A rowing machine is a great machine to get a full body cardio workout on. But is 30 minutes enough to start seeing results? Let’s find out.
Using a rowing machine for 30 minutes can burn an average of 250 calories (weight and speed dependent). After 3-4 weeks of using a rowing machine for 30 minutes a day, you should begin to see results. Others will be able to notice these results after 6-8 weeks.
How many calories you burn every 30 minutes on a rowing machine and how long it takes to see results depends on a lot of different factors. Let’s take a closer look at those factors and how to make the most of your time.
- 1 How Do Rowing Machines Burn Calories?
- 2 What Areas of The Body Does a Rowing Machine Target?
- 3 How Often Should You Use A Stationary Rowing machine?
- 4 What Can You Do To Make Your Rowing Time More Effective?
- 5 Favorite Cardio Machine Accessories
How Do Rowing Machines Burn Calories?
The more you weigh the more calories you will burn during exercise. There are two important factors in weight: Muscle mass and body fat. The greater your muscle mass, the quicker you will burn calories. This is because more muscle can burn more calories just like a bigger engine burns more fuel in a car. However, if you are heavier because of higher body fat, you’ll also burn more calories because you’re moving more weight around.
One thing that doesn’t depend on your weight is the length and intensity of your workout. The longer your workout and the higher intensity, the more calories you will burn. You can increase the intensity of your rowing workout by increasing the strokes per minute, increasing the resistance, and using High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT)
How you can increase the resistance on a rowing machine depends on which type you have. On most air rowers, there is no dial to increase resistance but rowing faster will increase the resistance as well. On liquid rowers filling the reservoir to a higher level will increase resistance while on magnetic rowers it’s as simple as pushing the button.
However, not everyone is in a position to do very high intensity workout and use HIIT. In that case you can get the same weight loss results as a high-intensity workout by doing a low-intensity workout for a longer amount of time. As long as you are continuously moving, you will burn calories. In that way, you can keep going at any speed with any resistance level that you want until you have burned the number of calories you desire. However, to burn a meaningful amount of calories will take more than 30 minutes.
In the end, your muscles pushing away from the base, your arms pulling the oar towards you and your heart pumping all the blood and nutrients around is what burns calories. The harder it is for your muscles and heart, the more calories you burn. But that intensity can be replaced by a lower intensity for a longer duration.
Most stationary rowing machines have a built in performance monitor that will show at least: Time, stroke rate and calories. Most calorie counters have the option to input your body weight so the calculation is more accurate.
The question is if you can see results by using a rowing machine for 30 minutes a day. You burn more calories in a certain amount of time if the average intensity in that time is higher. So if you row as fast as you can for 30 minutes, you’ll see more results than if you walk at a leisurely pace for the same 30 minutes. However, it also depends on your diet but more on that later.
According to Harvard Health a 155 lbs. person burns 252 calories for every 30 minutes of moderate intensity rowing on a stationary rower. That same person rowing vigorously can burn as much as 369 calories per 30 minutes(Source)
What Areas of The Body Does a Rowing Machine Target?
The rowing movement involves pushing with the lower body and pulling with the upper body. This means you use a lot of muscle mass while rowing, making it a whole body exercise. Throughout the movement, you’ll use the glutes, quadriceps, hamstrings, calves, biceps, shoulders, back and more. Most of the force production comes from the legs, biceps and back.
However, that doesn’t mean your body will just burn fat in the used areas. A rowing machine mainly uses your quadriceps, glutes and arms but that doesn’t mean your body will strip the fat of those body parts, fat loss doesn’t work that way. Burning calories will lower your overall body fat percentage but where that fat is removed depends on factors like: Genetics, age, gender, and hormone balance.
It’s better to think of rowing on a machine as a way to burn calories and therefore lose overall body fat while improving cardiovascular health and strengthening your lower body muscles. Consistently rowing will start removing fat from every part of your body. It’s also a good way to strengthen the posterior chain (backside of the body) which is often forgotten to strengthen.
Besides burning calories, rowing machines are great at improving cardiovascular health. Aerobic exercise makes your heart and lungs work harder to get blood and oxygen to your muscles. This is the process that is strengthening your cardiovascular endurance while using an exercise stationary rower or other cardio machine.
Regular cardiovascular exercise also has benefits for mental health, digestion, calorie partitioning and many more processes in your body.
The quadriceps, glutes and hamstrings produce most of the force while rowing. The can be used to push away but that depends on your form.
The hamstrings are used a little bit while pushing, especially the last part where you extend your hips. However, the most hamstring involvement comes from when you return to the starting position. The hamstrings are responsible for bending the knees. So by strapping your feet in, you can pull yourself back by using the hamstrings.
You’ll get some muscular development in the lower body by rowing but don’t expect to get huge legs by doing it. If you want to grow a certain part of your legs, it’s better to do separate strength training exercises besides rowing.
The good thing about rowing is that it’s a continuous movement without much impact on the joints and spine. That means you can recover faster and do it more often that running for example.
There is quite a bit of upper body involvement in rowing. While most force production comes from the legs, that’s also just because the leg muscles are much larger and therefore can produce more force. So you might feel that the intensity for lower and upper body is feels quite similar.
The muscles in the upper body that get a good workout are the biceps, shoulders (especially the back), lower back and upper back.
Just like with legs, you will see some muscular development in the upper body but it won’t be spectacular. The good thing about rowing is that you mainly target the muscles that are often forgotten. The back of the shoulders, lower and upper back are often forgotten to train while they are very important for posture and spine health.
The core is used in rowing during the return to the starting position. You’re basically doing a seated crunch. The abs are engaged to bend your torso forward but because you’re also breathing in at the same time, you don’t get the deep core activation. To get a really strong core that is complete and well developed, it’s a good idea to do other core exercises.
Are you looking for visible abs? Rowing on a machine still plays a big role. That’s because having visible abs requires the right combination of the ab muscles being big enough and having a low enough body fat percentage. A rowing machine is a very useful tool to reduce body fat percentage. And will play a small role in growing the 6-pack muscles. To really make your abs pop, it’s a good idea to do more ab exercises apart from running.
How Often Should You Use A Stationary Rowing machine?
You can row on a stationary rower every day if you want and you recover quick enough. Adults are recommended to get at least 150 minutes of medium intensity to vigorous exercise a week. Typically, people reach this by working out for 30 minutes a day, five days a week. This way you allow the body time to rest and recharge.
Exercising at least 150 minutes a week is recommended for preventing weight gain and general health. If you are looking to increase weight loss, however, you should be striving for around 250 minutes of exercising a week (while maintaining a healthy diet, of course). In that case, it is recommended to work out 45 minutes to an hour for five days a week.
There is nothing wrong with using a rowing machine more than five days a week, as long as you are not doing long high-intensity sessions each day. If you want to row every day without breaks, it’s better to do longer but low intensity workouts. However, rest days are always a good idea. Your body might not start complaining the first few weeks but if you keep up the schedule for a long period of time, you probably get some weird aches and pains that could have been prevented by taking time off.
Combining cardio exercise with resistance training will make your workouts even more effective. Varying your workouts makes them less repetitive and building some muscle raises your resting calorie expenditure which means you burn more calories while sleeping! Stronger and bigger muscles also make you look better and compound the physique improvements you get from fat loss.
What Can You Do To Make Your Rowing Time More Effective?
The key to optimizing the results of your workouts, whether it’s rowing, weightlifting or any other activity, is to eat balanced and nutritious meals. To get the most out of your physical activity, you have to be giving your body sufficient energy to perform. Some forms of energy are better than others. Paying attention to total calories, macronutrients and micronutrients are all important to giving your body the best fuel.
Now, what is considered to be a balanced diet depends on what you are trying to accomplish. There will be a different amount of calories you should be consuming a day and a slightly different ratio of carbohydrates, fats, and protein (macronutrients).
Cook your own meals and try to avoid processed foods as much as possible. A good target to shoot for is to get 80% of your calories from whole foods. It’s very tough to eat 100% whole foods and shooting for 80% is more likely to give you enough leeway to be able to stick to it.
Typically, your ratio of macronutrients should be:
- 30–35% of your calories from protein
- 40–50% of your calories from carbs
- 20–30% of your calories from fat
There are a lot of different ideas about what the optimal ratios of macronutrients are but basically, you want to get enough protein (0.6-0.8 grams per pound of bodyweight) and enough healthy fats (up to 30% of total calories) and fill the rest of your calorie needs with carbs.
To lose weight, you need to be taking in fewer calories than you are going to burn from exercising. Using a calorie tracker and calculating your Base Metabolic Rate (BMR) are useful tools do discover how many calories you take in and use during a day.
A kilo of fat has 7700 calories. So by consuming 550 calories fewer per day than you use, you’ll burn through a kilo of fat every two weeks. Cycling helps increase the amount of calories you burn on a day (about 300 per 30 minutes). That means if you eat 250 calories less than you need and burn 300 more calories through working out you have a deficit of 500 calories.
So after eating right and cycling for 30 minutes 5-6 days a week, you’ll lose about 2-3 kilos (4.4 – 6.6 lbs.) after 4-6 weeks. For most people this won’t be enough to reach their goal but it will be visible. After 8-10 weeks your weight loss would be about 4-5 kilo (8.8-11 lbs.)
It’s not a good idea to create a bigger calorie deficit than about 500 calories per day unless advised by a healthcare professional. Larger calorie deficits are more difficult to sustain for long periods of time and make it more likely you won’t have the willpower to keep going.
A note about protein: It is a myth that you need to consume significant amounts of protein to gain muscle. Strength training is how you will build muscle! Yes, your body needs protein to repair and grow the muscles but, if you consume more protein than your body needs in a day, it will be converted and stored if it exceeds your daily calorie needs. Thus, eating so much extra protein you go over your daily calorie goal, will actually go against your goal and reduce the efficiency of your workout. About 0.6 – 0.8 grams per pound of bodyweight is a good goal.
Strength Training Exercises
As you can read above, rowing strengthens the muscles in the lower body and the rear of the upper body as well as some abs. Strenght training can capitalize on the training your muscles already get from rowing and to also strengthen the muscles that are not used by rowing to prevent them from falling behind.
Combining the calorie burning and cardiovascular benefits of rowing on a stationary rower with strength training is very effective and will multiply the effect you would get if you’re only doing one of the two. Lowering body fat and increasing muscle mass is a winning combination to improve your physique.
The best way to include strength training exercises in your rowing workouts is to do them after. That’s if you want to focus on weight loss. If you want to focus on muscle building, it’s better to do the strength exercises first.
It’s best to do a full body strength workout that targets all body parts. If you don’t want to do all the body parts on one day, you can split them up as well. It’s best to hit all the body parts twice a week. Training your whole body creates a better overall physique and prevents major muscle imbalances. It also means you create more real world strength that’s useful in daily life.
Stretching Before And After
Before and after any workout it is a good idea to stretch. If you begin working out without warming your muscles, you are more likely to injure yourself during your exercise. Stretching is a light way to warm up your muscles and prepare them to be used.
Good pre-workout stretches include:
- The Pike Stretch– Start by standing with your legs shoulder-width apart and reach down to put your hands in front of your toes. You’ll then slowly walk your hands forward while keeping them shoulder-width apart and keeping your legs straight. Essentially, you are walking yourself into the yoga stretch “downward dog.” Stay in that position for 30 seconds. This will stretch your hamstrings and calves.
- Trunk Rotations– Start lying on your back with your hips and knees bent and your feet flat on the floor. Your arms should lay straight at your sides. Squeeze your shoulder blades and flatten your neck to the floor while rotating your legs to the left. As you twist, your right shoulder blade and arm should remain flat on the floor. Hold that position for a few minutes and then slowly return to the starting position and rotate your legs to the right side. This will stretch your shoulders, legs, and core.
- Lunges– Lunges are an example of dynamic stretching, a way to stretch by constantly moving as opposed to holding a pose for a long amount of time. Since lunges target the leg muscles and back, doing a set or two of them before getting on the rowing machine can help get the blood flowing through your legs and prepare them for endurance.
Good post-workout stretches include:
- Chest Stretch– Start by standing with your feet slightly wider than shoulder-width. Place your hands on the back of your head with your arms raised and elbows pointed to the sides. Bring your shoulder blades together as you press your elbows backward.
- Seated Glute Stretch– Start by sitting in a chair with one foot flat on the floor. Place your other leg so that its ankle is over the knee of the foot flat on the floor. Slowly bend forward while keeping your back straight until you feel a slight pull in your hips and glute muscles. Hold that position for 30-60 seconds and repeat with the other leg.
- Cat-Cow Stretch– Start with your hands and knees on the floor, with your spine straight and relaxed. As you inhale, press your chest forward as if making your back into a bowl. As you exhale, relax your shoulders and round your spine upward, and press your hips forward as if making your back into a hill. Relax your shoulders and continue to go between these positions for a minute.
Favorite Cardio Machine Accessories
Check out these accessories that improve a home cardio workout:
- Equipment mat: All cardio equipment should be put on an equipment mat. The Rubber-Cal mat (Amazon) is an affordable yet very high quality choice.
- Interval timer: To time your intervals and workouts, there is no better choice than the GymNext Flex. It’s super easy to use and set up with a phone app.
- Tablet holder: Cardio can be boring. With this tablet holder (Amazon) you can follow along with on-demand workouts or just watch a movie on any cardio machine.
- Heart rate monitor: Monitoring your heart rate is very important while doing cardio. The Polar H10 (Amazon) connects to almost anything you can imagine and is very accurate.
To find which cardio machines I recommend for home gyms, click here.