Heath Benefits of a Rowing Machine – The Total Body Fat Blaster

The health benefits of rowing extend way beyond just being a cardio exercise. Rowing is efficient, low impact, and provides a total-body calorie blasting movement. This is why rowing is quickly becoming the go-to cardio exercise for many fitness fanatics across the country. While you may be thinking you can get the same results with other cardio exercises, there are a few things that only rowing can provide. Let’s take a look at some of the top reasons you should start incorporate rowing into your routine. If you’re interested in checking out the only rower deemed worthy for the CrossFit Games Click Here.

  1. Promotes fat-loss and improved cardiovascular function: The two main reasons we do cardio is to improve our body composition and make our heart stronger. This can be accomplished through a number of different methods. Walking up hill, running, cycling, elliptical, and swimming are all great examples of great cardio exercises, but there are several factors that set the rowing machine apart from all the rest.
  2. Low-impact: The low impact nature of rowing means it’s possible for people with previous injuries, arthritis, and other ailments to do the exercise through the full range of motion. This means less wear and tear and/or injury to the joints.
  3. Total Body Exercise: With rowing you work your upper body just as hard as your lower body. This means you are exerting a huge amount of energy per stroke. The more muscles you incorporate, the more calories you burn, and the more fat you lose. Additionally, the low impact nature of the movement combined with the total body involvement means you can exercise to the full extent of what you’re capable of without much risk of injury.
  4. Promotes Balanced Muscles: We often neglect our back muscle. This leads to imbalances in the muscles of the upper body, but more specifically the shoulder joint capsule. While the rowing machine should not be a replacement to the traditional weighted row exercise, it can help promote shoulder stability and prevent or improve some shoulder related injuries. If you perform push-ups and chest presses on a regular basis incorporating rowing at least a few times per week can be extremely beneficial.
  5. Efficiency: One thing that sets rowing apart from all the rest is the ability to work both the upper and lower body efficiently. You might be thinking that you can accomplish the same thing with swimming, and you are right to some extent. The hydrodynamic properties of water and the way our muscle work through flexion and extension limits the amount of muscular strength and endurance we can build through swimming. Also, one major advantage with rowing is you don’t need access to a pool. This makes incorporating rowing into a circuit routine a feasible and excellent option.

If you’re ready to get started at home you can find the Top Indoor Rower Review Here and get your hands on one.

How to do it

This is an excellent video produced by Concept2 that will show you proper technique on the rowing machine.

To reiterate, there are two main parts of the stroke.

  1. The Drive: This is where you perform the work portion of the stroke. It starts with a position called the catch.
  2. The Recovery: This is where you rest and return the starting position through reversing the order of the movements.

Catch position (start position):

  • Knees bent with lower legs vertical
  • Arms straight
  • Lean forward slightly (1 o’clock position)

Perform the drive:

  • Start by extending the legs
  • Pivot the hips from the 1 o’clock to 11 o’clock position
  • Pull the handle to the bottom of the sternum

At the end of the drive:

  • Knees should be straight
  • Body leaned back to the 11 o’clock position
  • Elbows are pulled back
  • Handle just below the sternum
  • Neck and shoulders relaxed

Recovery (finish):

  • Simply reverse the movements of the drive
  • Extend arms
  • Move upper-body to 1 o’clock position
  • Bend knees

Try not to strike the chest with the handle as this will result in wasted injury and is not very efficient. Also, do not shrug your shoulders, always maintain good posture. Focus on one fluid movement throughout the whole stroke.

Drills to improve your stroke

Drills are a great way to improve your stroke and warm-up before an intense bout of rowing. It will also help improve form and sure up any errors you might be doing while rowing.

Arms only:

The position for this is from the top of the drive. Your body should be at the 11 o’clock position with your legs extended. extend your arms all the way out in front of you.

Once full extended drive the elbows back and squeeze the shoulder blades together. Maintain a relaxed grip and keep your upper arms at about a 45 degree angle with your body.

Continue the movement for one minute and then move on to to the next drill.

Arms and body only:

Perform the same movement as above but this time we are going to pivot at the hips from the 11 o’clock position to the 1 o’clock position.

From the top of the drive extended the arms then pivot forward. Make sure the arms are extended before you pivot at your hips. once at the 1 o’clock position lean back to the 11 o’clock position and drive the elbows back.

Repeat for one minute and then move on to the next drill.

Quarter Stroke:

For this stroke you will repeat the same movement as above but once the body is at the 1 o’clock position you will bend the knees slightly to move the seat forward about a quarter of a stroke.

Once you’ve bent your knees to about a quarter of the stroke reverse the movement. Extend the knees, pivot the hips to the 11 o’clock position, and drive the elbows back.

Repeat for one minute and then move on to the next drill.

Pause Stroke:

Perform the full stroke but at the catch position pause for one second. This allows you to focus on the movement and reset your body before performing another stroke. You should also focus on making each rep one fluid movement. Don’t pause at the top of the catch and keep the handle moving.

Repeat for one minute and then move on to the final drill.

No feet-straps:

This is a great drill to help you become more efficient and not rely on your feet too much. When performing this drill it will require you to quickly redirect your energy forward from the top of the movement be redirecting your arms in the opposite direction. You will not be able to effectively pull your body forward with you feet resulting in less energy waste and a more efficient stroke.

When doing this drill it’s important to still lean back to the 11 o’clock position but be careful not to fall backwards off the machine.

Practice by doing a few lighter strokes before going full power. Once finished with this drill check out the awesome workout below to really blast some calories.


This is a ladder drill that focuses on intervals. It’s designed to really get the heart rate up and help you incenerate calories. You’ll start with steady state rowing for 5-minutes at 50-60% Maximum effort. Then you’ll begin the ladder drills varying in intensity and duration. Each drill is followed by a 30-second active recovery. This recovery should be at 40-50% max effort. You’ll then finish with another 5-minute steady state rowing at 50-60% max effort.

The percentages are based off of perceived effort. This makes for an excellent challenge not only physically but also mentally. This also means you are less likely to skip your cardio. There’s less stress involved with making the workout based on how you feel. Some days we’re in beast mode and some days we’re recovering from a bender the night before. This means you’re less likely to miss a workout.

After a proper warm-up (see Drills to improve your stroke above)

5 min steady rowing at 50-60%

20 strokes at 75%/ 30-second active recovery

15 strokes at 85%/ 30-second active recovery

10 strokes at 95%/ 30-second active recovery

15 strokes at 85%/ 30-second active recovery

20 strokes at 75%/ 30-second active recovery

5-mins steady rowing at 50-60%

Make sure heart-rate has slowed and breathing is at a normal rate before stopping.

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2 thoughts on “Heath Benefits of a Rowing Machine – The Total Body Fat Blaster

  1. Emily Reply

    hi Jeff
    ok got to admit that I never knew there was this much involved in rowing! In every sense of the word. I always thought of rowing more as a upper body work out rather than a full body workout. But thinking about it, it makes sense. I used to use a rowing machine a few years back but I have not done so in a while. I think the ladder drills you propose would certainly be a good workout. And the no feet straps? That would certainly add a level of intensity. I am imagining how hard it would be to do it without them and it must require quite a lot of control and redistribution of energy.

    • Jeff Smith Post authorReply

      Hi Emily, Thanks for the great comment. I think when people first start working out they don’t realize there is a huge difference between the weighted cable row machine and the rowing machine. They assume they both work just the back. When in reality the rowing machine is more similar to a treadmill than a weight machine.

      I’m glad you like the workout and the drills. Yes, rowing without feet straps can be intimidating at first, but taking your time and maintaining control (like you said) are exactly what you need to do. Thanks again, have a good one!

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