comes to exercising to burn calories and lose weight on a rowing machine there are many different forms of work out. Our Pro Fitness Review guide to rowing machine workouts covers a number of them in detail. For the purpose of this article we will look at the two most suitable ways to train, High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) and Low Intensity Steady State (LISS) exercise.

Burning calories with high intensity interval training

High intensity interval training involves moving between periods of intense activity, and rest periods, multiple times, during a workout. It raises heart rate and breathing significantly, and starts to fatigue muscles in a short amount of time. The graphic below is a classic example of a high intensity interval training session on a rowing machine.

Remember to start all exercise by warming up, in this example by 5 minutes rowing at a slower pace, warming muscles and raising heart rate.

The work out stage takes just 8 minutes, however these will be a really intense 8 minutes! Row as quick as possible for 30 seconds, you will reach close to you maximum heart rate. This places great strain on both the muscles and the cardiovascular system, with breathing becoming heavy.

After that first 30 seconds, you have 30 seconds to recover. Don’t stop rowing, drop to a far slower pace, your breathing will recover although heart rate will still be racing. After 30 seconds of rest, row as fast as you can for a further 30 seconds. Rotate through the intervals of sprinting and rest 8 times in total.

If after the cycle of 8 intervals your heart isn’t racing, you muscles are not burning and your breathing is not laboured you have not been pushing the sprints hard enough!

Row 5 minutes at slow pace to cool down, allow heart rate to fall before stepping off the rowing machine.

Rowing machine weight loss workout

What are the results of this calorie burning workout?

This workout burns a large amount of calories, for the average person, this 18 minutes will have burned around 250 calories. But the great thing about HIIT workouts is that they continue to burn calories long after you finish training.

This workout will have created an oxygen debt within you body, it will have burned its existing oxygen stores. These stores have to be replaced, and this takes time (up to 24 hours) and further calories. Meaning calorie consumption will rise above normal levels for up to a day afterwards.

Rowing to build muscleHIIT also places high levels of stress on your muscles. In time they grow and adapt, increasing your lean muscle mass. Because muscle burns more calories than fat, over time the amount of calories you consume at rest will increase.

As this type of workout is challenging, placing strain on your bodies systems, it must not be carried out every day. Limit HIIT workouts to 3 days a week at most, with a days rest between sessions at least. This rest day does not mean no exercise at all, you can work out with lower intensity. This leads nicely to the next form of exercise for calorie burning, low intensity steady state (LISS) cardio.

Burning calories with low intensity steady state exercise

As the calories burned rowing table above demonstrates, rowing at a moderate pace does not burn as many calories as a faster pace. But the benefit of a slower pace is a lower amount of stress to the body. Less strain on the muscles and the cardiovascular system. This means it is possible to maintain this pace for far longer. Rowing at moderate pace for double the length of time burns more calories. It takes the same person around 30 minutes at moderate pace to burn the same 250 calories as the HIIT workout above.

Because you can carry out LISS workouts with shorter recovery time in between, you burn more calories in the long run training this way.

For a steady state routine, set the rowing machine to a low to medium resistance level. Row with a steady rhythm, heart rate needs to increase, but should you be feeling a burning in your muscles and breathing raises significantly, you are going too fast. Keep at this pace for an extended length of time. Start with realistic goals, 30 minutes is ample. However look to increase the time/distance steadily over time. Aiming to get to the stage where you row for 45 to 60 minutes, several times per week. At this stage you will be burning calories in their thousands.

Rowing strategies for calorie burning

So now we have covered two of the best ways of burning calories on a rowing machine, interval training and steady state cardio, how should we use this information to develop a long term strategy for calorie burning on a rowing machine?

The optimum way is to combine the two. By combining the two you can take advantage of the best elements of each. In fact they compliment each other, so each one will actually make performing the other easier.

Interval training will strengthen your muscles making it easier to row for the extended periods of steady state workouts. Steady state workouts will help you recover from interval training, and build endurance that will translate back to interval training.

It is important to plan your exercise schedule in advance, it helps keep you motivated and on track. It also helps you optimise your workout schedule, making sure you get the most from each session by understanding what sort of training should follow on from another. For instance it is not a great idea to have two really intense training sessions one day after another, it may take you longer to recover and feel ready to train again.

When planning to use rowing as a method of burning calories, ultimately to burn fat and therefore lose weight, you are aiming to burn as many calories as possible in the time you have available. This means making the most efficient use of your time. Planning in advance increases efficiency.

A typical week, should include 2 or 3 interval training sessions and 2 or 3 steady state training sessions. But they should be spaced out so you are not doing one type of workout on consecutive days. It is also important to have at least one days rest each week, giving your body time to fully recover from exercise. This will keep you fresh and pay off with better performance in the long run.

Example weekly workout plan:

Here’s an example of how you may plan your exercise over a period of several weeks, factoring in other elements of every day life but ensuring you still fit in plenty of training sessions:

Workout Plan

It can be very easy to picture your life as being hectic, without the time to train. But with advance planning it is normally possible to carve out a small part of each day to train. Doing so will allow you to train more often, maximising you long term goals. The key element of any fitness routine is finding the time to work out often enough to make a difference. Many people fail by simply not carving out the necessary time, then becoming disillusioned when the results do not follow.

Measuring calories burned rowing

Most rowing machines will have a monitor that displays the calories burned during your workout. In some cases you are able to enter your personal details to get more accurate measurements. In other cases the reading is based on an assumed average person. This means sometimes the display is not a fully accurate measurement of what you have actually achieved in your workout.

However there more accurate ways to measure of the calories you burn. The following formulas for each gender come from the Journal of Sports Sciences and are accepted as being as being good approximations:


Calories Burned = [(Age x 0.2017) — (Weight (lbs) x 0.09036) + (Heart Rate x 0.6309) — 55.0969] x Time / 4.184.

For example, a man of 40 weighing 150 lbs, where average heart rate is 140 beats per minute over a 60 minute workout:

Age 40 x 0.2017 = 8.07

Weight 150 x 0.09036 = 13.55

Heart rate (140 x 0.6309) = 88.33

Time 60 / 4.184 = 14.34

(8.07 – 13.55 + 88.33 – 55.0969) x 14.34 = 398 calories at 6.63 calories per minute.


Calories Burned = [(Age x 0.074) — (Weight x 0.05741) + (Heart Rate x 0.4472) — 20.4022] x Time / 4.184.

For example, a woman of 40 weighing 120 lbs, where average heart rate is 140 beats per minute over a 60 minute workout:

Age 40 x 0.074 = 2.96

Weight 120 x 0.05741 = 6.89

Heart rate 140 x 0.4472 = 62.61

Time 60 / 4.184 = 14.34

(2.96 – 6.89 + 62.61 -20.4022) x 14.34 = 549 calories at 9.15 calories per minute

It is important to note again that this is not a 100% accurate weight to measure calories burned, as every one is unique. However it should give a far fairer indication as to the calories you burn than a rowing machine using an “average” person as a guide.

Conclusion – what to take away from this article on rowing machines and calorie burning

Before going any further it is important to state that without a healthy diet all of your hard work on the rowing machine will have little impact on your overall body composition.

To summarise what we have covered above in order to wrap things up, take away these points:

  • A calorie is a unit of measurement relating to energy stored and burned
  • The body burns calories simply performing basic functions, exercise burns additional calories on top of these essential survival functions
  • Burn more calories than you consume and you will burn fat and change your body composition
  • Rowing is a great form of exercise to burn these extra calories, and there are two major alternative styles of rowing exercise, interval training and steady state training.
  • The best strategy is to combine the two types of exercise into a planned program of regular exercise
  • Calories burned can be measured by a computer in the rowing machine console, however more accurate ways exist that take into account your personal factors (age, weight etc)

I hope you found this useful and interesting. If you are thinking about buying a rowing machine for use at home then please check out our guide to purchasing a rowing machine. If you are interested in understanding further benefits of training on a rowing machine then our article on rowing machine benefits should help. For more details on exercise on a rowing machine check out our guide to rowing machine workouts.

p.s. please like or share this article, it helps others find it. Thanks!

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