Does Rowing Burn Belly Fat?

Peter Donohoe
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If you’re hoping to shed some extra pounds through exercise, you may be wondering, “Does rowing burn belly fat?” It can certainly help! There’s no quick fix for burning fat, as great as it may sound to be able to spot-reduce fat just in your belly. Instead, a strategic exercise routine (paired with a balanced diet) can help you burn fat and lose weight all over your body, including your stomach, according to Johns Hopkins Medicine.

But it’s still a smart idea to watch your waistline: A larger waist circumference is linked with a higher chance you’ll develop type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, and heart disease, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Burning belly fat with rowing takes commitment to a regular exercise routine and a nutrient-dense diet that helps you burn more calories than you take in. Over time, dedication to this plan can help you burn fat and build lean muscle.

Keep reading for a deeper look into: 

Let’s dive in!

Understanding belly fat and its challenges

According to Harvard Health Publishing, there are two types of belly fat: 

  1. Subcutaneous fat: This type of belly fat makes up most of our body fat, lying just beneath the skin and feeling soft to the touch. 

  2. Visceral fat: This type of fat makes up a smaller percentage of overall body fat, lies deeper inside the body around our organs, and is harder. It’s also the type of body and belly fat linked with health concerns, such as heart disease, dementia, and even some types of cancer. 

At least some of your body fat is genetic. By some estimates, up to 70 percent of the difference between how you hold body fat versus your neighbor, friend, or significant other is genetic, according to Weight Management: State of the Science and Opportunities for Military Programs. If you’re genetically predisposed to carry weight in your midsection, you might have to exercise more frequently and intensely and cut more calories from your diet to see any reduction in belly fat and reach your weight-loss goals.

But belly fat can be difficult to lose for other reasons, too: Metabolism naturally slows as you get older, but also as you start to lose weight and body fat. Your body works to keep you at a stable weight—think of it as a prehistoric defense mechanism against starvation that we haven’t quite evolved out of yet, according to Yale Medicine.

Plus, you might feel hungrier than normal if you change your diet too drastically or get sore if you start exercising too much too quickly, making it harder to stick to your eating or exercise plan in the long run. 

Without a holistic approach including diet, exercise, sleep, and stress management (more on that below!), it will be hard to lose belly fat on a rowing machine alone.

Does rowing burn belly fat? 

That said, rowing can absolutely be a part of your holistic fat-loss plan. It’s a full-body workout, meaning it burns more calories and works more muscles than other types of exercise. In fact, rowing is as close to a total-body workout as you’re likely to find, according to Harvard Health Publishing. And, it burns those calories in a short amount of time: If you weigh 200 pounds, for example, you can expect to burn nearly 400 calories in a vigorous 30-minute rowing workout. 

Most people should aim for two to three 30- to 40-minute cardio workouts per week, with two to three strength workouts per week, and one circuit or HIIT-style workout per week. This will help you burn calories, thereby creating the calorie deficit you need to lose fat, while also building muscle, which burns more calories at rest.

Tips for burning belly fat with rowing

1. Try HIIT rowing workouts

High-intensity interval training (HIIT) is more effective at burning belly fat than moderate-intensity exercise done for a longer time period, according to a 2019 study in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology. HIIT workouts involve alternating between short bursts of intense exercise and short rest periods. 

Try some of our favorite bodyweight and dumbbell HIIT workouts, or do a HIIT routine on your Hydrow rower.

2. Get enough sleep

Ever crave a doughnut the morning after a rough night’s sleep instead of your usual overnight oats? Too little sleep can mess with your eating habits, and when you’re snacking more than usual or reaching for comforting picks that are richer in fat and sugar, you could sabotage your efforts to burn belly fat. 

According to a small 2022 Journal of the American College of Cardiology study, people who only got four hours of sleep a night ate more and had more belly fat than people who got up to nine hours of sleep a night. Aim for at least seven hours of sleep a night to keep your hunger-regulating hormones stable, per the Cleveland Clinic.

3. Manage your stress

For decades, research has shown that stress makes you more likely to store belly fat, according to an Obesity Research article. Plus, you might be more likely to stray from your diet or exercise plan if you’re already overwhelmed. Breathing exercises, yoga, meditation, and talking to a loved one or trusted therapist can all help you keep stress levels manageable on your journey to burn belly fat, according to the Cleveland Clinic.

The importance of setting realistic goals when trying to burn belly fat with rowing

Depending on the changes you hope to see, burning belly fat with rowing and a healthy diet can take weeks or months. Being realistic about the time and effort it takes can help set you up for success. Cutting calories too dramatically or exercising too much can lead to burnout and injury that stalls your progress. Your belly fat-loss goals should push you, but they should be realistic in the amount of time you have, according to the NASM.

It might also help to check in with your motivation: If you just want your body to look different, you may not be as successful. People who were motivated to lose body fat in order to improve their health and fitness saw more dramatic weight loss than people who were motivated by appearance, according to a 2023 study in the Journal of Medical Internet Research.

As long as you’re realistic about what you hope to accomplish, you can commit to a regular exercise routine, and you feel ready to make diet changes, you can burn belly fat with rowing. It’s a great cardio workout, it strengthens muscles all over your body, and it’s accessible for many different fitness abilities.

If you’re ready to give it a try at home, consider Hydrow’s state-of-the-art rowing machine. Our immersive workouts are led by motivational Athletes and filmed in inspiring locations around the globe to keep you on track. You can get cardio, strength, and belly fat-burning workouts for every fitness level in just 20 minutes!

Peter Donohoe

Peter is our head strength and movement specialist. As an Olympian, conditioning coach, and corrective exercise specialist, Peter’s methodology continues to influence the movement of athletes from many sports. Join Peter for On the Mat workouts and benefit from increased mobility and enhanced performance.