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The Best Rowing Machine Workout Plan For Weight Loss

Rowing machines are one of the most common pieces of cardio equipment on the market, and virtually every gym or fitness centre will have a few. However, compared to things like treadmills, they are often underutilized, which is a huge shame, given the amazing benefits they can offer.

In fact, the evidence suggests that rowing is actually a more beneficial activity than most other cardio workouts, particularly for people trying to lose weight. So, why are they less popular? Well, it largely comes down to the fact that it is both more challenging and a bit more complicated than a treadmill.

For those wanting to really get the most out of their training though, it is a great tool and something that you should not shy away from. That is why we have created our beginner’s guide to the best rowing machine workout plan for weight loss, to ensure that everyone can achieve their goals.

How Does Weight Loss Work? 

While there are a variety of different ways to go about stimulating weight loss, the fact is that it can only happen when you burn more calories than you consume. The amount you lose, or gain, can then be further affected by things like genetics, hormones, diet, lifestyle, and stress.

The fat cells in the human body store something called triglycerides, a type of fat in the blood that is made up of carbon, hydrogen, and oxygen.

When your body has to burn fat to produce energy, these triglycerides release it as carbon dioxide and water atoms. The carbon dioxide is exhaled by the lungs, while the water is removed in urine, sweat, and other bodily fluids.

As for what you can do to boost fat loss and lose weight, the traditional options of diet and exercise remain the best and most effective choices. The signs to look out for to confirm this is working are changes in body composition, improved exercise, stamina, and energy levels, and reduced weight.

What Is Rowing Indoors?

A rowing machine or indoor rower is a cardio machine that is designed to recreate the motion of rowing in water in real water outdoors, to be utilised exclusively for exercise or training.

Indoor rowing has become increasingly popular, and dedicated rowing studios are starting to appear all over the world. This is often believed to be largely due to the fact that it is one of the most intense and best all-around cardio workouts that you can get.

Harvard Medical School has even done multiple studies on rowing which prove that it can burn a very high number of calories. On average, a person who weighs around 155 pounds and rows at a fast pace can burn over 600 calories in just one hour, which is similar to outdoor mountain biking.

Rowing is a versatile exercise that can be done both in and outdoors. This makes it a great option for people who live in very cold climates or who do not have access to a gym, as it gives them flexibility.

It is also a relatively easy exercise to learn, it does not require any special equipment to do, and there are many online resources and classes available to help you learn the basics. This all means it is an extremely accessible way of training that is available to virtually everyone, no matter their situation.

How To Row With Good Form

The rowing stroke consists of four different stages, which are known as catch, drive, finish, and recovery.

The catch sees the rower lean forward from the hips with the shoulders in front of the hips, arms straight, and shins vertical. The drive is the main working portion of the stroke, where the rower will press with their legs, swing their back to a vertical position, then pull the handle in with the arms.

The finish sees the rower’s upper body lean back slightly, using good support from the core muscles. The legs will be extended, and the handle is held into your abs.

The recovery is then the negative portion of the stroke where a rower gets to rest. You will extend the arms until they are straight, lean forward from the hips towards the flywheel, let your knees bend, and gradually slide the seat forward until you are back at the very start position of the move.

Throughout the movement, you also want to synchronise your breathing so that it is coordinated with the stroke. For example, you should inhale during the recovery and exhale during the drive.

What Muscles Are Worked While Rowing?

As we mentioned earlier, one of the main reasons that rowing is so popular is because it is able to help you develop virtually all of the muscles throughout the body. In fact, different muscles will be engaged to different degrees in all four of the different phases of a stroke.

The Catch

During the catch, the legs will be compressed, and your shins will be vertical, so your hamstrings and glutes will be engaged. Your calves will also be engaged, particularly the soleus, as your feet will be at an angle.

Your triceps will be used to extend the arms and reach the handle, while the flexor muscles in the  fingers and thumbs will be used to grip it. Your shoulders and chest will both be in use to keep your arms raised, although this will only be to a minimal degree.

Finally, your abdominals will be used to bring the torso forward. In fact, it is virtually only the back muscles that are relaxed.

The Drive

The legs will be used to initiate the drive, with your quadriceps doing a huge amount of the work. All of the muscles in the shoulders will contract to move your arms slightly back and then keep them elevated, while the biceps will be fully engaged and used to pull the handle towards the abdomen.

Your back muscles will start to work more as you swing your torso open towards the latter part of the rep, while the glutes and the hamstrings will contract as you extend your hips. By the time the drive finishes with the arm pull-through, nearly all of the muscles in your entire body will be engaged.

The Finish

When you reach the finish of the movement, the abdominals will be fully engaged to help stabilise the body, while the glutes and quads will also be contracting to a significant degree.

The biceps and many of the muscles in the back will also be contracting to help keep the torso stable in the finish position of the movement and to internally rotate the upper arms.

The Recovery

During the recovery, most of the muscles will briefly begin to relax. That said, the triceps will engage to push the arms and handle forward and away from the body. The abdominals will flex the torso forward, and then the hamstrings and calves will slowly contract as you slide further up to the catch.

The Research: Weight Loss & Rowing

There is extensive research that suggests rowing is one of the very best ways to help you stimulate weight loss, and there are a huge number of benefits that it can offer. While it is very useful for everyone, it is also especially well suited to specific groups of people.

One study into weight loss discovered that people who rowed for at least 30 minutes 3 times a week for 12 weeks lost an average of 5.5 pounds (2.5 kg).

A similar study into reducing body fat percentage found that people who rowed for a minimum of 30 minutes 3 times a week for 12 weeks lost, on average, 2.5% of their overall body fat. This is a very important study, as it shows that the weight lost while rowing mostly comes from fat, not muscle.

Another study into cardiovascular health discovered that people who rowed for 30 minutes or more 3 times per week for 12 weeks had massive improvements in their cardiovascular health. They displayed things like lower blood pressure, a lower heart rate, and improved cholesterol levels.

As rowing is an extremely low-impact exercise, it is very easy on your joints. This has led countless studies to conclude that it is a great option for people with arthritis or any other type of joint pain.

One study also found that rowing is a very effective way to lose weight and boost body composition in people who suffer from any kind of visual impairment. Not only is it very effective, but your being seated and locked in makes it significantly safer than walking for people who have difficulty seeing.

Maximal Fat Oxidation: Comparison Between Treadmill, Elliptical & Rowing Exercises

As we saw above, rowing is a very effective way to lose weight and boost your cardiovascular health. A study of 100 overweight or obese adults found that those who participated in a 12-week rowing program lost an average of 10 pounds and 3 inches off of their waistline.

Similar studies into things like running, cycling, and stepper and elliptical machines found that both the weight and size decreases they offered were considerably less significant. This makes rowing a far more effective choice to use for weight or size loss than most of the other traditional alternatives.

Rowing Machine Weight Loss Workout

So, now that you understand why rowing is such a great way to lose weight, it is almost time to show you the best way to do so. However, before we do, it is important for us to first go over a few extra tips to help you use a rowing machine as safely and effectively as possible while you lose weight.

Firstly, you want to begin with a short workout and gradually increase both the length and intensity of your workouts over time. This will ensure that you maintain good form, don’t risk injuring yourself, and get the most effective and personally tailored workout you possibly can.

As we just touched on, you then need to make sure you focus on maintaining good form throughout your workouts, no matter how experienced or far into your training you get. For best results, you will want to row at a moderate to high intensity, as this will help you to stimulate fat burning the most.

While it is an effective way to lose weight, you also want to do other forms of exercise as well.

Doing things like running, cycling, or swimming will not only ensure that your body does not get too accustomed to doing just one thing, which could let it adapt and cause results to slow, but it will also make your workouts more enjoyable and less boring, which will keep you engaged and consistent.

Finally, you want to make sure that you support your workouts and maximise your results by eating a healthy diet and ensuring that you get enough sleep and allowing your body plenty of time to recover. You also need to be both very patient and consistent with your workouts, for the very same reason.

So, with that out the way, it is time to look at the best rowing machine workout plan for weight loss. Instead of just one plan, I am actually going to provide two options, a beginner plan, and an advanced plan. This will ensure that everyone has an option ideally suited to their ability that they can follow.



Warm-up:  You want to begin by completing a warm up to get both your heart and muscles ready for what is to come. 5 minutes of easy rowing is ideal, as it is not too intense but will prepare your body for exactly what it is about to be required to do.

Workout: For the main workout, you want to row for 1000 meters at a moderate intensity (around 60 to 70% of your max). There is not a set length of time that you need to complete the distance, you just need to make sure that you are constantly working at a challenging yet not overbearing pace.

Cool-down: You then want to finish the session off with 5 minutes of easy rowing, just as you did in the warm-up.


Tuesday is designated as a rest day, so you will not be doing any rowing. However, we would still recommend that you get in some light exercise, such as going for a brisk walk, as this will keep your metabolism going and your body healthy.


  • Warm-up: Do your regular warm up of 5 minutes of easy rowing.
  • Workout: The main workout for Wednesday will see you row for 750 meters at a high intensity (more than 70% of your max), followed by 250 meters of easy rowing. You will then want to stop and take a short break of a couple of minutes before you begin your cool down.
  • Cool-down: Finish off with your normal cool down of 5 minutes of easy rowing.


Thursday is another rest day so simply follow the regular rest day routine.


  • Warm-up: Do your regular warm-up of 5 minutes of easy rowing.
  • Workout: Friday’s main workout will see you row for 1500 meters at a moderate intensity
  • Cool-down: Finish off with your normal cool-down of 5 minutes of easy rowing.


Saturday is kind of like a rest day, but you will be doing something known as active recovery. This means you will complete 30 minutes of an activity like cycling at a low to moderate pace, so you will still be getting a bit of exercise, without working your body in the way it is worked when you row.


Finally, Sunday is another rest day so simply follow the regular rest day routine.



  • Warm-up: Complete the same 5 minutes of easy rowing that you did in beginner warm ups.
  • Workout: The main workout for Monday will see you doing four 500 metre rows at a high intensity, with 3 minutes of rest in between each set.
  • Cool-down: Do the same 5 minutes of easy rowing that you did in beginner cool downs.


Tuesday is a rest day so follow the normal rest day routine.


  • Warm-up: Complete the normal warm up of 5 minutes of easy rowing.
  • Workout: You will be rowing for 30 minutes at a moderate intensity to begin Wednesday. You will then begin using HIIT (high intensity interval training) and complete 10 intervals of 30 seconds of high intensity rowing followed by 30 seconds of easy rowing.
  • Cool-down: Do the normal cool down of 5 minutes of easy rowing.


Complete your normal rest day routine.


  • Warm-up: Do your normal warm up of 5 minutes of easy rowing.
  • Workout: Your Friday workout is challenging yet straightforward, as you will row for 60 minutes at a moderate and consistent intensity.
  • Cool-down: Perform your normal cool down of 5 minutes of easy rowing.


Complete the same active recovery of 30 minutes of walking or biking we saw in the beginner plan.


Follow your normal rest day routine.

Final Thoughts

Weight loss occurs when you burn more calories than you eat. While there are plenty of ways to achieve this, rowing is one of the very best ways to burn calories and lose weight, and it is also very effective to help people reduce their body fat percentage and boost their cardiovascular health.

Rowing is also a very low-impact exercise that is suitable for people of all fitness levels. You can find rowing machines at most gyms and fitness centers, and you can even buy a rowing machine for your home, making it an option that is accessible for almost everyone, no matter their injuries or budget.

To get the most out of your rowing workouts though, it is vital you use proper form and technique. With this guide, everyone should now have all of the information that they need in order to safely and effectively complete the best rowing workout to lose weight and achieve their dream results.

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Steve is a retired professional wrestler with over 10 years of experience in the personal fitness industry. He is a certified personal trainer working with a wide variety of athletes as well as a fitness writer.

Robert James
Researcher and Fact Checker at The Fitness Tribe | + posts

Robert is a senior researcher and fact-checker at The Fitness Tribe. He holds a Bachelor of Science (BS), Food Science and Technology from the university of Santo Tomas. He's our expert in all things nutrition and fitness.

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