4 Rowing Machine Workout Routines That BLITZ Fat

I feel as though I’ve given cardio, and more specifically cardio machines, a bit of a hard-time lately.

I have absolutely nothing against cardio (or machines) per se, but more how we tend to perform out workouts using these apparatus.

Therefore, I’d like to introduce you to a few of my favourite rowing machine workout routines.

Firstly, I’d like to explain the benefits of using the rowing machine, as I see it (and I may once again berate the use of traditional cardio, SORRY), before delving into some of the best fat burning workout routines I know.

So please, take a seat, strap your feet in, and get ready to row.

Rowing Machine Workout Routines

The Benefits Of The Rowing Machine

The rowing ergometer, or simply the rowing machine as most of us know it, is probably one of the best pieces of equipment in the gym that you’re not using.

Here are a number of benefits of using the rowing machine:

Supreme FitnessTwo men fighting MMA-style inside a ring

A study conducted by the Strength and Conditioning Journal likened the metabolic effects of a HIIT (High-Intensity Interval Training) rowing machine workouts to that of an MMA training session.

The main reason for this is that interval-style rowing builds explosive power while also increasing your muscle capacity.

And I’m sure I don’t need to tell you just how fit, strong, muscular and powerful some of these guys and gals in the MMA Octagon are – five 5-minute rounds of non-stop action takes some doing.

You Recruit More Muscles

Traditional cardio typically revolves around jogging, treadmills, stationary bikes, and the elliptical trainer.

For the majority of these you are working the cardiovascular system, the lower body, and the core.

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However, there’s not a lot of upper body recruitment going on here.

Some may argue that the elliptical trainer involves using the upper body to some extent, and while I agree, it’s still not a huge amount.

With that said, the rowing machine has somehow received a reputation as a unit for upper-body isolation, but nothing could be further from the truth.

In fact, not only does the rowing machine recruit a huge amount of muscles, in both the upper and lower body, it will also help you to dramatically improve your mobility and flexibility.

The “row” should always start with a powerful push of the legs.

This will fire up your quads, glutes and hamstrings, as you extend the knees and hips.

Then as you are being propelled backwards by the force of your legs you pull with your arms in a strong and controlled manner.

The force is then transferred to your upper body.

Firstly, your abs, obliques and lower back work hard to keep you stable.

Then as you drive backwards you work your lats, traps and arms.

One stroke on the rowing machine targets 9 different muscle groups.

And these specific muscles groups include a total of 86% of the body’s muscles.

Now that’s what I call a total-body workout.

The Rowing Machine is Tougher Than The Other Cardio MachinesVarious gym exercising machines

Something that I don’t understand when it comes to exercise is when someone looks for the easier option.

Okay, if you’re very new to exercise, then yes you start out easy, and increase the difficulty as your body adapts.

With that said, I know a lady (she’s a lovely lady and I have nothing against her) who goes to my local gym and simply uses an elliptical trainer for an hour and leaves.

She always uses the exact same elliptical trainer, and will wait if someone else is using it (which doesn’t often happen because she’s now claimed it as “HERS”).

She once explained to me that she liked using that machine because she had gotten used to it, and some of the other elliptical machines were stiffer and were therefore harder to use.

As she told me this I simply cocked my head to one side, smiled sweetly, nodded my head knowingly, while inside a little piece of my soul died.

Ladies and Gentleman, if you’re going to the gym, if you’re exercising outdoors, working out in your own home, making things tougher is GOOD.

Enough said.

Anyway, back to my point – the rowing machine places a huge amount of demand on both our aerobic and anaerobic systems.

In fact, far more than a treadmill, stationary bike, and of course a normal (or stiff) elliptical trainer.

This means that people who row will reach a far higher level of VO2 max.

Case in point – the average person can expect to have a resting heart rate of between 60-70 beats per minute.

However, possibly the most famous rower on the planet, Sir Steve Redgrave, 5-time Olympic Gold medalist, had a resting heart rate of 36 beats per minute at his peak.

I feel I need say no more about the benefits of rowing.

How I Use The Rowing Machine

Okay, so hopefully you’re now aware why I prefer the rowing machine to other cardio machines, as well as the numerous benefits.

I’m going to introduce you to a number of rowing machine workout routines in a moment

You’ll notice the workouts are all interval-based and will sometimes involve jumping off the rowing machine and performing another exercise.

Trust me, these workouts will absolutely melt fat off your body.

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I know I didn’t want to start bashing traditional cardio again in this article, but I feel I need to quickly explain why I use the rowing machine in this way.

I think the vast majority of people view cardio as a long bout of exercise where they are breathing a little heavier than they normally do.

And this is why (for some unknown reason) moderate-intensity, long, boring bouts of cardio seems to be the go-to workout for many.

To me, cardio is about raising your heart rate (above its normal levels) for a sustained period of time.

So, even when you are “resting” during a bout of high-intensity work, your heart rate is still higher than it normally would be.

Plus, short, sharp, intense workouts, where you are occasionally nearing your absolute maximum heart rate and breathing capacity produce the after-burn effect.

This is when your body is still burning fat and calories for many hours (24-48 hours in some cases) after you’ve STOPPED exercising.

With moderate-intensity cardio the calorie and fat-burning benefits finish the second you stop moving.

Okay, that’s it, no more bad mouthing “traditional cardio” from me (well not in this article anyway).

My Favourite Rowing Machine Workout Routines

Kettlebell and Rowing MachineA man bent over with his hands on a kettlebell

To be completely honest I just made this workout up yesterday.

I knew I was going to write this article today, but I just wanted to try something a little different.

Now for this workout (and all the others) the rate of perceived exertion (RPE) will be between 8 to 9.5 out 10.

Where, one out of 10 would equate to doing very light chores, such as the washing up, and 10 out of 10 would be all-out maximal effort, such as a 5-second sprint where you run faster than you ever have before.

So, basically the effort and exertion you’re putting in with all of these rowing workouts is very hard.

This workout was simple, but very effective.

I rowed for 400 metres (which I completed in approximately 1 minute 20 seconds each time) and then immediately jumped up from the rowing machine and did 25 kettlebell swings with a 24kg kettlebell (that is the heaviest one they have in our gym).

I took one minute’s rest between sets and completed a total of 4 sets.

Therefore, by the end of the workout I had rowed 1 mile and completed 100 kettlebell swings.

This entire workout took less than 12 minutes to complete.

Of course, me being me, I decided to finish off my time in the gym with a descending ladder (10,9,8,7 all the way down to 1) of chin ups and burpees, followed by a 10-minute abs circuit.

The 10, 15, 20 Protocol

I’m not entirely sure where or when I first came across this workout, but I remember performing it quite regularly over 10 years ago.

I quite enjoyed this workout, as it was unpredictable in its predictability.

Obviously, I prefer high-intensity interval training as opposed to moderate-intensity cardio, but even HIIT can become boring and predictable, e.g. one minute on, one minute off, or 30 seconds on, 30 seconds off, etc.

You basically set a timer for 20 minutes.

You start off with a warm-up by gently rowing for 3 minutes.

As soon as you hit the 3-minute mark you row as fast as possible for 10 strokes.

Then row at a slower, warm-up pace for one minute, and then row again as fast as possible for 15 strokes.

Slow down again to a gentle-paced row for one minute, before going all-out for 20 strokes.

Row slowly again for one minute before performing the 10,15, 20 sequence over-and-over again (with one minute’s “active rest” between sets) until you’ve been going for 20 minutes.

The 5 x 500 metres

Once again I’m unsure where I first saw this workout, but I want to say I read it in Men’s Health magazine and it was a workout that hard man actor, Jason Statham, uses.

However, I can’t be sure.

This workout is easy (well in terms of remembering what you need to do).

You simply row as fast as you can for 500 metres. Complete all-out effort, no slacking.

Take 2 minutes rest between each set.

I recall reading that men should be aiming to complete each 500-metre row in under 1 minute and 40 seconds, and women in under 2 minutes.

If I remember rightly, I typically managed 2 or 3 sets under the required time (and strangely always the final set when I was at my most tired), but rarely managed all five sets under one minute and 40 seconds.

The Bodyweight and Rowing ChallengeA man peforming the lunge exercise

Another invention of mine.

Admittedly, this is probably best to perform at a quiet time in a gym environment, or in the comfort of your own home (if you own a rowing machine off course).

Simply because of the constant moving, jumping on the rowing machine and then jumping off again can annoy other people (don’t be that person that annoys others in the gym).

For this workout you are first going to row as fast as you can for 200 metres.

Then jump off the rowing machine and perform 20 walking lunges (10 on each leg), 15 push ups, and finally 10 burpees.

Take one minute’s rest and then repeat.

I typically look to achieve 8-10 total “sets” of this workout completed.

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Final Thoughts

I felt as though I had to introduce you to some of my rowing machine workout routines as I often speak so negatively of traditional cardio.

I think cardio is great and that it definitely has its place in a well-balanced weekly workout routine.

I’m just not a fan of steady state, moderate-intensity, long boring cardio.

Plus the difference in terms of fat-burning (and many other factors) that you’ll achieve from the workouts I’ve mentioned here when compared to traditional cardio are AMAZING.

So, please dump the one-hour cardio sessions, jump on the rowing machine, and give one (or more) of these workouts a try.

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4 thoughts on “4 Rowing Machine Workout Routines That BLITZ Fat”

  1. Ah, now I know why you are always so nice at me: you hold it all in, cock your head to one side, smile sweetly, nod your head knowingly, and then a little piece of your soul dies. ROFLOL
    Sorry, I couldn’t help myself.
    It’s been a long time I was in a gym and an equally long time since I was on a rowing machine. I stopped when my back pains were getting too bad. And my back will probably stay my weak spot, so I don’t know if I’ll ever get on a rowing machine again. But I am always interested in reading your articles, as I can leave it up to you to give a twist to usual practice. Which I like.
    BTW I did a piramid ‘run’ this morning. I put run between quotation marks because what I call running would presumably be your walking speed or less. But I was panting like an old draft horse, as we always say. So I was proud of myself. 🙂

    • Haha Hannie, Bless you.

      No, I’d never do that to you.

      In fact, You inspire me somewhat.

      I like the fact that you stay active and you have your own daily exercise routine that you enjoy.

      To me that’s the main thing. As long as we are active in our daily lives then we will reap the rewards.

      Therefore, if a rowing machine workout isn’t for you, then that’s fine. There are plenty of other ways to ensure you’re getting some exercise.

      Wow. See, this is what I mean. I feel proud (and not in a condescending manner) that you tried something different this morning, so well done you for doing your pyramid run.

      It’s always good to ensure that we’re “panting like an old draft horse” every once in a while, LOL.


  2. Hi Partha,
    This is a great article! I have never really considered using a rowing machine. Admittedly, your 4 routines would be too much for my currently level of physical conditioning. I would have to modify them to be less demanding and slowly work up to the parameters you have listed.
    My gym has some rowing machines and when I finally get back there I will ask one of the instructors to start me off with something more suitable to my fitness level. Your article gave me a lot of confidence to give the rowing machine a try!

    • Hi Frank,

      Thank you for your comments.

      Hey, I always say that as long as you remain active on a regular basis, then you’ll feel the benefits.

      There’s no need to go straight into something that you may find too physically demanding. In fact, I urge against it.

      It’s always best to start off slowly and build your way up. This way you avoid any potential injuries, plus exercise won’t seem like such a chore (this is typically when most people won’t bother because it all seems like too much effort).

      You could perhaps start of with the 10, 15, 20 row for around 10 minutes and there’s no need for “all-out effort”, just ensure that your 10,15, and 20 strokes are completed slightly quicker and with a little more effort than your normal “resting” rowing speed.

      I’m glad that you’re willing to ask the instructors for help too. That’s what they’re there for, so please do take advantage of their knowledge.



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