Focus On: The Indoor Rower

Hi! How’s your morning going? Thank you so much for all of your wonderful comments about Soli Beat. We appreciate your kind words so much and are really excited about it. For those of you who have asked, we are happy to ship internationally ๐Ÿ™‚ 

Indoor rower

So, I used to be a gym cardio fanatic. Not just the classes, but I could park myself on the Stairmaster with a good book, magazine or text book (womp womp) and exercise away for at least an hour. Now, the thought of doing that makes me break into a cold sweat. Not only do I get suuuuper bored on traditional cardio equipment, but I’ve become a huge believer that if I’m focused more on tabloid reading than my workout, I could be working a little harder. Don’t get me wrong, being at the gym with a book working at minimum effort is a thousand times better than not going at all, but since I only have about 45 minutes max to work out on the days I’m not teaching, I get in, don’t stop moving the whole time I’m there, and get outta there. 

Some of my current favorite gym cardio modes:

HIIT intervals on the treadmill (<— much less boring when it’s a quick and sweaty interval session)

-Jump rope




Lately, I’ve become a huge fan of the rowing machine. It’s funny because it’s something that used to really freak me out. I had no clue how to use it, and it didn’t seem like it would be that great of a workout. (Then again, I’d never rowed an actual boat before so there ya go.) At CrossFit, I didn’t have a choice since it was part of the workout. I had to do itโ€ฆ and what do you know? I ended up loving it. It got my heart rate up quickly, I liked the reduction of stress on my joints, and it enabled me to utilize more muscle groups than I would jump roping or running. 

While I was at the IDEA conference, it was my first experience with a bootcamp class utilizing the indoor rowing machines: Shockwave.

Shockwave at IDEA

I was so excited by the workout, I dragged my boss into the session to see if we could get some rowers and do something similar at work. They just came in!

If you’ve never used the rowing machine, here’s a great how-to video:


Tips for Using the Indoor Rowing Machine

How to use Indoor Rower

Power with your legs – It’s common to think that the movement is coming from your arms or back; it’s actually driven from your legs. Push through your heels, power through your glutes, and then use your core, then arms/ back as you row. As you release, it’s the opposite sequence of events: first moving your arms, then core, and finally legs.

Keep your shoulders down, chest lifted and core engaged. 

Start small – Start with short distances or times to get used to it. Just like anything else, it’s smart to venture slowly to allow your body to adapt and prevent injury. Start with a few minutes and then next time, add a few more. After you’re comfortable with the motions and using the machine, you can start to experiment with some intervals. I love to do music intervals on the row machine: row fast during the chorus and slow it down for the verses.

Add it into your routine – You can add the rower into your strength or cardio routine. A great way to do this is to add it as a cardio blast in between strength sets, or alternate rowing (QUICK) with running or walking (recover). This row/run workout is KILLER!

Pros of the Indoor Rower

Low impact cardio option. I wouldn’t recommend it for those with knee/joint/hip concerns, as it requires substantial flexion of the knee and hip joint, but is a nice break to sit down instead of holding your weight upright as you work. For this reason, it’s a great cardio option for those looking to lose a large amount of body fat/excess weight.

Similar calories burned to running, but a lower perceived exertion. You don’t feel as wiped out, but you’re still cranking those calories away!

Utilizes different muscle groups. It really is a total-body workout. I feel like rowing has helped strengthen my back, arms and core tremendously. 

You control the resistance. If you’re working hard, the rower will make you work even harder, as the resistance increases with how hard you’re pushing and pulling

Cons of the Indoor Rower

Calluses. Is that it? Haha. 

Calluses from the indoor rower

If you’ve never tried the indoor rower, check out a class nearby, or ask for some help from a trainer at your gym!

Do you use the rower as part of your cardio rotation?

Is there anything at the gym that intimidates you?

I’m off to lift some heavy things. I got a new kettlebell, so I can get in some strength workouts here at home, too. Fitness nerd alert: a shiny new kettlebell made my morning ๐Ÿ˜‰

Hope you have a wonderful day <3


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  1. Jackie on September 17, 2013 at 10:35 am

    I love the rowing machine. It’s such a killer workout! Intervals on it are my Fav!

  2. Captain Competition on September 17, 2013 at 10:36 am

    Row machines are great for a total body cardio exercise. The real benefit to the row machine is that no one is ever using them! There is no wait and no need to sign up to use them. People really miss out on this piece of equipment.

  3. Lisa on September 17, 2013 at 10:38 am

    I definitely used to be a cardio junkie like that as well, but I hardly worked up a sweat because I’d just be on the elliptical reading a magazine. Not too intense. I actually used to be a rower so I love seeing people use it. It’s definitely a great workout since it combines some upper body strength too.

  4. Julie on September 17, 2013 at 10:46 am

    Love the rowing machine! My current gym doesn’t have one, but whenever I visit one that does, I jump at the chance to use it! Great way to get cardio in while also working your upper body!

  5. Julie @ A Warrior and A Nurse on September 17, 2013 at 10:52 am

    Lately, my hubby and I have been doing Shaun T’s fairly new workout program called Focus T25. Because of those intense workouts, I haven’t really been doing exercise outside of what that program calls for. I love using the rowing machine, though! Once we wrap up Focus T25, I am definitely going to start using it again! We have them at our local YMCA….with free childcare, it’s the one time during the day where I can just break away from the crazy havoc that my 9 1/2 month old does to our home…lol…Thanks for the great post!

  6. Caity @ Moi Contre La Vie on September 17, 2013 at 11:01 am

    Great post! I’m a big fan of the rower and I’m looking forward to mixing up my time using your tips & suggestions.

  7. Meggie on September 17, 2013 at 11:01 am

    I have always been intimidated by the rowing machine! Now I’m eager to try it during my next gym visit. Thanks Gina!

  8. Alisha @ Alisha's Appetite on September 17, 2013 at 11:02 am

    I’m kind of the same way- the rower intimidates me! You’ve inspired me to try it again and give it a 2nd chance. I would be really happy with a new kettlebell for my house too.

  9. christy on September 17, 2013 at 11:04 am

    oh man, i cant wait to try this with my little guy/gal when he/she gets here! (im 38 wks). is the pre-order over already??


  10. Ashley @ Life and Fitness on September 17, 2013 at 11:13 am

    Thanks for this post. The rower always intimidates me!

  11. Sarah on September 17, 2013 at 11:21 am

    The rowing machine is my all time favorite! Try using fingerless workout gloves to prevent your callouses – I use mine while lifting weights too.

    Intimidating piece of equipment for me is the cable pulley. Unless I’m doing tricep curls – I got that.

    What weight kettle bell do you use?

  12. Danielle on September 17, 2013 at 11:22 am

    I have a love/hate relationship with the rower. I don’t really like it but I always get an amazing workout when I use it. I actually just alternated rowing 200M sprints and running 200M sprints this morning as my cardio. Awesome workout!

  13. Janice on September 17, 2013 at 11:25 am

    I have recently fallen in love with the indoor rower. I used to think it wasn’t actually much of a workout but boy was I wrong. I’ve been doing a killer workout where I row 400m as quickly as possible (I aim for under 2 minutes) and then I get off and while my husband rows his 400m I do as many push-ups as I can. Then we switch and I get on and row and he does push-ups. The next round we do burpees, next round is box jumps, etc… until we have each rowed 2,000m (5 sets of 400m)

  14. Julia on September 17, 2013 at 11:35 am

    While at the gym this morning I was actually thinking how I’d love to try the rower but don’t know how! Thanks so much for this (timely) explanation!

  15. BakingSuit on September 17, 2013 at 11:57 am

    I love rowing! I have a 90s playlist that I put on and mentally check out to summers on the lake where my grandparents had a house visiting my cousins at their grandparents houses. (It was faster to go back and forth in the boat than on foot or by car.)

    In an odd way, it’s a nice way to “cool down” after a run.

  16. Erin @ The Almond Eater on September 17, 2013 at 11:57 am

    I’ve only used the row machine a few times and I’m pretty sure I was using it wrong–thanks for the description and for posting the video. I do have some hip pain but I think I could take it slow and see how my hips feel. A stronger back and core sound good to me!

  17. Sara @ LovingOnTheRun on September 17, 2013 at 12:04 pm

    I have never tried out the rower! For some reason it intimidates me!

  18. Michelle @ A Healthy Mrs on September 17, 2013 at 12:05 pm

    Great post! I’ve used the rower sporadically, but now I’m inspired to really give it another go!

  19. Annie @ Annie Get Your Run on September 17, 2013 at 12:18 pm

    LOVE Rowing. We have a gym chain in Philly called Row Zone. It’s an awesome class that incorporates strength moves into the cardio. Definitely the least boring class around!

  20. Livi Tant on September 17, 2013 at 12:59 pm

    I have rowed a few times before but I definitely neglect it as a regular member of my gym machines! You’re inspiring me to mix it up and not get of comfortable with any one movement!

  21. Kaitlin on September 17, 2013 at 1:00 pm

    I love the rower! I have a messed up C2-3 joint, and it causes a ton of tension in my neck and shoulder, and at slow speeds, the rower is a very restorative exercise that soothes some of the tenderness in my shoulder and helps to keep me aligned properly.

  22. Anna @ Fitness ร  la Anna on September 17, 2013 at 1:08 pm

    I was on the rowing team at McGill University, so I’ve had my fair share of time spent on the rowing machine ๐Ÿ˜‰ But thanks for posting this tutorial, it is usually my worst nightmare to see people try to use the rowing machine at the gym, I just want to go up to them to fix their form…back injury central!

  23. kate marrin on September 17, 2013 at 1:15 pm

    I love the row machines-love it and use it all the time in my circuit training! The only thing that intimidates me at my gym is my personal trainer (don’t tell him!).

    • Fitnessista on September 17, 2013 at 2:17 pm

      (i won’t, haha)

  24. Karen @ Runner Girl Eats on September 17, 2013 at 1:39 pm

    I LOVE rowing. It is such a great low impact cardio workout. My studio has rowing bootcamp classes and shockwave and I get sooooooo excited when I can make it to a class.

    • Fitnessista on September 17, 2013 at 2:16 pm

      ahhhh! i LOVE shockwave

  25. Ashlee@HisnHers on September 17, 2013 at 2:03 pm

    I just recently discovered and love the rower! I created a circuit for the blog with power moves like jump squats and kettlebell swings combined with rowing and I was SORE for DAYS!!

  26. Kelly @ Kelly Runs for Food on September 17, 2013 at 2:04 pm

    It took me forever to start using a rowing machine too! I don’t use it as often as I should since I tend to gravitate towards running as my cardio, but it can definitely give you a good workout!

  27. Andrea @ The Fit Scoop on September 17, 2013 at 2:10 pm

    I miss using a rower – unfortunately my 32 week pregnant belly prevents me from using it for the moment! I’m excited to use it again in a few months ๐Ÿ™‚

  28. Kimberly on September 17, 2013 at 2:18 pm

    I just started CrossFit so I’ve been forced to use the rower. I always choose it over running because I don’t want to wear my indoor shoes outside. I like it! I’m developing callouses too. I try to keep my nails pretty to balance them out.

  29. Taylor @ Single-tracked Mind on September 17, 2013 at 2:32 pm

    The rowing machine is so intimidating for some reason. Thanks for breaking it down. ๐Ÿ™‚

  30. Maria on September 17, 2013 at 2:35 pm

    Hey Gina! As a former high school and college rower, I hear ya on the calluses. They hurt like you know what at first, but they’ll harden up:) I can’t tell you how badly I cringe at the people on the ergs (name for the rowing machine) when they don’t know what they’re doing….I want to help them so that they don’t injure themselves, but I don’t want to offend them. Keep up the hard work on the erg, though! The rowing race is 2,000 meters, which takes about 8 minutes or less for a skilled female rower on the erg:)

  31. Becky @ on September 17, 2013 at 3:03 pm

    I really love rowing. I wish I could have my own rower at home and I would row my little heart out after LIam goes to bed.

    I can’t imagine rowing a half marathon like they had to do in the Crossfit Games this year though. Aye aye aye, that would be rough!

  32. lucie on September 17, 2013 at 3:05 pm

    I love the rowing machine but I use it way too little – great reminder to include it in my workouts! I was rowing on the lake a few months ago, and ugh, this is SO different – a LOT more difficult – the coordiation, the balance, the rythm – but so fun!

  33. Sam on September 17, 2013 at 3:48 pm

    The rowing machine is my favorite cardio! I love that it’s a total-body workout, I can definitely feel the effects in my arms and core. And I almost never have to wait for a machine, even though our gym only has two rowers.

    I hear ya on the calluses, but no-one’s mentioned the only other con on my list. Um. Butt chafing. One sweaty session on the rower in the wrong choice of shorts can rub the skin over your tailbone raw! Putting a folded towel on the seat seems to prevent problems for me though.

  34. Christina @ The Beautiful Balance on September 17, 2013 at 4:02 pm

    I love the row machine! Full body workout and I find it so much more engaging than the revolving apparatus of death.

    • Fitnessista on September 17, 2013 at 5:37 pm

      amen, girl

  35. Jen on September 17, 2013 at 4:20 pm

    I love the rowing machine, try using the weight lifting gloves, I’ve been meaning to pick up a pair my local Marshalls has them really cheap like $6-7!

    • Fitnessista on September 17, 2013 at 5:37 pm

      i have some, just need to use them!!

  36. Allison on September 17, 2013 at 5:17 pm

    Fun post! I used to be really intimidated by the rowing machine, but I finally got over it and tried it about 6 months ago. I have problems with my left foot and have to limit the amount of high-impact stuff I do, so rowing is a great option for me. Now I regularly incorporate it into my weekly workout plan. The calluses are no fun though. I think I’m going to have to break down and get some gloves. Right now the hand pain is what limits my time on the machine.

    • Fitnessista on September 17, 2013 at 5:37 pm

      same! i might wear gloves next time ๐Ÿ™‚ i usually do short rowing intervals, but did a longer one last week and my hands were killing me

  37. Amber on September 17, 2013 at 5:58 pm

    I recently got the courage to try out the row machine at my gym…

    …aaaaand I LOVE it!!!!!!! I’m so happy to have found a fresh new cardio machine that works so many different party of my body.

    I’ve never been instructed on how it’s done, so the video (and instruction) you provided was very helpful!! But tell me… would it be bad/harmful to switch up my grip every once in a while from palm-down to palm-up? I know most of the movement isn’t necessarily from the arms, but just in case a little muscle action occurs, it might be nice to double-duty the biceps.

    • Fitnessista on September 17, 2013 at 6:10 pm

      i did that last week and loved it! i think it’s totally fine as long as you keep your arms close to your body

  38. Vicki L. on September 17, 2013 at 6:22 pm

    I used to do the rower about once a week, but kind of ended up dropping it since it’s something I would do for the last ten minutes of my cardio on Fridays. I would have to cut my time on the elliptical/treadmill, and just kind of stopped doing that. However, the rowers are right in front of the ellipticals at my gym, so I can see them calling to me when I’m up on the elliptical. I might have to start working it back in…

  39. Kate on September 17, 2013 at 6:24 pm

    As a high school and college rower, I thought I’d point out that the little numbers on the machine really matter. The middle/biggest number, or at least on most concept 2 machines should be kept under 2:30 if you are really putting any real effort into the stroke. The number on the top right is your strokes per minute, and they should be around 15/20 unless you’re sprinting. In a real race, or even a 2K on the erg, you will be very close to losing your lunch. Rowing is an insane aerobic and muscular workout. The only thing that it doesn’t really focus on as much is the core. Trust me, if you do 2,000 meters for time, you’ll seriously feel it. We saw calluses as a badge of honor. No gloves are allowed while rowing a shell, either in practice or in a race, so our hands got horrible. It KILLS me when I see people erging the wrong way at the gym; today I actually had my trainer get on the erg next to me and showed her how to properly do it. She was winded after two minutes!

  40. Julie on September 17, 2013 at 7:42 pm

    What weight kettlebell do you recommend? I was just thinking about ordering one the other day.

  41. Kimberly on September 17, 2013 at 7:53 pm

    I’ve been working up to trying the rower! This might just be the boost I needed. ๐Ÿ™‚ There’s no piece of equipment at the gym that I find particularly intimidating but when I go to the gym in the evenings there’s always a group of super buff dudes there for hours just camped out in front of the strength machines chatting. I feel so awkward using the strength machines in front of them.

  42. Josh Crosby on September 18, 2013 at 9:09 am

    Great article and glad you are loving the rower! It is the ulitmate training machine!

    For all of those intimidated by the rower, understand that once you understand the basics and keep it simple, you will fall in love. Our programs ShockWave and IndoRow has taught tens of thousands of folks just like you, how amazing the WaterRower (our rower) is. Our rowers use water as the resistance, making it easy to learn and you feel like you out in a boat racing for the “gold!”
    Let us know if you have any questions.

  43. Daniella on September 18, 2013 at 7:31 pm

    Oh man, I just used the rower for the first time this weekend! I just had a newborn (7 weeks old today – wha?) and got back into the gym for the first time over the weekend. I did a workout on the spin bike and then thought what the heck…why not try the rower?! I’ve always seen them used on the Biggest Loser but I was intimidated to try it, I always worry that I’ll look dumb trying a new piece of workout equipment <– weirdo. Thanks for posting about the process of a correct row, the whole time I was wondering if I should be leading with my legs or my arms.

  44. Sarah @ UCanRow2 on September 30, 2013 at 11:59 am

    So glad you liked the rower, thanks for posting about it! We’re finding that people get great results from boot camp or HIIT style workouts where you’re on and off the rower (and/or the Concept2 SkiErg). Here’s one of our favorites that you can do even if your rowing machine is at home:

    Warm up well, then row (or ski or do a mix) 1-3 rounds of:

    Row 250 meters
    25 push-ups

    Row 500
    50 squats

    Row 750
    75 jump rope

    Row 1000m
    100 sit ups

    Think posture and power on this one, power on the legs, solid through the core. Vary the off-erg moves by changing the type or intensity (for example substitute military or spider push-ups for standard ones), and by adding speed or weight. Stay within your fitness and ability level!

  45. Chris on April 21, 2014 at 12:31 am

    I love using the rower. We have 2 at my gym and they are never in use. Everyone is on treadmills etc. I never go near those anymore. I have joint issues and the rower is good for that. It’s a great all over workout . I try and do it every other session when I’m not doing weights. I row interval for 20 mins and cool down for 10. I used to row in my teens and have only just rediscovered how great it is.

  46. Lee on October 8, 2016 at 3:25 pm

    I love the rower! I’m hoping to get one for my home gym. The callouses are a bummer. I wear weight lifting gloves to keep them at bay. It doesn’t totally prevent them, but keeps them from getting really bad.

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