How long should you work out on a rowing machine?

Pete 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 running and cycling.

A single stroke on the rowing machine works your quads, hamstrings, glutes, core, arms, and back muscles. And just ten minutes of steady rowing would calculate out to about 200 strokes of work, which is more than enough to get your blood flowing and perhaps even 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. There are a number of ways to improve your split time, and having good form is one of them. If you want to improve your split, the simplest answer is to push yourself a little bit harder! A more in-depth explanation of the split can be found here.

At Hydrow, one way we help users identify the split times they should aim for in workouts is to do what’s called an assessment row. Challenge yourself with this 4-minute workout.

In this 5-minute workout, you 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.

So... how long should you work out on a rowing machine?

You now know your split, but a burning question remains: How long should you workout on a rowing machine? At Hydrow, we separate workout types into three categories:

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 the journal 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.

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. This form of cardio is known as Low-Intensity Steady State (LISS) training, and is what you think of when doing an elliptical workout at the gym or a steady tempo run or swim. 

Hydrow also offers an entire library of On The Mat workouts, which are a library of yoga, pilates, 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 Hydrow’s 22-inch HD touch screen pans 25 degrees to the left or right, making off-machine instruction a breeze.

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 around 10-15 minutes in length 

Your rower work out doesn't have to last long. 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:

- High-intensity workout: 10-minute or 15-minute Drive  - Cross-training workout: 10-minute On the Mat strength workout - Core workout: 10-minute On the Mat - Pilates workout - 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 also has guided cooldown videos you can tack 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 around 20 minutes can give you a full-body burn that leaves you feeling good for hours to come.

  • High-intensity workout: 20-minute Drive (Look for a HIIT workout!) 
  • Cross-training and cardio workout: 10-minute On the Mat strength workout, then 10-minute Sweat
  • Core workout: 20-minute On the Mat core workout
  • Cardio workout: 20-minute Breathe
  • For a social, live workout: One of Hydrow’s 10 weekly live workouts!

Hydrow’s resident exercise physiologist and Director of Exercise Research & Innovation Dr. Kristin Haraldsdottir has a few additional tips for you here 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 10-minute On the Mat strength & mobility workout
  • For the perfect balance of HIIT and cardio: 10-minute Breathe, then 20-minute Drive
  • Start with a technique-focused workout, and end with a HIIT workout: 15-minute technique focused Breathe or Sweat, then 15-minute Drive
  • Get the most out of your 20-minute Sweat with a warmup and cool-down: 5-minute warmup, then 20-minute Sweat, then 5-minute cooldown

Rowing workouts approaching 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 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
  • 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

So now you know 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.

Rowing Education