Rowing machine HIIT workouts are a great way to get your heart pumping and maximize your time in the gym. Try these high-intensity workouts for high-performance results, from beginners to elite athletes.
What do you get when you add one part HIIT and one part rowing machine?
A gangbusters of a workout in a fraction of the time, that’s what!
Thanks to the low-impact nature of rowing machine workouts and the effectiveness of high-intensity interval training (HIIT), you can see serious fitness results in far less time than you would cycling or jogging for an hour.
In this article, we’ll take a look at my favorite rowing machine HIIT workouts for all skill and fitness levels.
Plus, we’ll talk about some of the things that make using the rowing machine such a great choice for you, as well as answer a few of the most commonly asked questions.
Let’s get our HIIT-infused row on!
Why the Rowing Machine Rocks for HIIT Workouts
Before we dive into the actual workouts, I want to take a minute to list some of the benefits of rowing machines specifically for high-intensity training.
I could go on all day about what makes the rowing machine good for fitness in general, but for the sake of this article, I’ll focus exclusively on rowing machine and HIIT.
? Gentle on your joints.
One of the best things about HIIT workouts on the rowing machine is its low-impact nature. Because your feet never leave the pedals, there is no impact of placing your feet back down (like there is on the treadmill or stair climber).
This makes it better for those who are prone to joint pain and are looking for a joint-friendly solution for working out.
Yes, there is some risk of repetitive motion injury (usually in your elbows, wrists, and shoulders), and your lower back may be more prone to strain than with other cardio machines.
But it’s still overall a gentler machine than the high-impact cardio machines like treadmills or stair climbers.
? Full body workout.
If you look at the list of the muscles worked on the rowing machine, you’ll see that the list includes pretty much all your muscles (just missing your chest and triceps, the “push” muscles).
The rowing machine HIIT workouts deliver a full-body training session that maximizes muscular engagement and delivers better results with less time invested.
? Great calorie-burning.
The rowing machine is one of the best cardio machines for weight loss because of how many calories it can burn.
Harvard Medical School1 estimates that a 150-pound person can burn 440 calories in 30 minutes of vigorous rowing.
Related: Rowing Machine for Weight Loss: Best Practices, Workouts, and Benefits
That’s a great fat-burning HIIT cardio workout in only a short amount of time.
? Easy to master.
Even if you’re new to the gym and cardio machines in general, you’ll find that rowing is one of the easiest workouts to master (which, as you saw in the elliptical vs rowing machine comparison article, gives it the slight edge between the two).
You can learn the basic form and posture easily, and once you know it, you can row to your heart’s content with no worries about stumbling, tipping, or sliding off.
All pretty great reasons to consider using the rowing machine for your HIIT workouts, right?
Rowing Machine HIIT Workouts
Below, I’ve compiled a list of my five favorite rowing machine workouts.
Each workout caters to a different level of skill: beginner, intermediate, advanced, power athlete, and endurance trainee.
It doesn’t matter what types of rowing machines you have available in your gym; the workouts can be adapted to any machine, and will give you a great option for pushing your body to its absolute limits for long enough to see results.
HIIT Rowing Machine Workout #1: Beginner Workout
If you’re new to the rowing machine, you can take it a bit easier on yourself for the first few workouts, give your body time to adapt to the high-intensity nature of the training.
But just remember: the harder you push, the better your results!
Always start with a 5-minute stretching session to limber up the muscles that will be working: your back, shoulders, arms, core, and legs. Then, spend 5 minutes rowing at a slow, “light” pace to get your blood flowing and your heart working.
Time to move onto the intervals:
- High intensity: 30 seconds. For 30 seconds, row with every bit of energy you can. Push yourself to move fast and pull hard. You’re welcome to turn up the resistance on the rowing machine, too, to make it harder.
- Low-intensity: 2 minutes. Give yourself a 2-minute window of slower- or medium-paced rowing to let your heart and lungs recover. Keep rowing, don’t take a break, but go a bit slower to let your heart rate settle before hitting that next high-intensity interval.
Repeat the cycle of 30 seconds of high intensity and 2 minutes of low intensity for a total of 20 minutes, then end with a 5-minute cool-down session.
HIIT Rowing Machine Workout #2: Intermediate Workout
If you’ve been working out for a few months, chances are you’ve gotten some experience on the various cardio machines, and put in at least a few HIIT workouts.
Time to push yourself a bit harder and give your body a real challenge!
Make sure to start with a good warm-up, both stretching and low-intensity rowing. Get those joints moving easily and your cardiovascular system working.
- Start rowing at a moderate pace for 90 seconds.
- At the 90-second mark, start picking up your speed, rowing faster and faster until you hit the 2-minute mark.
- Once you hit that 2-minute mark, row with everything you’ve got for a 20 seconds.
- Pause for 10 seconds, no rowing at all.
- Resume full-intensity rowing for another 20 seconds before slowing back down to the moderate pace.
Repeat this cycle a total of 8 times (or as many as you can/want to), and finish off the workout with a cool-down of light rowing and some gentle stretches.
HIIT Rowing Machine Workout #3: Advanced Workout
For those who are fitter and more experienced in the gym, the rowing machine offers an excellent opportunity to challenge yourself and see just what you’re capable of.
For this more advanced workout, you’ll run through some Tabata cycles. This means 20 seconds of high intensity followed by 10 seconds of low intensity, repeated 8 times for a total of 4 minutes per “round”. Trust me: doing a few of these will push you HARD!
Start with your warm-up. Row for 3 minutes at a light pace.
Complete 8 cycles of:
- 20 seconds of high-intensity rowing
- 10 seconds of low-intensity rowing
This will be a total of 4 minutes of HIIT using the Tabata method.
Once you finish that 4-minute round, give yourself 2-3 minutes of light rowing to lower your heart rate. Then hit it hard again for another 4-minute round.
The goal is to complete five of them (for a total of 20 minutes of high intensity rowing time, with some additional recovery time between).
Even if you can only do two or three with some light rowing between, that’s enough to walk away from the training session feeling like a badass.
HIIT Rowing Machine Workout #4: Power-Lifter Workout
This workout combines rowing with bodyweight exercises that will push your strength as well as endurance to their limits.
It’s an excellent way to test your cardiovascular conditioning as well as develop functional fitness rather than only the power you’re accustomed to building using ultra-heavy weights.
Start with your warm-up. Row for 250 meters to give your body time to get accustomed to the exercise.
When the workout starts:
- Row 150 meters as fast as you can
- Get off the rowing machine and do 10 push-ups
- Row for 150 meters at a slow pace
- Do 10 squats
- Row 150 meters as fast as you can
- Do 10 pull-ups
- Row for 150 meters at a slow pace
- Do 15 crunches
Repeat this cycle two or three times (depending on how much time and endurance you have), and you’ll finish your workout sweating bullets.
HIIT Rowing Machine Workout #5: Endurance Trainee Workout
For endurance trainees who have dedicated themselves to building cardiovascular and muscular endurance, this HIIT workout will challenge your fitness and see just how long you can sustain high-intensity effort.
Start with a warm-up, rowing at around 65% intensity to give your body time to adapt to the movement and effort.
When you start with the HIIT intervals:
- Perform 8 cycles of 15 seconds of high intensity effort followed by 15 seconds of low-intensity rowing.
- Perform 6 cycles of 30 seconds of high intensity effort followed by 30 seconds of low-intensity rowing.
- Perform 4 cycles of 45 seconds of high intensity effort followed by 45 seconds of low-intensity rowing.
- Perform 2 cycles of 60 seconds of high intensity effort followed by 60 seconds of low-intensity rowing.
By the time you hit those last two cycles, you’ll find it’s wonderfully challenging to summon the energy to maintain that high-intensity pace.
Finish off with a cool-down workout and some good stretching to relax your muscles.
? Rowing Machine HIIT Workouts – FAQs
Is rowing a safe way to do HIIT workouts?
Rowing is absolutely safe for HIIT workouts. Because it’s low-intensity, gentle on your joints, engages your full body, and is performed from a seated position, it’s probably the safest of the cardio machines to use for HIIT.
That being said, anyone with knee, hip, shoulder, elbow, or lower back issues may find that the rowing machine puts a bit more strain on their joints than other workouts.
- You can strain your knees if you slide too far forward/bend your knees too far
- Stiff or inflexible hips may not be able to move through the full range of rowing motion
- The engagement of your core when you lean back can lead to lower back injuries
- Your elbows and shoulders will do a lot of the work of rowing, which can exacerbate existing problems
Just be aware of the potential risks to your joints, and you should have nothing to worry about when doing rowing machine HIIT workouts!
Is 10 minutes enough for a good row machine HIIT workout?
If you’re using the Tabata method (20 seconds max intensity/10 seconds low intensity, repeated 8 times), you can usually get a pretty good workout in with just 2-3 cycles (8-12 minutes).
However, if your goal is to push your fitness beyond its current condition, you’ll want to aim for around 20 minutes of HIIT training.
Your body will really only be able to sustain 15 to 25 minutes of HIIT before running out of available energy, so shooting for 20 minutes is a great goal to help you increase your fitness without running the risk of injuring yourself due to exhaustion.
The Bottom Line
The rowing machine is one of the best cardio machines in the gym not only because of how effectively it can help you get in a good workout, but because of how easy it makes it to get in a HIIT workout.
As you saw by all the workouts above, really all you need to do to shift from low-intensity to high-intensity is to row faster—you don’t even need to increase the resistance!
Spending more time training HIIT on the rowing machine gives you a more efficient workout, yielding better results in far less time.
What’s not to love about that?
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