WHAT’S YOUR biggest goal related to rowing? Would you like to use rowing for weight loss? If so, you’re in great company! “Lose weight rowing,” “rowing machine weight loss,” and similar terms are always high on Google searches related to the total-body, low-impact rowing machine.
The great news is that weight loss with rowing is absolutely doable. And it doesn’t need to take hours and hours a day.
Indeed, 30 minutes or so a few days of the week is plenty to make progress towards your health and fitness goals.
There’s no research on rowers’ fitness goals, but judging by the posts in our Facebook group and elsewhere, weight loss is a top reason for many for getting on a machine.
Furthermore, many of the people who do our RowNow rowing training plan for beginners also come to it with a weight loss goal.
That’s a smart place to start, because RowNow eases you into the beginner rowing workout and teaches you good rowing technique from the start.
It’s safe to say, if rowing for weight loss is a goal of yours, you have LOTS of company!
Want more tips and motivation to use rowing to lose weight? Sign up for our rowing and weight loss newsletter!
Are Rowing Machines Good for Weight Loss?
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 whose rowing weight loss strategy is to row as many meters as they can. The more meters, the better, they figure.
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” when your goal is rowing for weight loss:
- 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 by doing the same workout over and over, you’re likely to make MORE progress if you broaden your rowing weight loss workout routine.
How Much Rowing to Lose Weight?
That’s one of the top questions people ask about rowing and weight loss.
Before I say anything more, a reminder that nutrition is the true driver of weight loss. Workouts are a passenger in that car, along with other factors like sleep, stress management, and recovery.
That being said, rowing is a GREAT workout for weight loss, particularly if you’re looking for a total-body, low-impact option.
How much you should row depends on where you are in your fitness journey.
If you’re here I’m going to assume you are either a rowing fan, or you’re at least pretty curious about how it might be able to help you lose weight.
Think of your workouts as a pyramid.
Use This Workout Weight Loss Hierarchy
On the bottom is CONSISTENCY:
Consistency is more important than anything else, especially if you’re just getting started with rowing or workouts. Before you worry about anything related to time, intensity, type of workout, or anything else, step one is just to get consistent, even if that’s one workout a week to start.
Next is FREQUENCY:
Work your way towards 3-5 workouts per week. If you’re younger than 40 or menopause isn’t in the picture you can probably do more, but everyone needs at least one day off per week.
Above frequency is INTENSITY:
To lose weight you have to break a sweat, regularly. And be willing to get a little uncomfortable with it. Like go to a place where you’re working hard and you’re glad when you get to stop. Not on every workout, but your body needs that challenge.
At the top is VARIETY:
Mixing up your workouts, doing a little bit of steady-state rowing, some intervals, and eventually adding in strength work, will keep you interested and coming back, and also give your body continual challenge that will help keep your metabolism moving.
How Long to Row To Lose Weight?
The answer is definitely individual.
Here’s what I’ve learned from my own experience and that of my clients over the years:
To start to see really good results you’ll need to get up to about a half hour or more of rowing 3-5 days a week. This should be at a pace where you’re sweating but can still answer a question in a few words. You can talk, but you’d rather not.
If you’re just getting started with rowing or with fitness, start with 5 to 10 minutes on the machine and build up from there. Add a minute every workout or every other workout until you’re up to 20 to 30 minutes of rowing steadily at a time.
[Want an easy way to do that? Check out the Steady-State Series inside of UCanRow2 on Demand! There are row-along workouts all the way from 7 minutes up to 30!]
Assuming your nutrition is dialed in, you should start seeing results of either weight loss, strength building, or both once you are rowing consistently a few days a week.
Our Best Tips to Lose Weight Rowing:
- 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. One or two of these a week will give you all kinds of fat-burning benefits. Want more help with HIIT rowing workouts? Check out our HIIT rowing workouts guide here.
- 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 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.
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3 Great Workouts to Lose Weight Rowing
Ok! So what rowing weight loss 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, and 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 rowing machine weight loss workouts to make more progress faster!
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 rowing machine weight loss?
- Get rowing and weight loss tips straight to your inbox for free!
- 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.
- RowStrong is our rowing + strength training course. Perfect if you have some experience with rowing and are ready to add strength training to the mix
- Our on-demand row-along 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!