5 Ways Rowing Machines Are Good for Cardio

concept 2 rowing machine

Let’s face it, most home gym enthusiasts would rather get a root canal done than having to do cardio. It’s long. It’s boring. And it’s almost always done on the treadmill or bike. But the benefits of doing cardio, like improved recovery, increased metabolism, and improved heart health (you know, the little things) can’t be denied.

So, are rowing machines good for cardio? The answer is a resounding “YES!”, and here’s exactly why:

  1. Full body workout
  2. Low impact
  3. Easy to learn
  4. Scalable resistance
  5. High calorie burn

Go on — grab your oar and get ready to row your gains to a whole new level! These are 5 reasons why rowing machines are good for cardio.

Rowing machines are a fantastic full body cardio workout. With just a single stroke on a rowing machine, you’re working nine major muscle groups: quads, hamstrings, glutes, lats, abs, shoulders, triceps, back, and biceps. Other popular cardio methods, like running or biking, only use your lower body muscles. What a scam! Just kidding. Kind of. #runningsucks Heck, even sled pushes and the ski ergometer either activate your lower body or upper body — but not both. Not enough for it to be a “legit” full body workout, anyways. So, if you’re short on time (or ptience) then a rowing machine workout is a great way to target your entire body at once. Whether you’re just looking to take ‘er easy for a couple weeks or the ol’ knee/hip/whatever is acting up, then rowing is an excellent choice.

Think about it: a full stroke on the rowing machine is nice and smooth. No jolts. And no jarring. Almost sounds pleasant, doesn’t it? Since there’s no shock-absorbing requirement for rowing, it’s easier on your joints. This is unlike jogging or skipping, where there's a fair bit of repetitive impact on your ankle, knee, and hip joints. Now, that’s not to say that you should avoid any impact whatsoever.

For bone stimulation in adults, the scientific evidence actually points to a mix of high-impact (i.e. jumping) and weight-lifting exercises (1), so phasing that out completely from your program might not be wise. But, a low impact exercise mode like rowing can certainly play a role in your overall fitness regimen.

Well, this should be a no-brainer. You just lean forward and lean back, right? Uhhhh, yes… But, it’s not quite THAT simple. There’s skill involved in being efficient on a rowing machine, so make sure you brush up on your technique if you’re a competitive cross-trainer or if you want to maximize your rowing performance. That said, the general movement itself is fairly easy to learn. And while an absolute beginner (who doesn’t have a clue about rowing) might have an inefficient technique until corrected, there’s little harm in that besides burning more calories due to the extra flailing about. If you like this article, you might also enjoy 5 Reasons the Air Bike is the Best Conditioning Tool.

Quality rowing machines like the Concept2 RowErg use a damper to control the amount of air that flows into and out of the flywheel. The damper settings of 1 to 10 are similar to the gearing on a 10-speed bike. When closer to 1, air enters and leaves the flywheel more easily. Similarly, with a low gear on your bike, the pedals are easy to turn. On the contrary, a high damper setting will take more work to get the flywheel moving from a stopped position, just like the highest gear on a bike is hardest to get going.

That said, you still control much of the workout by how fast you move the flywheel. The harder you pull, the faster that flywheel is going to move, and the harder your workout becomes.

All this to say that a rowing machine is good for cardio because it can adapt to all kinds of fitness levels. Fun fact: According to Concept2, a damper setting of 3-5 is a good sweet spot; the lower end of the range for longer workouts and the higher end for shorter workouts (2). Let’s be honest, this is really why you’re here — and us too. With a RowErg, we see users burning an average of 300 to 600 calories (bodyweight plays a factor here) per hour when rowing at a moderate pace.

And if you up the ante by doing a vigorous 30-minute row sesh, you can roast between 500-800 calories. Holy tamale. That’s pretty good for a spicy 30-minute workout. If you’re a metric geek like us, you might enjoy estimating your calorie burn using the Concept2 Calorie Counter — click here to access it.

So, are rowing machines good for cardio? Absolutely. They offer a full body, low impact workout. With an easy-to-learn technique and an accommodating resistance, it’s simple to torch a few hundred calories in as little as 30 minutes. Interested in getting a rower for your home or gym? Then, don’t miss out on the world-renowned Concept2 RowErg. Click the link below to check it out!