Why You Should Try Rowing For Cardio

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Tired of running on the treadmill for what seems like forever at the gym? While it’s important to get in cardio, doing the same routine every day can become monotonous. For many, high-impact running isn’t even an option because it can induce joint pain. If you’re looking for something new or less painful, try rowing.

Rowing is a low-impact, high-intensity form of cardio that you can incorporate into your workout. “It’s great for so many reasons, including the fact that it requires 85 percent of your muscles to do the work,” says Annie Mulgrew, Program Director at CITYROW rowing studio in New York City. “Plus it’s safe because it’s soft on the joints since your feet are strapped in. There’s no jumping or pounding. The movement is fluid.”

You might think rowing works mostly the upper body, but it’s actually a full body workout that focuses mostly on the legs, specifically the hamstrings and glutes. Many cardio workouts are quad dominant like walking, running, and even spinning. But rowing works everything you don’t use on a daily basis like your hamstrings, upper and lower back, Mulgrew says. Plus studies have shown you can burn more fat by rowing.

Image: Getty Images / Hybrid Images
Image: Getty Images / Hybrid Images


After sitting down and strapping your feet into the rower so that the strap lies across your mid-foot, bend your knees (bringing your bum close to, but not touching your feet), and grab hold of the handle. At this point, you’re ready to begin “the catch,” or the primary action, which is initiated by straightening your legs using as much power as possible. “The energy of the stroke begins here,” Mulgrew says. “Every other action is subsequent to the legs.” Once the legs are straight, lean your torso back 45 degrees and finish by pulling the handle into your sternum.

Next comes the “recovery” period when you reverse the action by extending your arms, sitting back up, and bending your legs. “It’s considered a recovery because you’re not applying any force,” Mulgrew explains.

Now you’re ready for the catch again. Think: legs, core, arms, then reverse it: arms, core, legs, and repeat. If you find the rowing to be too easy, you can adjust the damper setting on the side of the rower from one to 10—10 being the hardest.

Form is extremely important on the rower in order to keep the workout safe. “Sequence is above all else on the rower. Don’t pull the handle bar into your torso until your legs are fully straight, and be sure on the way back, not to bend your knees before the handle bar has passed,” Mulgrew says. “It’s also important to keep your shoulder blades pulled together at all times so you’re not hunching over.”

Another common mistake to lookout for is not coming far enough forward into the catch with your chest and arms. This is especially important for those who sit at a desk all day and may not be able to hinge at the hips easily. Mulgrew advises that practice and consistency will help you improve flexibility over time.

If you row correctly, you should feel it the following day in your hamstrings and glutes. While it’s OK to experience some soreness in your upper back, you don’t want to only feel like you worked one area. If that happens, Mulgrew suggests reevaluating your form as you probably did something wrong.

In order to track improvement over time, pay attention to your “split time” (the amount of time it takes you to row 500 meters). “For beginners, 2:15 or below is good for women and 2:00 or less is good for men,” says Mulgrew. “As you stick with it and improve, we suggest women aim for 2:00 or less, and men aim for 1:45 or less.”



One of the biggest distractions when rowing is stopping to change the damper control or to adjust your workout on the display. The new SR400 Rowing Machine eliminates that problem thanks to its Bluetooth technology located in the handle. Now, you don’t have to stop and drop the bar in order to change the workout speed.

The SR400 also offers a high seat position, as well as different heel angles to satisfy the needs of all users. Plus, it has options for interval training and tracks your heart rate so you can get the most out of every workout.

Interested in incorporating this new cardio into your routine? Check the SR400 out here.

Important exercise note: Consult with your doctor before beginning any exercise program.