Rowing 101: Beginners Guide for Rowing Workouts

If you’re looking to get a good workout in but don’t have a lot of time to work with, you’re probably looking for an activity that will cover multiple muscle groups all at once. Rowing workouts can provide you with a terrific workout that addresses your entire body, including the cardio aspect of your fitness routine. Rowing doesn’t have to take up a lot of time, but you’ll see results nonetheless. Each stroke that you complete activates multiple areas of your body to tone and shape your body how you want.

If you’re new to rowing as a workout activity, I want to talk to you about some of the basics. I’m going to cover what indoor rowing is, how it can help you with weight loss and why you should consider rowing as a workout option. Let’s get started!

Introduction to Rowing 101

When you’re looking for a new method of exercising, a full-body option is the way to go. It sounds intimidating at first, but making sure that you’re not neglecting any part of your body is ideal. Rowing isn’t something you’ll necessarily be able to do perfectly the first time, but perfecting your form and working at it will get you on track with this being your new primary form of exercise.

There is plenty of research that explains the importance of interval training (such as rowing) rather than a prolonged exercise session. Not to mention, rowing is fun, exciting and doesn’t require a lot of time. You can build up your intensity as you go along to customize your workouts.

What Is Indoor Rowing?

Indoor rowing utilizes a rowing machine to simulate the process of rowing a boat. It’s something you do need specialized equipment for, but rowers tend to be pretty affordable if you’re looking for a basic machine to start out with. There are more elaborate units that you can purchase later on when you become a pro.

When you row, you’re moving both your upper and lower body at the same time. You can pace yourself as needed, as you may find that working all these muscle groups at once is difficult at first. Luckily, this is a very low-impact exercise that protects your joints like other weight bearing exercises cannot.

Is It Good for Beginners?

You have to start somewhere, and rowing is completely doable for someone that has never rowed a boat before or used a rowing machine. You simply want to start with a shorter workout, building up your resistance as you go along.

Try starting with a three minute workout at 20 strokes per minute. Spend one minute resting and then try to increase your strokes per minute. Keep your time limit the same. Make sure you’re resting in between each set.

Can It Help With Weight Loss?

Rowing is a great weight loss activity. It involves your whole body, so you have the potential to burn a lot of calories all at once. An indoor rowing machine has the potential to burn up to 377 calories in a 30-minute workout. Most people these days lead very busy lives, and working out for an hour or more isn’t always in the cards. Rather than putting off your workout or doing minimal activity, rowing boosts your calorie burning efficiency so you can get back to doing what you want.

What Muscles Does Rowing Work The Most?

The best thing about rowing is that it engages 85% of your muscles, building lean muscle and endurance.

When you’re simulating the rowing motion, you’re working the rhomboid muscles in your shoulders. There are trapezius muscles in your upper back that also see activity, along with your lats in the middle and lower back.

Your hand grip strength on the handles of your rower will work your biceps, wrists and forearms. Your chest pectoral muscles and abdominals are used for core strength as you move forward and back. Not only will your upper body look more muscular, but this can improve your posture and improve back pain that you’re currently experiencing. In regard to the lower body, your quadriceps are targeted in the front of your thighs by rowing along with your glutes and calves.

You’ll be hard pressed to find muscle groups that aren’t worked during a rowing workout. It’s a much different experience than hopping on the treadmill or elliptical for a half hour or more.

What Does a Rowing Workout Look Like?

People often assume that you’re only using your arms when you’re rowing, but there is a lot of other movement that occurs. It’s about 75 percent legs and 25 percent upper body. You should feel the burn everywhere when you’re done. In order to maximize your workout, you need to pay close attention to how you’re holding your body on the rower.

Sit nice and tall, looking straight ahead in front of you. Hunching your back will put strain on your shoulders and back, which can lead to an injury. Square your shoulders up, straighten your spine and engage your core to begin your strokes.

A lot of people are inclined to pull back with their arms first. In fact, you want to dig your heels down, extend your legs and rotate your hips before finally pulling back the handles with your arms.

You might be tempted to go fast right away, but don’t rush this exercise at first. Establishing a good rhythm and paying attention to what your stroke rate is, is far more important. Build up your speed as you get better at rowing.

Who Should Consider Doing Rowing Workouts?

Because of the benefits of being a full body workout, rowing can be done by anyone that wants to engage all of their muscles and increase their heart health. If you’re in need of a low impact exercise that can burn a lot of fat in a short amount of time, what are you waiting for? Hop on that rowing machine and see how it feels.

Developing a good stroke pattern engages your mind in a way that doesn’t exist on most other workout equipment. This mind-body connection can be soothing and rhythmic. It’s also really great for people of all fitness levels. You can use this as a starting block if you’re just developing a workout routine, but this is also a great alternative to some of the more mundane exercises that you may be doing to get in shape.

The Importance of Using Proper Form

Whenever you’re working out, it’s important that you use proper form. If your body is moving in unnatural positions, this can lead to muscle strain, tears in the muscle and much worse. Rowing has the potential to cause injury, just like other workouts do. However, learning how the proper form of rowing can prevent injury and keep you feeling good.

Engage All Muscles

You don’t want to favor any one muscle group when you’re rowing. While you start with your legs and then end with the movement of your upper body, you should be engaging your muscles in the same pattern for the duration of your workout. This will provide you with the results that you’re look for without causing any kind of pain or strain.

Prevent Injury

A rowing machine is a low impact workout, so it reduces the strain that your muscles experience. However, you can still get injured if you’re not being careful with your form. Regulate your pace so you’re not overworking anything. Take time to catch your breath as needed, which is possible since you’re in control of your rowing workout. You also eliminate a lot of the safety risks that are in place when you’re using free weights or cable machines. You’re seated throughout the process of rowing, which keeps you relatively safe from injury.

Optimize Performance

If you’re looking to optimize your rowing performance, there are some different techniques you can incorporate into your workout.

-Make sure that you’re taking time to warm up. Before you even get on the rower, stretch your body. Your muscles will actually be ready to work harder.

-Pay close attention to your breath. Once you have your body movements in sync, make sure that you’re breathing in and out at the same rate with your movements.

-Hydrate adequately before your workout and spend some time rehydrating after your workout is over. You can also take sips of water during your rest periods.

-Work a cool down period into your routine. This can include an extra set or two where you move at a slower pace that will bring your heart rate down and cool down your muscles.

How Do I Use An Indoor Rowing Machine?

I’ve covered the basics of the rowing workout for you, but you might still be wondering how to get started with an indoor rowing machine. If you’ve tried a rower while working out at the gym and liked it and would like to invest in equipment of your own, I have some resources that you can utilize.

We invite you to join us even if you currently row somewhere else or have a rowing machine at home – see our rowing machine reviews, if you need advice on which rower may be a good fit for you. That said, here are some of the top indoor rowers on the market right now.


Hydrow brings interactive rowing workouts right to your home. You can simulate real time rowing by moving along with other athletes that are featured on-screen during your workout. Created by former USA rowing national team coach, Hydrow is a comfortable and convenient machine to invest in.


This game based connected rower is handcrafted in the U.S. and is designed to look like a piece of furniture rather than workout equipment. The best part is, it can be folded into a more compact form to be stored away when it’s not in use.


The Aviron rower has a series of features that make it suitable for both new rowers and experienced rowers. It makes exercise more fun and effective so you get the results that you want without getting frustrated by the process of working out.

Echelon Row-s

This solid exercise machine is very affordable in comparison to other similar rowers. It’s a more basic machine that’s great if you’re just starting out. It comes with a 22” touch screen display that is easy to navigate through for fun and exciting workouts.

Concept2 Model D

A more basic rower that doesn’t have a lot of bells, whistles or technology, the Concept2 Model D is an air resistance rower that allows you to control the amount of air flowing through the machine to increase or decrease your workout. There is no maximum resistance.

Know This about Rowing Before You Start (Conclusion)

Starting any kind of new workout routine can be a challenge, but it’s important that you have some patience with yourself. Take the time to choose the right equipment, perfect your form and slowly increase your workout as it feels comfortable. You’re not using your rower to become a professional competitor, so have fun with your rowing experience so it becomes a long lasting exercise tool for you. It’s ok if you make mistakes along the way. Simply correct yourself and move on.

Tips for Success from the Coastal Rowing Studio Team

If you want to get better with your rowing, here are some helpful tips from the team at Coastal Rowing Studio.

  • Don’t grip the handles too hard. This can cause you to use too much of your upper body to propel yourself back and forth.
  • Don’t forget that rowing is mainly done with your legs. Drive that machine with your lower body.
  • Watch your posture so you’re not hunching over your equipment. If you’re not sitting upright, this can cause injury to your back.

Take a Rowing 101 Class

This is the class we recommend to all first-time guests.  It has been developed to introduce you to the proper rowing technique and help you discover the joys and benefits of group rowing classes.

Proper technique is critical both for safety and to get the most out of your workout.  When you row with the right form you are using about 85% of your muscles and getting the full body workout you expect.

Although rowing is not difficult, the correct form is opposite of how we naturally want to row.  That is why we spend time during the Rowing 101 class breaking down the stroke, going slowly through each of the four parts of the stroke and incorporating drills to help you learn the feel of each part of your stroke.

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