Using a Rowing Machine for Weight Loss: Does it Work, and How?

Pete Donohoe and Peter Donohoe

If you’re looking to shed some body fat and start working toward your weight loss goals, it’s important to keep in mind that there are no magical quick-fix solutions to instantly deliver your dream body on a silver platter. Weight loss boils down to one thing: You must burn more calories than what you take in.

Results come from hard work, dedication, and a consistent calorie deficit, plain and simple. While there are tons of workout machines that can help with your weight loss journey, rowing machines have become an increasingly popular option for losing weight, along with many other incredible benefits. 

In this article, we’ll explore everything there is to know about the humble rowing machine and how it can help with weight loss.

Are rowing machines good for weight loss? An overview

Rowing machines are one of the most proven (and effective!) ways to lose weight. In fact, Harvard Health Publishing says that while most exercise machines only work certain parts of your body, rowing machines come the closest to providing a full-body workout, which can maximize your weight loss efforts. 

These efficient, total-body working workouts will support your fitness goals in the following key ways:

  • Maximizing your calorie-burning potential: Every exercise will help you burn calories in one way or another, but very few are as effective and efficient as a rowing machine. This is the incredible potential that can come from a rowing machine workout and the aerobic exercise, cardio exercise, and resistance training it offers. You also can work out in a shorter amount of time when compared to other types of exercise equipment, making rowing workouts an efficient way to squeeze some high-impact exercise into your day. 

  • Protecting your joints: One of the biggest drawbacks of many other exercise machines is the potential for injury following repeated use, which can hinder your weight loss goals if you’re left sitting on the sidelines. However, since you’re seated on a rowing machine, this type of workout is much kinder to your joints than even the most well-padded treadmill. You’re less likely to sustain an injury on an indoor rowing machine because of this low impact and will experience significantly less wear and tear on your joints over time. 

  • Improving your balance: Rowing works your lower-back and core muscles, which are key components to maintaining your balance. Strengthening these important muscles will make it easier to perform a wider range of movements. Combine your rowing efforts with yoga or pilates, and your flexibility and balance will quickly become better.

Using rowing to build muscle

Did you know that there are over 650 skeletal muscles that make up your body? Each muscle plays an important role in supporting your overall health. Keeping them strong and healthy through exercise is of the utmost importance. 

Most pieces of exercise equipment focus on strengthening one specific group of muscles in the body. For instance, treadmills and exercise bikes activate the muscles found in your lower body, such as your glutes, calves, and hamstrings. However, they don’t fully utilize the muscles found in your upper body, including your triceps, biceps, and shoulders. 

Rowing machines, on the other hand, provide a full-body workout that utilizes almost every muscle group in your body when you use proper rowing technique. In fact, rowing machines use up to 86% of your muscles with every stroke you take — yes, you read that right! That’s a massive amount of coverage to get with just a short workout. 

How do you lose weight with rowing?

With a regular, consistent rowing program (and determination!), you can burn fat and lose weight in a healthy way, without having to starve yourself or exercise for several hours per day to reach that target calorie deficit.

Use these tips to maximize your weight and fat loss efforts using an indoor rowing machine: 

1. Sit taller on your rowing machine

If you really want to fire up your core, it’s crucial to maintain proper alignment and posture. Sit as tall as you can and avoid hunching or rounding your back. Lift your chest while sitting up tall, gaze out in front of you with your chin up, and don’t drop your head. Maintaining this position will keep your airways open and make your rowing workouts more effective. 

2. Focus on your legs (and feel the burn!) 

By driving your legs into the heel-rest with each stroke, you’ll work more of the major muscles that make up your lower body, such as your glutes. This will help to burn more calories

Many people make the mistake of using their upper body as the main driver, but putting your powerful leg muscles to use will get you the biggest benefit from your rowing workout. A general rule of thumb is that 60% of your efforts should come from your legs, 20% should come from your arms, and 20% should come from your back and core. 

3. Do intervals of power strokes 

After you stretch and complete your warmup, mix in three sets of power strokes. These are fast, explosive strokes that are great for burning a ton of calories. 

While your rhythm should stay about the same throughout the interval, you’ll pull harder with your core and arms and push harder with your feet to row at a faster pace. 

Try doing 10 power strokes at a rate of 24 strokes per minute, followed by 10 recovery strokes. Then, do a second set at 26 strokes per minute, another set of recovery strokes, and one final set at 28 strokes per minute.

High-intensity interval training (HIIT) exercises are one of the best ways to maximize your calorie-burning efforts. Just don’t forget to cool down afterward.

4. Do some endurance training 

While HIIT-style workouts prove to be a beneficial way to lose weight, slow and steady endurance workouts (usually referred to as steady-state rowing) can also supercharge calorie burn. 

Working at 85% of your maximum heart rate for a longer period of time can help you burn loads of calories. Use medium-intensity rowing at a rate of 26 strokes per minute for roughly eight to 10 minutes at a constant pace. 

5. Mix up your rowing routine

Another trick to keeping your body at its peak fat-burning capacity is to keep your body guessing. The more you do a workout routine, the more efficient your body will become at that specific routine. This means it doesn’t have to work as hard, causing you to burn fewer calories with the same workout over time (we know, unfair). 

Prevent this by mixing up your training with shorter HIIT-style workouts on some days, followed by longer endurance-style rows on others.

So, is rowing good for weight loss?

The answer is a resounding “Yes!” If you are looking for a way to lose weight, a rowing machine can certainly help by strengthening your muscles and cardiovascular system in one convenient workout. 

If you’re looking into investing in an indoor rowing machine to add to your home gym, Hydrow rowing machines are designed to create a compelling pathway to whole health for individuals of all fitness levels, providing a means for everyone to access the immersive experience and holistic benefits of rowing without actually having to get into a boat on the water.

Hydrow is all about bringing the powerful impact of rowing directly to you,  including the sights and sounds of being on the water. This experience is paired with challenging workouts and guidance from world-class Athletes, providing a much-needed escape from the hustle and bustle of daily life. 

We’re excited to help get you started on your journey, not only into the world of rowing, but also into a community of other rowers looking to both challenge and support each other along the way. Whether you’re rowing for weight loss, overall fitness, or just as a relaxing getaway, the Hydrow community can help keep you motivated!

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.