How To Use A Rowing Machine To Target Weight Loss

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Weight lossThe rowing machine is a brilliant piece of exercise equipment because it allows you to train for a number of different goals. These include building and toning muscles in both the upper and lower body, as well as improving cardiovascular fitness and endurance. Another great benefit of regular rowing machine workouts is weight loss. A rowing machine will not only help you burn calories through exercise. It will also enable you to improve your metabolic rate and body composition, so you continue to burn more calories and fat at rest. For more on the other benefits of rowing check out this article on rowing machine benefits.

How does a rowing machine help you lose weight?

To simplify weight loss to its most basic principle, burn more calories than you consume. This will mean your body has to fuel energy expenditure from energy stored in the body, in the form of fat. Burning this fat reduces fat stores, making you look slimmer and weigh less. Simple!

The table below shows how many calories are burned per hour by rowing at different intensities. Your size/weight is a factor, so the table provides examples for four weight categories.

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

It is clear to see that the more vigorous the workout, the more calories are burned. However it’s important to consider how long you can work out at the various intensities for. Also how long it takes to recover from the exertion of each workout. While very vigorous rowing burns calories at a much higher rate than moderate rowing, the pace cannot be kept going for as long, and you may need a days rest in between work outs. Whereas rowing at a slower pace for longer will overtake the calories burned by more vigorous exercise, and you can train this way without days off.

This leads us to two broad categories of working out on a rowing machine when targeting weight loss. High intensity interval training (HIIT) and low intensity steady state (LISS) exercise. Think of interval training as vigorous rowing and steady state exercise as moderate rowing. We will go over details of both next.

Interval training (HIIT)

The workout below is a classic example of a high intensity interval training session on a rowing machine.

Always start any exercise with a warm up, in this case rowing for 5 minutes at a moderate pace, this will warm your muscles and raise you heart rate.

The next stage only takes 8 minutes but they will be an incredibly intense 8 minutes! Row as fast as you can for 30 seconds, your heart rate will race up and get close to you max heart rate. This is placing a high level of strain on both your muscles and your cardiovascular system. Breathing will quickly become laboured.

After the first 30 seconds, give yourself 30 seconds to recover. Do not stop rowing, just drop to a slow place, your breathing will recover although heart rate will still be racing. Once these 30 seconds are up row as fast as you can for another 30 seconds. Rotate through these intervals of sprinting and resting for a total of 8 times.

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! Take 5 minutes to row at a slow pace as a cool down, allowing your heart rate to drop before climbing off of the rowing machine.

Rowing machine weight loss workout

So what is the outcome?

This workout will have burned a high number of calories, for an average sized person, this 18 minutes will have consumed around 250 calories. But the great thing about HIIT workouts is that they continue to burn calories long after you have finished.

During this training session your body will have created an oxygen debt, where it will have burned its oxygen stores. These stores need to be replenished and this takes both time (up to 24 hours) and calories. This means the bodies calorie consumption will be raised above normal levels for up to a day afterwards.

Rowing to build muscleThis type of exercise also places stress on your muscles. Over time they will grow and adapt, with increases in your lean muscle mass. As muscle burns more calories than fat, in time you will increase the amount of calories you consume at rest.

Remember this type of work out is challenging, putting strain on your body, so should not be carried out every day. It is best to limit HIIT workouts to 3 days a week, with at least a days rest between sessions. The day of rest does not mean you nothing however, you can work out at a lower intensity. Which leads nicely to the next form of exercise, low intensity steady state (LISS) cardio.

Steady state cardio

As the table above demonstrates, rowing at a moderate pace does not burn as many calories as at a vigorous pace. But the benefit of a slower pace is less strain on the body. Less strain on the muscles and the cardiovascular system. This means you can continue at this pace for far longer. Training at moderate pace for twice the length of time will burn more calories. It would take the same person approximately 30 minutes at moderate pace to burn the 250 calories from the HIIT workout above.

As you can carry out steady state workouts with less recovery time in between you can actually burn more calories over time training this way.

To carry out a steady state routine, set the machine at a light to medium resistance level. Settle into a steady rhythm, your heart rate should increase but if you are feeling a burning in your muscles and it’s tough to breath you are going too fast. Keep going at this pace for an extended period of time. Set yourself a realistic goal to start with. 30 minutes is ample, but look to increase the time/distance gradually over time. Aim to get to a stage where you are able to row for 45 to 60 minutes, a number of times per week. At this stage you will be burning calories in their thousands.

Which is better interval rowing or steady rowing?

The best way to train on a rowing machine to lose weight is to combine interval training and steady state training. Each has it’s pluses, but when you combine the two you gain the best bits from each. Managing to complete 2 interval training sessions and 3 slower rows of 60 minutes into one week will burn 2,000 calories (for a 155 lb person). That’s a whole days recommended calorie intake. Doing this, managing calorie intake, and increasing everyday activity will see you start to shed the pounds quickly.

A great rowing machine workout guide

If you are looking for more info on rowing workouts, we have composed a whole article on rowing for different fitness goals. It covers rowing to build cardiovascular endurance, build muscle endurance, increase power, a guide for beginners and some common mistakes to avoid.

It is also worth checking out the book below, available on Amazon, The Erg Book: 375+ of the Greatest Indoor Rowing Workouts of All Time. It’s a great book that will keep you motivated and avoid boredom by changing your workout regularly.

The Erg Book: 375+ of the Greatest Indoor Rowing Workouts of All Time

As well as a large number and variety of workouts, this book will also provide you with tips, rowing training plans and a range of stretches to help rowing performance.

Rowing machines vs other exercise machines for weight loss

How do rowing machines compare to other exercise machines for weight loss?

By other exercise machines, we are referring to other common gym equipment. This includes machines such as treadmills, exercise bikes and cross training machines.

The amount of calories burned relate more to the intensity of a work out than the machine that you work out on. Rowing at moderate pace will not burn more calories than running or cycling at a fast pace, if workout time is equivalent.

But the rowing machine does have an advantage against the other machines should exertion levels be constant. A rowing machine provides a full body workout, whereas a treadmill or exercise concentrate the effort on the lower body. A cross trainer does engage muscles in the upper body, but no to the same degree as a rowing machine.

The fact that more muscles groups are trained on the rowing machine makes it a full body workout. Which in turn burns a greater number of calories. Also muscle mass will be developed over the whole of the body. With more lean muscles gains, meaning more muscle overall and greater lifts in metabolic rate.

My advice would be to focus on a rowing machine if weight loss is your goal. However it will be a benefit to mix up use of the other machines if you are able. It will help manage boredom and motivation to have an occasional change. It also provides changes in stimulus which helps keep muscles guessing and increases adaptation.

Remember diet is key

A balanced diet is important for weight lossIt is important to remember that when you are trying to lose weight, your diet is vitally important. All that hard work exercising will be undone by unhealthy eating. You can burn hundreds of calories each day on a rowing machine. But that can be equivalent to the calories consumed in a chocolate bar and can of sugary soft drink.

Research the calories you should consume for your size and age. Stick to this calorie level and eat a range of whole foods across the range of macro-nutrients. Cut out junk food, it contains a lot of empty calories. It is far better to consume 1,000 calories of lean meat and vegetables than a 1,000 calories of sugar and trans fats.

Useful hints and tips for rowing and weight loss

A few hints and tips when you plan to lose weight on a rowing machine:

  • Make an exercise plan and stick to it (as well as possible)
  • Do not under-estimate the role of diet in weight loss, it’s more important than exercise
  • Always warm up and cool down when you exercise
  • Stray hydrated throughout you workout routine
  • Wear suitable clothes, lose fitting and sweat absorbent
  • Do not over-train, it leads to soreness, injury and drops in motivation
  • Listen to music, a podcast or and audio-book, anything to keep your mind occupied

Correct rowing machine technique

If you are new to using a rowing machine, or it’s been a while since you used one and need to refresh your memory, make sure you understand the correct technique before you start training. Poor form when rowing will increase your risk of injury and decrease your efficiency.

Check out this video for a basic guide:

Also check out this great Wikihow article on correct rowing machine technique, link below:

Wikihow – How to row on a rowing machine

Final thoughts on rowing for weight loss

I hope we’ve managed to demonstrate the advantages of training on a rowing machine to lose weight. A mixture of interval training and longer steady state workouts will burn calories and reduce your body’s fat stores. Plus you’ll get the additional benefits of greater lean muscle mass,a change in body shape and a healthy heart.

So don’t delay, get rowing and reap the benefits!

If you are thinking of buying a rowing machine to use at home, take a look at our rowing machine buying guide.

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