Wondering how many calories you are burning on the rowing machine? Here’s a look at how effective the rower is for burning calories and how to burn even more.
When it comes to working out, “calories burned” is the easiest way to quantify just how effective your training session was.
Think about it: you can’t really measure how much you sweat or how tired or sore you feel, because those will vary from workout to workout, and tend to be an “unquantifiable” metric.
But every cardio machine and fitness tracker can give you at least a rough estimate of how many calories you burned in your training session. Monitoring your caloric expenditure will help you keep track of just how effective your workout was.
In this post, we’ll look specifically at the calories burned on the rowing machine and why we think it is one of the best cardio machines for burning calories in the gym (or at home).
Plus, I’ll offer some of my favorite tips for burning more calories while rowing, and share the workouts that will yield the best results for the time invested.
Let’s unleash some calorie burn on the rower!
Calories Burned on the Rowing Machine
Let’s start off by taking a closer look at just how many calories you can expect to burn doing a rowing machine workout.
Harvard Medical School has a list of the calories that you can burn doing various activities, such as swimming, running, cycling, and, of course, rowing.
According to their list:
- A 125-pound person will burn 210 calories over 30 minutes of moderate rowing
- A 155-pound person will burn 252 calories over 30 minutes of moderate rowing
- A 185-pound person will burn 294 calories over 30 minutes of moderate rowing
Not bad, right?
Let’s compare that to other workouts:
- A 125-pound person will burn 165 calories over 30 minutes of low-impact aerobics
- A 155-pound person will burn 162 calories over 30 minutes of moderate calisthenics
- A 185-pound person will burn 252 calories over 30 minutes of general weightlifting
As we saw in the elliptical vs. rowing machine article, there are a few cardio machines and workouts that can deliver better results than a moderate-pace rowing workout.
- A 125-pound person will burn 240 calories over 30 minutes of circuit training
- A 155-pound person will burn 324 calories over 30 minutes of general elliptical training
- A 185-pound person will burn 420 calories over 30 minutes of high-impact step aerobics
But here’s something you need to know: increasing the intensity of your rowing training will do wonders to increase your caloric expenditure.
According to the same list:
- A 125-pound person will burn 255 calories over 30 minutes of vigorous rowing
- A 155-pound person will burn 369 calories over 30 minutes of vigorous rowing
- A 185-pound person will burn 440 calories over 30 minutes of vigorous rowing
Yeah, now those are some numbers you can be happy with!
One of the benefits of rowing machines is that it’s a low-impact workout, meaning it’s gentle on your joints while still engaging your muscles.
Plus, if you take a look at the muscles worked on the rowing machine, you’ll see that it delivers a better full-body workout than most of the other cardio machines (except the elliptical machine).
Really, thanks to this, it’s one of the best cardio machines for weight loss, a machine you can use multiple times a week to burn a lot of calories doing a fun, beginner-friendly workout.
How to Burn Even More Calories When Using the Rower
Harvard Medical School’s list of calories burned is a very “general” one, one that doesn’t factor in every person’s unique metabolism.
Really, the numbers listed above are very much the “average” of calories that you can expect to burn, but it can vary from workout to workout.
If you want to shoot for above-average results, here are a few ways you can burn even more calories when using the rowing machine:
? Increase the resistance.
Typically, newbies will start out rowing on a lower resistance setting, or with no resistance at all. This is strongly recommended to help them develop the muscular endurance needed to sustain a rowing workout for the full 30 to 45 minutes, and to avoid joint strain and muscle fatigue as their fitness improves.
But once you’ve been working out for a while (both cardio and resistance training), it’s time to push yourself a bit harder and increase the resistance. Try cranking it all the way up to the max, or at least setting it on 70-80% resistance.
You’ll find the rowing workout becomes a whole lot more difficult, placing greater energy demands on your muscles. The harder your muscles work, the more energy is consumed, and the more calories your body has to create from stored fat—leading to better fat loss!
? Speed up.
One of the best ways to burn more calories is to speed up. As you saw above, a “moderate” pace will burn far fewer calories than a “vigorous” pace. Even if you’re not yet ready to push yourself to the max (in HIIT training), you can definitely step up the speed and intensity of your workout.
Pay attention to your Strokes Per Minute (either counting yourself or reading them on the rowing machine’s monitor/display). Give yourself 2-3 minutes to get a “baseline”, your average SPM for a moderate-paced workout.
Then start increasing your SPM by 2-3. For example, if you’re rowing very slowly (15-18 SPM), aim for 20 SPM. Once you can easily hit 20 SPM, aim for 22 or 23 SPM. Sustain the faster pace for a few minutes to give your body time to adapt, and to see how hard it becomes for to maintain the exertion.
The faster you row, the more calories you’ll burn.
? Add in resistance training.
One very cool trick to burn A LOT of calories is to mix together rowing (cardio) and resistance training in the form of bodyweight exercises.
- Row for 200 meters
- Do 10 push-ups
- Row for 200 meters
- Do 10 squats
- Row for 200 meters
- Do 10 pull-ups
- Row for 200 meters
- Do 10 crunches
- Row for 200 meters
Mixing up these two types of exercise will push your body through both aerobic and anaerobic states, which will activate stored fats to burn for calories while also torching your existing sugar-based energy supply.
Plus, resistance training burns more calories (for the duration that your muscles are working, not counting the rest periods between sets) than cardio. Even if you keep the rowing pace moderate, mixing in the bodyweight training will seriously increase your caloric expenditure.
? Work your legs more.
One of the sneaky things about how to use a rowing machine is that you gotta let your legs do work!
If you let your arms do most of the work of rowing, you’re missing out on the real calorie-burning.
Your leg muscles are significantly larger than your arm muscles, which means more energy (calories) is required to power them. The harder your legs work during the rowing session, the higher the calorie burn.
Besides, if your arms are doing all the work, you’re rowing with the wrong form, anyway. Your legs should be pushing you backward during the “Drive” portion of the exercise, and your core engaging as you lean back. Really, your arms should only end up doing around 35% of the work. Rowing with the right form will burn a lot more calories!
? Go for explosive strokes.
Every minute on the minute, try for a series of 10 fast, explosive strokes. Think about exploding backward with all the strength in your legs and rowing with as much power as you can demand from your core and arms.
Perform these 10 explosive strokes as fast and hard as you can, then spend the rest of the minute rowing at a normal pace. Repeat this for 10 to 20 minutes, and I guarantee you’ll burn A TON of calories.
? Try a ladder drill.
Ladder drills are timed speed increases that will help you to push your pace far faster much more quickly.
The way it works is simple:
- Start off at a standard speed (say 22 Strokes Per Minute)
- Every minute, increase your SPM by 1
- Keep increasing until you reach 30 SPM
- After one full minute of 30 SPM, decrease your SPM by 1
- Every minute, decrease your SPM by another 1
- Keep lowering until you’re back at 22 SPM (or your starting point)
This is similar to HIIT training, but the gradual increase and decrease keeps your body in both the aerobic and anaerobic zones for longer in order to burn more calories.
? Sustain a higher pace for longer.
One great way to increase your endurance (both muscular and cardiovascular) is to push yourself to your limits and then sustain that challenging pace for as long as possible.
For this, you’ll need a heart rate monitor of some sort—either one integrated into the rowing machine or a smartwatch/fitness tracker.
Start off with a slow warm-up, but once you get started, push your pace until you’re working at 85% intensity. Push your heart until it’s at roughly 85% of your MaxHR, then keep it there for as long as you can—a goal of at least 5 minutes, but up to 10.
This will do wonders to increase your cardiovascular conditioning and raise muscular endurance, forcing your body to more efficiently utilize oxygen and nutrients to keep your body working at near-top output for a prolonged period of time.
You’ll burn an amazing number of calories with this type of workout!
Increasing caloric burn on the rowing machine can be done by injecting periodic “explosive” strokes, using HIIT workouts, and increasing overall intensity.
What Workouts Burn the Most Calories on the Rowing Machine?
As we’ve seen above, there are a lot of different workout options to try—ladder drills, high-intensity intervals, sustained high-intensity effort, Tabata, and many more.
You might be wondering, “Which is the best?”
There really is no “one size fits all” answer to this question, sadly. Every workout has its pros and cons, and what works for one person may not for another.
Really, all that matters is that you keep one thing in mind: the longer you sustain the high-intensity effort, the more calories you burn.
For some people, the 20-second-on and 10-second-off nature of Tabata works best, and they can perform a lot of 4-minute cycles without getting too tired.
For others, ladder drills are ideal because they are only sustaining the pace for 60 seconds at a time, scaling up and down progressively. Others prefer to maintain the high-intensity exertion for 5-10 minutes, while some like the way HIIT workouts on the rowing machine feel best.
Find what works for you, what your body is capable of performing, and what you’re mentally able to endure. What matters most is that you push your body as hard as possible and raise the intensity and effort of your rowing session while also not exhausting yourself mentally.
Do that, and the calories all guaranteed to be burned in large quantities!
The Bottom Line
Now that you know how many calories you can burn on a rowing machine, it’s time to challenge yourself and see if you can beat the “average” we listed above.
Go for broke, push your workout past moderate, and use the various tips we offered to help you take your calorie-burning into the stratosphere.
Thanks to the low-impact, beginner-friendly nature of the rowing machine, you should have little trouble getting through a high-intensity workout without injury or risk to your body, and you can see real results with far less time than you’d expend on other cardio machines.
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