How Long Should You Work Out on a Rowing Machine?

Pete Donohoe and Peter Donohoe

How long should you work out on a rowing machine? Is there a certain time range that is best when it comes to rowing workouts? It all depends on your goals. 

In this article, we’ll break down different options for approaching your indoor rowing workout, whether you have five minutes, 50 minutes, or anything in between.

Why rowing workouts are shorter than most other workouts

There’s a reason you don’t often hear about marathon rowing sessions — they would be exhausting! The main reason short workouts on a rowing machine are effective is that rowing is a full-body workout from the start. Rowing activates nearly twice the muscle mass as other activities like cycling.

A single stroke on the rowing machine works your quads, hamstrings, glutes, core, arms, and back muscles. And, just 10 minutes of steady rowing would calculate to 200 strokes (or more), which is more than enough to get your blood flowing and break a sweat.

So, how long should you workout on a rowing machine? That first depends on the pace you hold while you row.

To improve your rowing workouts, first know your pace

In rowing there is one number that stands above the rest when it comes to measuring your workout intensity. It’s called the split, and it’s a number you’ll become familiar with very quickly as you establish a regular rowing routine.

Your split is the amount of time it takes you to row 500 meters. At Hydrow, one way we help members identify personalized split times they should aim for in workouts is to do what’s called a Baseline Assessment row. This workout is just five minutes in length, but don’t be fooled: It’s designed to challenge you and see what you’re made of!

In this five-minute workout, you’ll do a speed test and aim to hold the fastest split you can muster for a short period of time. You can then use this number to calculate other pace windows you’ll want to aim for during your workouts. 

If you are looking to improve your split time, there are a number of ways to accomplish this. One of the best ways to improve your split times is to ensure you have good form and are pushing yourself a bit harder!

How long rowing workout sessions should last

You now know your split, but a burning question remains: How long should you work out on a rowing machine? There are a few questions you should be asking yourself to determine how long you should be working out. 

Rowing for weight loss

Needless to say, exercise alone won’t help you reach your weight loss goals, so it’s important to stay consistent with other factors like diet and lifestyle if you are trying to lose weight, as they are the primary driver of the number you see on the scale. Exercise is a key component of maintaining a healthy weight, and rowing as a full-body workout gives you the most impact in the time you spend sweating.

Start slow on the rower and look for a pace and intensity that gets you sweating and gets your heart pumping. This will vary depending on your fitness level, but you don’t want to overexert yourself — you should generally be rowing at a moderate intensity that keeps you engaged while still allowing you to breathe in a way that you could hold a conversation with a friend. 

In terms of time, weight loss is best achieved with consistency, so aim for at least 15 to 20 minutes per day on a rower, anywhere from three to five times a week. Make sure you’re getting enough rest days, too, especially if you’re just getting started on your fitness journey.

What cardiovascular benefits do you want?

Some people aren't interested in losing inches from their waist and seeing numbers drop on the scale. Instead, they want to improve their cardiovascular health

An indoor rowing machine can be used for aerobic exercise and anaerobic exercise, making it an exceptional choice when looking to strengthen your heart and lungs. 

Rowing machine for anaerobic exercise (fast and short)

If you're looking to improve your anaerobic conditioning, then you'll need to spend less time on the rowing machine rather than longer durations. Workouts will generally be of higher intensity for shorter amounts of time. Doing sprints and HIIT are the best workouts for anaerobic conditioning, which can easily be done on an indoor rower. On Hydrow, you’ll find these types of workouts in the Sweat or Drive category.

Anaerobic exercises generally last anywhere between five to 20 minutes. 

Rowing machine for aerobic exercise (long and slow)

If you're looking to improve your aerobic conditioning, you'll find your rowing times are longer with the effort level throughout being relatively consistent. Your heart rate and the overall intensity will be much lower throughout the full duration of the workout. On Hydrow, you’ll find these types of workouts in the Breathe or Sweat category. 

Aerobic exercises generally last anywhere between 20 to 45 minutes. 

No matter what your cardiovascular goals are, whether that be anaerobic or aerobic exercise, you should always mix in different workouts and alternate between the two. Studies have shown that anaerobic exercise can greatly improve your aerobic conditioning and vice versa. 

What's the time frame for your goals?

We all have different time frames for ourselves that we set to achieve our goals. This time frame will affect the amount of time you'll need to row on an indoor rowing machine.

Hydrow Workout Types

At Hydrow, we separate workout types into three categories:

  1. Drive workouts

  2. Sweat workouts

  3. Breathe workouts

Drive workouts

Drive workouts are designed to build strength and speed with intervals that will challenge you and push you to find your limits. A study published in Neuropsychopharmacology found that interval training is more effective for releasing endorphins in your body than other forms of exercise. Expect these workouts to fly by, but also be tough when you’re doing the work! A one-to-one ratio of work to rest is typical of Drive workouts, featuring a HIIT-style format.

Sweat workouts

Sweat workouts also incorporate time-based intervals, but focus on intensities that can be held for two to five minutes at a time rather than an all-out effort. Expect a two-to-one ratio of work to rest in a Sweat workout after you’ve gotten a sufficient warm-up.

Breathe workouts

Breathe workouts are designed to reach and sustain a heart-healthy pace that gets you sweating and breathing. Effort in these workouts are consistent throughout.

Yoga, stretching, Pilates, and strength training workouts

Hydrow also offers an extensive library of On The Mat workouts, which include yoga, pilates, mobility, and strength training workouts to supplement your training. We won’t go into those offerings too much here since they take place off the rowing machine, but know that the Hydrow Rower’s 22” HD touch screen pans 25 degrees to the left or right, making off-machine instruction a breeze. Or, if you have the Hydrow Wave, you can always use your phone or tablet with the Hydrow App installed to take it with you anywhere!

Once you have a good feel for your typical splits, it becomes easier to select and complete a workout from the options above that can fulfill your goals based on the amount of time you have available. Here are a few options you could take into consideration.

Rowing machine workouts: Examples based on time availability

Rowing workouts up to 15 minutes in length 

If you have just a few minutes to squeeze in your workout for the day, decide whether you’re wanting an actual sweat or just some active recovery. A few options could be as follows:

  • For a high-intensity workout: 10-minute or 15-minute Drive 

  • For a cross-training workout: 10-minute or 20 minute On the Mat strength workout

  • For a core workout: 10-minute On the Mat Pilates workout

  • For a cardio workout: 15-minute Breathe

Even though you’re doing a short workout, be sure to give yourself a minute or two of cooldown before you hop off for the day. Cooldowns help flush out any lactic acid buildup in your muscles and will help you feel less stiff and sore post-workout. Hydrow has guided cooldown videos you can add on to any workout if you prefer to follow along with one of our athletes.

Rowing workouts around 20 minutes in length

Studies show that endorphins, the neurochemicals that release during exercise and make you feel good, regularly kick in around the 20-minute mark. A workout of 20 minutes can give you a full-body burn that leaves you feeling good for hours to come.

  • For a high-intensity workout: 20-minute Drive workout (especially a HIIT Circuit Training workout) 

  • For a cross-training and cardio workout: 10-minute On the Mat strength workout and a 10-minute Sweat workout

  • For a core workout: 20-minute Core Strength workout

  • For a cardio workout: 20-minute Breathe or Sweat

Hydrow’s former Director of Exercise Research & Innovation and exercise physiologist Dr. Kristin Haraldsdottir has a few additional tips for you if the 20-minute workout time frame is your sweet spot.

Rowing workouts around 30 minutes in length

Getting to the 30-minute mark in a rowing workout will give you enough time for ample warmup and cooldown as well as an engaging, full-body workout. You can find 30-minute workouts for rowing and On the Mat workouts! 

Here are some ideas of ways to put together 30-minute workouts:

  • For a cardio and mobility workout: 20-minute Breathe, then a 10-minute Strength or Mobility workout

  • For the perfect balance of HIIT and cardio: 30-minute Circuit Training or a 10-minute Breathe, then a 20-minute Drive or Sweat

  • Start with a technique-focused workout, and end with a high intensity / HIIT workout: 15-minute technique focused Breathe or Sweat, then 15-minute Drive

  • Get the most out of your 20-minute Sweat with a warm-up and cool-down: Five-minute warm-up, then 20-minute Sweat, then five-minute cool-down

Rowing workouts up to 45 minutes in length

Go long! Hydrow’s 45-minute rowing workouts are not for the faint of heart, but once you make it through one, you can make it through just about anything. If you’re aiming for a longer workout, but want to break it up, here are some ideas:

  • For a taste of HIIT and more cardio: 15-minute Drive, then 30-minute Breathe or a 45-minute Sweat

  • For an intense 40-minute workout with a cooldown: 20-minute Sweat, then 20-minute Drive, then 5-minute Cool Down

  • Mix it up with cardio and cross-training: 15-minute Breathe, then 30-minute On the Mat

You now know how to determine how long you should work out on an indoor rowing machine. But how should you adjust your goals based on your fitness level? Let’s look at your different options in our next article: Types of indoor rowing workouts for all fitness levels.

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.