Best Rowing Workouts: Top 13 for 2023 (+PDF Plan)

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Rowing is one of the most comprehensive and effective forms of exercise, encompassing both aerobic and strength elements into a single activity. From boosting cardiovascular health to improving muscle tone, a rowing workout can be incredibly versatile and beneficial for your overall health.

In this article, we will explore 13 top-notch rowing workouts, delve into the science behind the benefits of rowing, and discuss the different types of rowing machines available.

Whether you’re a seasoned athlete or just starting your fitness journey, these workouts can be tailored to your needs and can offer an invigorating addition to your exercise routine.

Top 13 Rowing Workouts

two people working out on rowing machines

1. Beginner’s Steady-State Workout

  • Low-intensity
  • Targets: Cardiovascular endurance and basic rowing skills
  • Duration: 20-30 minutes

The beginner’s steady-state workout is an introduction to rowing. This routine involves rowing at a steady pace for about 20-30 minutes, maintaining a consistent stroke rate of 18-22 SPM. This workout is about developing a feel for the rower and learning to maintain rhythm and form, all while getting a good cardiovascular workout. Make sure you sit tall, drive back with your legs first, then lean back slightly, and finally pull your arms into your chest.

2. Power Strokes

  • Moderate to high intensity
  • Targets: Strength and power
  • Duration: 20 minutes, plus 10-minute warm-up

Power strokes focus on improving strength and power in your rowing. You’ll start with a 10-minute warm-up of easy rowing. Then, you’ll perform ten power strokes – pulling hard and fast, putting maximum force into each pull – followed by ten slow and easy recovery strokes. The aim is to focus on the quality of each stroke during the power strokes, ensuring you’re using your full body and not just your arms.

3. Interval Sprints

  • High-intensity
  • Targets: Cardiovascular endurance and anaerobic capacity
  • Duration: 15-20 minutes, including warm-up

Interval sprints help to boost your cardiovascular and anaerobic fitness. This workout starts with a light warm-up of easy rowing. After that, you’ll alternate between 30 seconds of all-out sprint rowing and 30 seconds of easy rowing for recovery. This back and forth between high-intensity and low-intensity intervals, known as High-Intensity Interval Training (HIIT), is a great way to improve your fitness quickly.

4. Ladder Workout

  • Moderate to high intensity
  • Targets: Cardiovascular endurance and muscular endurance
  • Duration: Varies depending on your fitness level

The ladder workout involves gradually increasing and then decreasing your rowing intensity or time. For instance, after a warm-up, row for 1 minute at high intensity, then rest for 1 minute. Next, row for 2 minutes, rest for 1 minute, and continue this pattern until you reach 5 minutes. Then, decrease the rowing time incrementally back down to 1 minute. This workout is not only a fantastic cardiovascular workout, but also it helps improve your muscular endurance.

5. Distance-Based Workouts

  • Moderate to high intensity
  • Targets: Cardiovascular endurance and stamina
  • Duration: Varies depending on the chosen distance

With distance-based workouts, you’ll pick a set distance and time yourself to see how long it takes to row that far. This could be 500m, 1000m, 2000m, or more. Over time, you can aim to decrease the time it takes you to row the set distance, which is an excellent way to track your progress and improve your stamina.

6. Time-Based Workouts

  • Moderate to high intensity
  • Targets: Cardiovascular endurance and power
  • Duration: Varies depending on the chosen time

Alternatively, you can do time-based workouts, where you aim to row as far as possible in a set amount of time. This could be 5, 10, or even 30 minutes. These workouts are great for improving power and cardiovascular fitness. Remember, it’s not about how fast you can row; it’s about how efficiently you can row.

7. Pyramid Intervals

  • High intensity
  • Targets: Cardiovascular endurance, strength, and power
  • Duration: Varies based on intervals

Pyramid intervals are similar to the ladder workout but with decreasing rest periods. For example, you might row for 1 minute then rest for 1 minute, row for 2 minutes then rest for 50 seconds, and so on, until you reach a 5-minute row with only a 30-second rest. Then you reverse the process. This workout requires both mental and physical stamina, but it’s a powerful way to boost fitness levels.

8. Race Training

  • High intensity
  • Targets: Speed, power, and endurance
  • Duration: Varies based on race distance

For those preparing for a rowing race, this workout is all about building speed, power, and endurance for specific race distances, like the common 2000m race. After warming up, row at a high-intensity pace for your race distance, then follow with an equal period of easy rowing. Repeat these intervals several times.

9. Alternate Stroke Rates

  • Moderate intensity
  • Targets: Stroke efficiency and cardiovascular endurance
  • Duration: Varies

This workout involves alternating between low and high stroke rates. For example, after warming up, row for 2 minutes at a low stroke rate (18-22 SPM), then increase to a high stroke rate (26-32 SPM) for another 2 minutes. This workout will not only improve your cardiovascular endurance, but it also helps improve your stroke efficiency at different rates.

10. Rowing and Bodyweight Exercises Circuit

  • High intensity
  • Targets: Strength, cardiovascular fitness, and muscle endurance
  • Duration: Varies based on the number of exercises and rounds

For a full-body workout, try combining rowing with bodyweight exercises. For example, row for 5 minutes, then do a set of push-ups, row another 5 minutes, then do a set of squats, and so on. This provides a varied workout that targets your cardiovascular fitness and muscle strength simultaneously.

11. Tabata Rowing

  • Very high intensity
  • Targets: Cardiovascular endurance and anaerobic fitness
  • Duration: 4 minutes

This high-intensity workout involves rowing at your maximum effort for 20 seconds, then resting for 10 seconds, repeated eight times for a total of 4 minutes. This quick but brutal workout, known as Tabata, can be incredibly effective for boosting both aerobic and anaerobic fitness.

12. Progressive Workouts

  • Varying intensity
  • Targets: All-round fitness and progressive overload
  • Duration: Varies

Progressive workouts involve starting with a low-intensity row for a set time or distance, then gradually increasing your intensity each time you repeat the workout. This gradual increase helps to ensure consistent progression and adaptation, improving your overall fitness over time.

13. Long, Slow Distance Rows

  • Low intensity
  • Targets: Cardiovascular endurance and fat burning
  • Duration: 45-60 minutes

Also known as LSD rows, these workouts involve rowing at a low to moderate intensity for an extended period, around 45-60 minutes. This type of workout is great for improving your cardiovascular endurance, aerobic capacity, and for burning calories. This is a great workout for those days when you want a longer, less intense workout.

Why Rowing is a Great Exercise

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Rowing is one of those exercises that bridges the gap between cardio and strength training, providing a whole host of benefits that make it a standout option in the fitness landscape.

Total Body Workout

One of the most significant advantages of rowing is that it’s a total body workout. Unlike many forms of exercise that isolate specific muscle groups, rowing involves nearly every major muscle group in your body.

When you row, you engage your legs, core, and upper body, which includes your quads, hamstrings, glutes, lats, core muscles, shoulders, and arms. This comprehensive muscular involvement results in greater calorie expenditure during the workout, increased overall strength, and improved muscle tone.

Cardiovascular Benefits

Rowing is an exceptional form of cardio exercise. It gets your heart rate up, which strengthens your heart muscle and improves your body’s ability to use oxygen efficiently. The American Heart Association recommends at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic exercise per week, and rowing can easily help you reach this target.

Not only does rowing improve cardiovascular fitness, but it also enhances lung capacity and endurance. This increased stamina will not only improve your rowing performance but also positively impact your performance in other athletic pursuits and daily activities.

Low-Impact Exercise

Unlike running or some forms of high-intensity training, rowing is a low-impact exercise, making it a suitable option for people of all fitness levels and ages. The smooth, controlled movements of rowing put minimal stress on the joints, reducing the risk of injury.

This makes rowing an excellent choice for people with joint issues, older adults, and those recovering from an injury. Even if you’re in peak physical condition, incorporating low-impact workouts like rowing can help prevent overuse injuries and contribute to a well-rounded fitness routine.

Weight Loss and Caloric Burn

Because rowing is such an inclusive, full-body workout, it burns a high number of calories. This, coupled with a healthy diet, can help facilitate weight loss and fat reduction. Moreover, as you build muscle through rowing, you also boost your metabolism, which helps in burning calories even when you’re not working out.

Mental Health Benefits

Last but not least, rowing can also provide significant mental health benefits. The rhythmic, repetitive nature of rowing can be meditative, helping to reduce stress and improve mood. Furthermore, like other forms of exercise, rowing releases endorphins, the body’s natural mood lifters.

In summary, rowing offers a unique combination of cardiovascular, strength, and low-impact exercise, making it a versatile, effective, and accessible form of fitness. Whether you’re an elite athlete, a fitness newbie, or somewhere in between, rowing has something to offer.

What the Research Says About Rowing

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Numerous scientific studies have highlighted the myriad benefits of rowing, reinforcing the reasons why it is such an effective form of exercise for both physical and mental health.

Cardiovascular and Metabolic Benefits

Several studies have documented the cardiovascular benefits of rowing. For instance, a study published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research highlighted that rowing exerts substantial stress on the cardiovascular system, leading to enhanced cardiorespiratory fitness. This makes rowing a valuable tool for reducing risks associated with heart disease.

Furthermore, rowing has been shown to improve metabolic function. A study conducted at the English Institute of Sport found that rowing at moderate to high intensity led to significant increases in both oxygen consumption and energy expenditure, highlighting rowing’s effectiveness for weight loss and management.

Muscle Strength and Endurance

Research also indicates that rowing is excellent for building both muscle strength and endurance. A study in the Journal of Human Kinetics observed that rowing provides a high level of neuromuscular stimulation, leading to increased muscle strength, especially in the lower body.

A separate study in the Journal of Sports Science and Medicine found that male competitive rowers had significantly greater muscle endurance compared to their non-rowing counterparts, indicating the long-term benefits of the exercise.

Mental Health and Well-being

The benefits of rowing extend beyond physical health. A study published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine found that aerobic exercises, including rowing, were associated with reduced levels of psychological distress and improved cognitive function.

Moreover, rowing has been linked with enhanced mood and stress relief. A research review in The Lancet Psychiatry suggested that all forms of exercise, including rowing, were associated with a lower mental health burden.

Application for Rehabilitation and Therapy

Given its low-impact nature, research has explored rowing as a therapeutic and rehabilitative exercise. Studies published in Rehabilitation Research and Practice and the American Journal of Physical Medicine & Rehabilitation found that rowing could be an effective and safe exercise for individuals with physical disabilities, including stroke survivors, supporting improved physical function and quality of life.

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In conclusion, the scientific evidence strongly supports the effectiveness of rowing for improving cardiovascular health, metabolic function, muscle strength, and endurance, as well as mental well-being. It also highlights its applicability in rehabilitation and therapy. These research findings reinforce the value of incorporating rowing into your fitness regimen.

Rowing Machine Workout Plan PDF

If you’re looking for a complete workout plan PDF, the pros over at Concept 2 have put together a really solid rowing workout plan – you can get the PDF here.

Types of Rowing Machines to Consider for Your Workouts

There are various types of rowing machines, each offering unique benefits and mimicking a different type of rowing:

  1. Air Rowers: These machines use air resistance and are popular for their smooth, natural rowing motion. The resistance automatically adjusts with your rowing intensity.
  2. Magnetic Rowers: These are exceptionally quiet and provide a smooth rowing experience. They offer adjustable resistance levels but don’t mimic the feel of outdoor rowing as closely as air rowers.
  3. Water Rowers: These machines use water resistance to simulate the feel of rowing on water. They provide a robust workout and are renowned for their aesthetic appeal.
  4. Hydraulic Rowers: These are the most affordable and compact, making them ideal for home use. However, they don’t provide as natural a rowing movement as the other types.

Final Thoughts

Rowing offers a unique combination of cardiovascular, strength, and low-impact exercise, making it a worthy addition to anyone’s fitness regimen. With the diverse rowing workouts mentioned above, you can keep your routines fresh, challenging, and adapted to your fitness level. As always, remember to start slow if you’re new to rowing, and consult with a fitness professional if you have any health concerns. Row your way to a fitter, healthier you!