Updated Feb. 23, 2022
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.
Thousands upon thousands of rowing machines were sold in the Covid-19 pandemic. Of course there are no definitive numbers on the fitness goals of the people who bought them, but judging by the posts in our Facebook group and elsewhere, weight loss is a top reason for many for getting a machine at home.
Many of the people who take our RowNow course for beginners also come to it with a weight loss goal (And it’s a smart place to start, by the way, because RowNow eases you into the beginner rowing workout and teaches you good rowing technique our of the gate.).
It’s safe to say, if rowing for weight loss is a goal of yours, you have LOTS of company!
What makes the rowing machine the best weight loss workout routine?
Rowing is low-impact and at the same time, it targets 86 percent of your muscles on every stroke, allowing you to burn as much as 800 calories per hour or more.
So it’s efficient, effective, and safe, especially when you do it with a certified instructor. That’s a magic combination when it comes to workouts for weight loss.
Countless people in our UCanRow2 community are rowing machine weight loss success stories. They’ve used rowing-based workouts as one of their main activities to lose weight and keep it off. Me included! Jump over here if you want to read more about how I lost nearly 50 pounds and what I learned from the experience.
How to use a rowing machine for weight loss
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, and especially as you get older.
Here’s the problem with that kind of “chronic cardio”:
- It doesn’t help build significant strength as much as resistance training does, and strength training paired with rowing is the mac daddy for weight loss success.
- 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” weight loss workout plan won’t get you there, what will?
Especially as we get older, we need to work our bodies in different ways in order to maximize our weight loss and to best build our fitness.
So while in the beginning you may be successful losing weight with doing the same workout over and over, you’re likely to make MORE progress if you broaden your rowing weight loss workout routine.
Here’s how we recommend you do that:
- SOME steady-state, moderate-intensity, longer 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.
- Strength training off the machine: Your bodyweight is a great place to start for this, but also adding additional weight with dumbbells, kettlebells, barbells 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. Our upcoming RowStrong rowing and strength training program is the PERFECT answer for how to build this in safely and effectively.
- 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 rowing (not at all breathless), no-sweat peddling on a BikeErg or other stationary bicycle are all great options here.
That 10k-steps-a-day goal you have programmed into your fitness tracker? 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.
Remember this mantra for better fitness results: “You progress in the rest.” Click To Tweet
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.
5 Great 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?
- RowNow is our row-along course for beginners. If you’ve ever said, “I just started rowing, now what do I do?” this course is for you.
- RowReady on Demand is our online course for anyone who wants a comprehensive, done-for-you way to master the rowing machine and the perfect follow-up to RowNow.
- Our on-demand workouts give you all the variety you need to stay consistent with your workouts (the NUMBER ONE key to using rowing for weight loss) at a super affordable price
What questions do you have on this topic? Drop them in the comments, we’d love to help!