How Rowing Machine Workouts Can Benefit Strength & Power


Are you an endurance athlete? Are you doing strength training? Or are you looking to lose fat and gain muscle?

Whatever your goals, sport and abilities, there is one piece of equipment in the gym which ticks all the boxes: the rowing machine.

Using a large variety of your body’s muscles, it will get you lean, strong and really start your heart thumping.

Follow these start-up hints and tips to add it into your regular workout routine, or even make it the focus of your training!

Rowing Machine |

Basic technique

Much like swimming, because rowing uses most of the muscles in your body, you do need to pay a lot of attention to technique. It is therefore worth your time to begin with the basics and work up from a solid base, rather than jump straight into the deep end and have to adjust your technique later. Begin by ensuring that the straps are securely fastened around your feet and that the foot grip is at the correct position. It should be positioned so that your pushing power comes from the balls of your feet, much like cycling.

When you hold the handle of the “oar” initially, your knees will be bent and your arms out in front of you.

Keeping a straight back, shoulders back, push first with your legs before pulling with both your back and arms just before your legs reach their full extension. This will prevent your arms from doing most of the work and allow your much larger leg and back muscles to give you the power, allowing you to go further and faster.

Throughout the stroke, it is important to keep your back straight and to ensure that you do not pivot too far back or forward.

Bear these points in mind:

? Your elbows should be close to your body

? When you move, your pelvis and back should move together

? Keep your back straight (do not round at the shoulders)

? You should only be leaning forward and back slightly

? The power should come from your legs

? Try to make the entire stroke and the transition into the next one into one fluid motion

Rowing Machine for Beginners

If you have never used the rowing machine before, your first sessions will focus entirely on getting the technique down, and even if you are already very fit, it is best not to go too fast or too long for your first sessions.


? Start on a low damper setting (usually ranging between 1 and 10) to gauge your abilities and simply row for 2 minutes, focusing on the technique outlined above.

? If you can, ask somebody to check out your movements and maybe even record it for you with a video camera. This will allow you to analyse yourself later and improve based on that.

If you are not hurting after 2 minutes, increase your total time to 5 minutes. Take a note of your average time/500 metres (displayed on the monitor) and your number of strokes per minute (s/m). This is your first row and 5 minutes is enough to get an idea of how to progress from there!

? Your first 3-5 sessions should simply focus on technique, and you can then build on your time/500 metres and s/m from there, before moving on to more advanced sessions.

Intermediate and Advanced

Now that you’ve nailed your technique, you can start to branch out.

benefits rowing machine

If you want to improve your times on the rower, it is a good idea to mix up both strength and endurance sessions, making time for one strength and one endurance session per week.

Strength session

There are various ways of really pushing your body’s strength on a rowing machine. The simplest is to warm up (try stretching out your back by hanging on the pull-up bar for 30-60 seconds and performing a few body-weight squats), sit on the rowing machine, set the damper at its highest setting, and row for as fast as you can for 1 minute. Rest for one minute and sprint for another minute.

Repeat until you lose form and record the number of times you repeated the sprint, your average time/500 m, your wattage and the strokes/minute. Aim to improve next time!

Alternatively, you can sprint for 30 seconds, and then row easy for 30 seconds, alternating between sprinting and easy rowing for as long as you can maintain good form, again recording your time/500 m, wattage and s/m.

Endurance session

A good marker for your endurance on the rowing machine is being able to row for 30 minutes at an average of 2:00.00/500 metres. Bear this number in mind for your endurance sessions and work towards it incrementally.

Begin by rowing for 10 minutes without stopping and record your time/500 m. Each endurance session, aim to increase the time you row for and/or improve the time/500m, even if it is just a little.

An extra 10 seconds total time or 0:00.1/500 m shaved off is still an improvement and your body will respond to it positively, aware that it must improve for the next session!

Rowing Machine Workouts

| Variety

It is no lie that if you do not vary your sessions, sitting on a rowing machine can become tedious, and it is tedium which will put the spokes in the wheels of any workout.

When you are building up your strength and endurance, try some of these workout ideas for size:

rowing machine benefits

The Pyramid Scheme

Aim for s/m of 26-32 and 80% max effort.


1 min row – 1 min rest

2 min row – 2 min rest

3 min row – 3 min rest

4 min row – 4 min rest

3 min row – 3 min rest

2 min row – 2 min rest

1 min row-  1 min rest

Stroke rate variation

Rather than keeping an eye on your time/500 m or your total time, you can also monitor your stroke rate (s/m) more closely.

Try this s/m-based workout:

4 mins at 24 s/m

3 mins at 26 s/m

2 mins at 28 s/m

1 min at 30 s/m

You can then repeat this pattern until you lose good form!

Take Home Message

Whatever your goals or discipline, rowing can help boost your strength, stamina and power to provide you with a more-rounded fitness level. Make sure you practice both strength and endurance sessions, and keep things varied to fight off boredom!

As with all your exercise routines, each session should improve on the last to avoid a plateau!

Our articles should be used for informational and educational purposes only and are not intended to be taken as medical advice. If you’re concerned, consult a health professional before taking dietary supplements or introducing any major changes to your diet.



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