Updated Nov. 15, 2020
What’s your biggest goal related to rowing? If you’re like most people, you’d love to use the machine to drop some weight. “Rowing for weight loss” and similar terms are perennial favorite Google searches.
New year, new month or just new week, it’s the number one goal that people have when it comes to rowing and their health.
And with good reason!
The rowing machine is a GREAT tool for weight loss, one of the best around.
It’s low-impact and at the same time, it targets virtually every muscle on every stroke, allowing you to burn as much as 800 calories per hour or more.
Super efficient, super effective and safe, especially when you do it with a certified instructor.
Rowing has helped countless people in our UCanRow2 community lose weight and keep it off. Me included!
what’s the best way to lose weight on the rowing machine?
We often hear from people who have set BIG meter targets rowed in a short period of time as their strategy for losing weight.
That’s great if it works for you, but it may not be what works well over time, and there are definitely some important factors to consider in implementing such a strategy.
A decade ago, my approach to rowing and weight loss was to row as many meters as I could, as many days of the week as I could.
If I’m completely honest, hours and hours of straight cardio was probably never the right thing. It just worked in the beginning because I was moving consistently.
Here’s the deal: Particularly when you’re rowing for weight loss purposes, doing hours and hours of steady-state training can be counterproductive.
Whaaaat? You mean my 20k-a-day-every-day strategy isn’t a winner?
Quite possibly not, especially over the long haul.
Here’s the problem with that kind of “chronic cardio”:
- It doesn’t help build significant strength as much as resistance training does
- Even though rowing is a great calorie burner, it’s still easy to eat back those calories – and more – if you’re not careful. Especially since rowing can make you really hungry. The laws of thermodynamics haven’t changed, friends. To lose weight you need to create a calorie deficit.
- Rowing is a repetitive motion as well as being a great total-body non-impact activity. Too much of a good thing is still too much. I dealt with a lot of tennis elbow when I was rowing 2+ hours a day back when I initially lost my weight. All these years later, it still comes back on occasion when I go too hard.
- Particularly as we age, too much exercise can be perceived by the body as a stressor. The body doesn’t distinguish between “good stress” and “bad stress.” If you’re menopausal or dealing with other issues where stress management is critical, you really want to pay attention to this.
So if your “Just Row” workout won’t get you there, what will?
- SOME steady-state, moderate-intensity long rows yes, one or two workouts a week.
- Higher-intensity workouts. The kind that get you really breathless and that you can’t do for very long. Think a few minutes of rowing hard followed either by an easy-rowing (paddle) break or getting off the machine and doing other exercises or stretches.
- Lifting Heavy Things: Your bodyweight is a great place to start for this, but also adding additional weight with dumbbells, kettlebells, or machines if you have them. You don’t have to get fancy though. Soup cans or milk jugs filled with water or sand make good weights, too.
- A good amount of NEAT aka non-exercise activity thermogenesis. That’s just plain no-sweat movement to you and me. Walking, fidgeting, super easy peddling on a BikeErg or other stationary bicycle.
Even very light rowing might fall into this category as long as you’re not getting breathless. That 10k-steps-a-day goal you have? It fits here. So does stretching and restorative yoga.
The more the better on this one.
- Don’t forget the rest! Resist the temptation to work out 7 days a week. Your body needs rest and recovery, too. That’s when your muscles rebuild from the strain you intentionally put them under during your workouts.
Keep this mantra in mind: “You progress in the rest.”
Plan on at least 1-2 days of rest per week and as many as 3 depending on how hard you’re going in your workouts.
How can you tell if you need more rest? If you’re feeling tired all the time, if your results in the gym go down rather than up, if your sleep quality declines, if your previously easy workouts consistently feel hard, if you’re super sore all the time. More info on overtraining here.
- Get Your Zzzzs: You’ve heard a million times that sleep is essential for so many of our body’s functions and processes to work their best. It’s just as true for weight loss.
If you’re not getting adequate sleep losing weight will be SO much harder. So make bedtime and sleep hygiene a priority! Want more help with this? Check out this interview we did with a sleep expert.
Sample Rowing Workouts for Weight Loss
Ok! So what workouts can you do to get started down the road to a lighter you?
[As always, check with your doctor before beginning any rowing program and be sure that you are cleared to do this exercise.]
if you’re a beginner at rowing
If you’re brand new to rowing, start by rowing just for 3-5 minutes at a time. Then get up, stretch, grab a drink, see how you feel.
Work your way up to doing 3 rounds of 5-6 minutes, maybe trying a few harder strokes along the way.
Once that feels comfortable, and you can row for 20-30 minutes without stopping, you are ready to move on to more.
For that long workout we mentioned above, set a goal of getting to where you can row 30 minutes to an hour at a moderate pace. Pop in your headphones and your favorite tunes or a movie. Row steadily at a pace where you could talk but don’t want a long conversation.
If you’d like to break that workout up to keep it interesting, try working up to doing 3 rounds of 10 minutes of rowing with 5 to 10 minutes of easy rowing recovery time in between.
Mix up your workouts!
Variety is the spice of life and the antidote to boredom. Do, however, try to do the same type of workout on the same day each week.
Having a framework like that has been shown to support fitness.
Once you’re feeling more comfortable with your rowing and are ready to progress, mix in some interval training (the undefined rest feature on the Concept2 rowing machine makes this easy).
For starters try:
1-3 rounds of 5-10 minutes of rowing at 22-24 strokes per minute
10 high knees
Terrific Tens (From our book 101 Best Rowing Workouts)
Row 2 mins.
10 squats (with a TRX or other support if needed)
10 push-ups (off a wall or box if needed)
If you have weight equipment available try:
Row 1000 meters
10 dumbbell presses
10 bicep curls
10 dumbbell lateral raises
10 bodyweight or weighted squats
Want more help with this?
- RowReady on Demand is our online course for beginners or anyone who wants a comprehensive, done-for-you way to master the rowing machine.
- Our Throwdown rowing and weight loss course was designed specifically to help people use rowing and a sane approach to eating to lose weight while having fun and without crazy dieting.
What questions do you have on this topic? Drop them in the comments, we’d love to help!