8 Best Rowing Machine Workouts for Cardiovascular Fitness & Strength

If you’re looking to mix up your workouts at home, rowing is an amazing option for a full body workout that will challenge your cardiovascular fitness and strength.

7 min read


Sunny trainer rowing

Published on 2/24/2021, Updated on 3/15/2022


If you’re looking to spice up your workouts at home, rowing is a wildly effective full body workout to add to your to-do list. It is one of the best cardio workouts for increasing your cardiovascular fitness and may even help you build some strength along the way.

Ready to learn what rowing is all about? Below, you’ll get all the juicy details from the benefits of rowing, top questions answered, and the 8 best rowing machine workouts to help you elevate your fitness game.


What are the Benefits of Rowing Machine Workouts?

There are many amazing benefits to working out on a rowing machine. Below are just a few of my top rowing highlights.


1. Rowing is a Full Body Workout

Rowing is a full body workout, activating nearly twice the muscle mass of other cardiovascular activities like cycling or running.

Rowing targets your:

  • Quads
  • Hamstrings
  • Glutes
  • Calves
  • Core
  • Chest
  • Back
  • Shoulders
  • Biceps
  • Triceps

While you might assume rowing is primarily upper body focused, according to the American Fitness Professionals Association rowing is about 65-75% lower body, and 25-35% upper body work making it an extraordinary full body workout (1).


2. Rowing is Efficient

Because you use so many of your muscles when you row (86% to be exact), it results in a higher overall demand on your body throughout your workout.

More muscles used, means your body requires more oxygen flow to divert to each of the muscles in use, resulting in more calories burned. This makes rowing workouts one of the most efficient and effective ways to get a cardiovascular workout!


3. Rowing Trains You to Move Better

If you’re anything like the majority, you spend a lot of time either sitting at a computer or desk all day or doing repetitive movements like stocking shelves at the grocery store or picking up your kids. The quality of your everyday posture and movement matters and can really add up to an overall positive or negative overtime.

On your rower, you’re constantly reinforcing good posture, and strengthening your postural muscles which will help you not only as you row, but in the rest of your workout routine, as well as during daily life.


4. Rowing is Low Impact

Unlike walking or running, rowing is a closed-chain exercise. A closed-chain exercise is essentially when the hand or foot involved is rooted to a surface and stays in constant contact throughout the movement. For example, when rowing, your foot stays in constant contact with the foot plate.

With your foot rooted to the footplate of your rower, the force involved is compressive, helping to stabilize and strengthen the joint, and reduce impact.


Are Rowing Workouts Considered Cardio or Strength Training?

One of the most common questions asked about rowing is whether it’s a cardio or strength workout. Technically speaking it’s both, but it airs on the side of cardiovascular training.

Rowing is not just any cardiovascular workout - but a robust one at that. Rowing will strengthen your cardiovascular system, increase your fitness level, and burn loads of calories in the process.

While cardio should be the primary focus of any rowing routine, with added resistance rowing can help you build lean, toned muscles from your legs to your shoulders. Keep in mind, while rowing may help you build some strength, there are better ways to build muscle (i.e. traditional strength training).

Depending on the type of workout you’re looking for (cardio vs. strength) adjust your resistance damper accordingly:

  • For a More Cardio-Based Workout: If you’re more focused on cardio, keep the resistance mid-low, something you can maintain for longer periods of time, and work on building your endurance and speed.
  • For a More Strength-Based Workout: If you’re focused on building strength, bring your resistance level up and focus on slower, harder, more powerful pulls.


How Long Should You Workout On A Rowing Machine?

Often you won’t hear of marathon rowing workouts, and that’s because rowing is a huge challenge for the body. But just because longer rowing workouts aren’t as common, doesn’t mean they aren’t beneficial.

So how long should you work on your rowing machine? First, start simply with what you can. If that’s just 10 to 20 minutes we have options for you below. Give yourself permission to start slow and learn proper rowing form, you can build up to faster, longer sessions when you’re ready.

If building your cardiovascular fitness is the goal, longer sessions should be on the horizon. Once you build up your stroke rate, endurance, and power you’ll be able to advance to longer sessions.

Beyond getting in the groove, a great long-term goal for any rower would be to work up to hitting the cardiovascular activity minimums for healthy adults. According to the Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans, 2nd Edition, which was released by the CDC in 2018, adults should complete at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity or 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity activity each week (2)

These standards could easily be achieved by completing 5, 15-minute vigorous-intensity sessions each week (such as the high intensity interval workouts included below), or you could work your way up to longer workouts for about 5, 30-minute moderate-intensity sessions per week.


Rowing Machine Workouts

Ready to row to your heart's content? Catch 8 invigorating rowing machine workouts below that will help bring new life to your rowing routine while building cardiovascular fitness and strength so you can bring your best to each session.


1) 20-Minute Power Drills Rowing Workout for Beginners

If you’re new to rowing or just want to get back to the basics, this 20-minute beginner rowing workout with Sunny Trainer Sofee is the perfect workout to test the waters.

Learn the basics from form, and how to find your push, power, and paddle pace you’ll come back to time and time again in future workouts!


2) 15 Minute Rolling Hills Rowing Machine Workout

Rowers, come join Sunny Trainer Alexa for this beginner rolling hills rowing workout that's perfect for all fitness levels! This fun workout will challenge your heart rate, strength, and cardiovascular capacity.

Follow along with Alexa as she uses your rate of perceived exertion (or RPE) to pace your workout. That means your workout will be based on what feels challenging and right for you, regardless of your fitness level!


3) 15 Minute HIIT & Arms Rowing Workout

If you’re looking to get an amazing rowing workout to spice up your cardiovascular system, and give a little extra attention to your arms, this HIIT and arms rowing workout with Sunny Trainer Eloisa is just the workout for you!

In this workout you’ll complete a medley of intervals, and some bicep and back work to target your upper body. If you’re working with a rower that has adjustable resistance, crank it up for the arm portions of the workout!


4) 15 Minute Power Row & Core Workout

Drop everything and give this 15-Minute Power Row & Core Workout a try! Your core is essential to your rowing form - and working it will have all the benefits for your rowing workouts and everyday life.

Sunny Trainer Sofee will have you making the most of your time both on and off your rower to strengthen your abs, and get your cardio work in for the day. Let’s do this!


5) 15 Minute Strength & Rowing Bootcamp Class

If you have a rowing machine and haven’t tried out a bootcamp class, what are you waiting for? Join Dana for this fun intro to bootcamp class to help you break the ice and achieve an amazing full body workout.

For this workout, you’ll need a rower and some dumbbells. Set up your space and press play, there’s no better time to move than the present.


6) 20-Minute Prenatal Rowing Machine Workout

Baby on the way? This prenatal rowing workout was created with you in mind. Follow along with ProNatal certified Sunny Trainer Alexa as she provides modifications and cues for getting through your first rowing workout while expecting.

Alexa instructs you to use your rate of perceived exertion (or RPE) to pace your workout. That means your workout will be based on what feels challenging and right for you, regardless of your fitness level. Get your movement in and feel accomplished with this prenatal row!


7) 15-Minute Interval Rowing Machine Workout

Build rowing strength and power with this 15-minute rowing power intervals workout. This quick but challenging workout will make the most of your time with a variety of longer big effort intervals, to ascending power stroke pushes.

If you’re looking to get a serious sweat in just 15 minutes, Sunny Trainer Sofee brings the heat in this rowing machine workout.


8) 10-Minute All Out Express Rowing Machine Workout

If you don’t have much time to spare, this 10-minute all-out rowing workout is just what you need to squeeze a workout into your busy schedule.

While 10 minutes may not seem like much, mini workouts are an effective way to add some movement into your day. And don’t be fooled by the time, this 10-minute express rowing workout will leave you a sweaty mess!


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