Rowing on a rowing machine

Peloton’s Ultimate Guide to Rowing Machine Workouts

Rowing targets all of your major muscle groups while giving you a great cardio workout.

By Team PelotonAugust 30, 2023


Are you ready to boost your cardio, build power and endurance, and engage every major muscle group in your body? Get ready to row! 

Rowing provides a full-body workout that targets all your major muscle groups—not only your arms and legs, but your back and core muscles as well. As a low-impact, high-intensity cardio exercise, a rowing machine workout is the perfect way to get your heart pumping and your muscles flexing as you simulate the consistent, propelling motion of rowing on water. 

Best of all, a rowing machine workout is ideal for all fitness levels, offering multiple and varied benefits that include improving your cardiovascular health. What’s more, it’s a relatively easy exercise routine that—with the proper form and the right guidance and training—can help you achieve your ultimate fitness goals.

Why Rowing?

There are so many workout options available today that it’s often hard to determine the one best suited to your individual fitness goals. Maybe you’re looking to increase your overall strength and endurance, for example. Or perhaps you’re more focused on improving specific areas of your body, such as sculpting your arms and legs or improving your back strength to alleviate low back pain. Or maybe you just want to become stronger overall.

No matter your goals, a rowing machine can help, as it’s one of the best ways to effectively target your entire body. In fact, with proper form, rowing engages 70 percent of your body’s muscles with each stroke. In addition, the repetitive effort of rowing works the most important muscle in your body—your heart—as well as your entire cardiovascular system.

One reason indoor rowing has become so popular is that, unlike high-impact cardio activities, it doesn’t put a strain on joints, which can lead to premature wear and tear. A rowing machine workout is a low-impact, high-intensity path to total-body fitness. 

What Are the Benefits of a Rowing Machine Workout? 

“Rowing is hard to beat when it comes to getting the most out of each workout,” says Peloton Row instructor Matt Wilpers.

There are huge benefits to rowing. A rowing machine workout burns an abundant number of calories without stressing your joints. And, because it’s not a weight-bearing exercise, rowing doesn’t overwhelm your knees and ankles. Instead, you control your pace and movement, which is particularly helpful if you’re a beginner or recovering from an injury.

A rowing machine also offers a welcome variety of workouts—interval training, endurance training, strength training—to help you shake things up. Because you can get so much done in a short, intense rowing workout, you’ll be able to achieve your goals quickly. Instead of running for hours, for example, you can work your whole body, targeting all major muscle groups, and get a good sweat on in as little as 10 minutes.

“Rowing engages multiple muscle groups throughout your body, such as your legs, glutes, core, back, shoulders, and arms,” says Peloton Row instructor Alex Karkowski. “It uses both pushing and pulling movements that can improve endurance, muscle tone, and strength in various areas simultaneously.”

More of an impact in less time? Yes, please. 

Rowing promotes efficient oxygen consumption and circulation, which can, of course, improve your cardiovascular fitness. It even improves your posture and core strength because it requires you to maintain a strong, upright posture while rowing. Then there’s the rhythmic nature of the rowing movement itself. Between that and your focused effort, rowing can be downright meditative and provide a sense of mental refresh.

To top it all off, a rowing machine is intuitive and easy to use. All you need to do to get a good workout is use the proper form and the right amount of resistance based on your fitness goals.

What to Expect During a Rowing Class

Rowing is not as hard as you may think. Once you’ve got the moves down, it’s a matter of focusing on how you’re moving your body with each stroke. Plus, did we mention that rowing is fun? Because, yes, it’s that, too—especially when you join a Peloton Row class.

“I think a lot of people see rowing as serious and intense,” says Peloton Row instructor Ash Pryor. “I’m excited to bring the party to rowing! We’re gonna have an amazing workout and have fun.”

When you’re planning out your weekly exercise schedule, you can consider Peloton Row classes a combination of strength training and cardio, allowing you to attain full-body wellness with every workout. It’s essentially one-stop-shopping where your fitness is concerned. 

You can choose the type of rowing class that suits your level of fitness—or even your mood on a particular day. There are classes for beginning, intermediate, and advanced rowers. There are scenic rows, classes built around various themes, rowing bootcamp, classes centered on rowing form and drills, along with high-intensity interval training (HIIT).

And whether you are a beginner or a more experienced rower, Peloton Row is equipped with features that allow you to learn and maintain proper form. It’s like having your own cheering squad at hand, ready to row whenever you are.

Beginner-Friendly Rowing Workouts

As with any new workout, it’s best to incorporate a rowing workout into your overall fitness routine slowly and simply, then gradually build your way up to longer and more intense routines.

For example, if you’re new to rowing, Peloton offers a selection of beginner-friendly, 5- to 10-minute “Wake Up” classes to help you kick off your workout. There’s actually an entire catalog of beginner-friendly classes to help familiarize yourself with the basics of rowing. 

Once you feel ready to take your workout to the next level, you can join the advanced-beginner classes en route to more challenging sessions, such as:

  • You Can Row: This 30-minute program is designed to teach you the basics of rowing and to fine-tune your form.

  • Endurance: These 10- to 45-minute classes are designed around maintaining a steady state with low-intensity intervals to improve your aerobic stamina. 

“Form and drill classes are always a good idea,” Alex says. “Even a short form and drill class can help you quickly learn about the stroke and how to row. After that, I’d recommend a short intervals class to see how using different intensity levels (via your leg drive) can dramatically increase the effectiveness of your workout. I’m also a big fan of endurance rows because it’s the best opportunity to focus on your rhythm and stroke.”

How to Use Your Rowing Machine

Rowing machines may seem intimidating, but we promise they’re easier to use than you think. Although every rowing machine varies, the basics are the same: You’ll strap your feet in the front on the adjustable footplates, choose your resistance, and if your machine allows, you can set your workout goals, such as your pace target or the length of your rowing session. Read on to learn more about how to use a rowing machine.

Your Grip Is Key

While using your Peloton Row, it’s important to hold the handle properly to get the most out of your workout and avoid injuries.

To hold the handle properly, position your hands as wide as you can on the handle with your  pinkies at the very edges. Hold the handle loosely in your fingers. Your thumbs should wrap underneath the handles and your palms should not touch it. Keep your wrists horizontal throughout the stroke, forming a straight line with the handle strap. The handle should be free to rotate underneath your fingers as you row.

Woman on rowing machine

Rowing Exercise Form Tips

The act of rowing is simple enough. However, when you’re first beginning to row, it’s important to pay attention to proper rowing machine form to get the results you desire from your workout.

“Proper form and technique are crucial to ensure muscle groups—your legs, core, back, shoulders, arms, and glutes—are being engaged effectively,” Alex notes. 

“Your legs and core do most of the work during a rowing machine workout. Some say it’s 50 percent legs, 30 percent body, and 20 percent arms—but I disagree,” he adds. “I believe the primary workhorses during rowing are 80 percent legs, 15 percent body, and 5 percent arms.”

Alex goes on to say that the hip extension required to thrust backward from the catch is what generates your primary source of power during the drive. It also contributes to the engagement of your legs and core. 

4 Stages of Rowing

Rowing consists of four main stages

The “catch phase,” also known as the ready position, involves preparing to drive force through your feet while maintaining good posture and extended arms, mainly engaging your triceps, leg, and back muscles. Next, the “drive phase” involves extending your feet and lowering your knees, then fully extending your legs while leaning back slightly, engaging the muscles in your legs, shoulders, abdominals, and biceps. The “finish phase” completes the stroke, pulling the handle to your lower ribs, where your torso and bicep muscles work as your legs drive, your body hinges back, and your arms pull into position. Lastly, the “recovery phase” is the reverse of the drive, and should be slower compared to the quick drive phase, guiding you back to the catch position.

“There’s not one single way to row,” Alex explains. “The general motion is to use legs, then body, then arms—and then the reverse. However, I tell my students to find what works best for them within their ability and comfort level.”

“Everyone is different. Some may compress further while in the catch, while others use more of a body swing movement,” he adds. “Both are okay. As long as the general motion is right, and you’re not risking injury by using poor form, go for it!” 

Muscles, Joints, and Injuries

It’s incredibly important to learn proper rowing skills and techniques. Muscle and joint injuries can result from poor form or improper use of a rowing machine, including:

  • Poor technique, such as not sitting correctly or using an uncoordinated rowing motion.

  • A lack of fitness, such as having undefined or inflexible muscles, poor posture, or weak abdominal muscles.

  • Excessive training, which increases your risk of overuse injuries.

Common Rowing Machine Mistakes

Rowing is a very intuitive exercise. However, certain false moves can prevent you from taking full advantage of its many benefits. 

Typical rowing mistakes, according to Alex, include:

  • Not using your legs as the primary driver

  • Rushing the recovery, instead of gently rolling back to the catch

  • Placing your feet too high in the foot stretchers

  • Gripping the handle too tightly

  • Poor back posture

How to Level Up Your Rowing Workouts

Once you have the basics down, you may be wondering how to make your rowing workouts progressively more challenging—without overdoing it.

When you’re a beginner, you might row for 20 or 30 minutes at a pace of 16 to 20 strokes per minute. As you feel more comfortable and confident on the rowing machine, you can progress to interval workouts where you row in shorter, faster bursts. For example, try rowing for two to five minutes at a stroke rate of 20 to 28 strokes per minute, followed by a one minute break. Repeat this set three to five times to complete a 10- to 20-minute workout.

Other tips to help you level up your rowing workouts include:

  • Ease up on your grip of the rowing machine handle. Don’t lose the handle altogether, but don’t grip so tight that you wear out your hands or end up with aching forearms.

  • Drive with your legs, which are stronger than your arms and should be doing most of the work. 

  • Drive straight back, never pushing up.

  • Don’t pull your arms. Keep your elbows straight; don’t lift your elbows or tuck them in. Keep them relaxed and at a natural angle.

  • Don’t shrug your shoulders as you drive back in the stroke. Rather, imagine pulling your shoulder blades together behind you.

  • Pull the handle to the area at the bottom of your ribs.

  • Sit tall in the seat at all times, remaining relaxed with good posture. Don’t let your lower back or shoulders sink down. 

  • Feel a connection between the balls of your feet and the footplates through the drive.

  • Don’t slam the seat into your heels. As you move forward, stop when your shins are perpendicular to the ground. Your heels, at this point, should be slightly up off the footplates.

  • Focus on consistent, steady movement.

Building Rowing Machine Endurance

How often and how long you should use a rowing machine depends on your personal fitness level and health goals. If you’re using Peloton Row, your instructor-led classes range from 5 to 60 minutes, so there’s something for everyone. Just remember to save a few minutes before and after your workout for a warm-up and a cool-down. 

You can use your rowing machine several times per week, but make sure you respect your current fitness level and take things slowly if you have to. It’s more beneficial to build up to longer rows using proper form than to burn yourself out too quickly. Doing too much too soon leaves you susceptible to injury, plus it may dampen your enthusiasm for rowing. Over time, with steady practice, you’ll grasp the mechanics of rowing more quickly and feel its effects more fully.

One way to build your endurance is by incorporating a short row into your normal fitness routine. Another is to rotate rowing days into your current fitness schedule. For example, you could row on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays—leaving weight training, running, or yoga for the other days. 

Alex is a fan of endurance rows. “They may not be sexy,” he says, “but slowly working on rowing for 10, 15, or 20 minutes at a time will help you go faster during the shorter periods too, because your form will become second nature.”

Whatever you decide, make sure you schedule ample rest periods to allow your muscles to relax and recuperate, especially after a high-intensity row. Listen to your body and care for it as you strive to increase your endurance.

How Many Calories Does Rowing Burn?

Generally, the stronger and bigger you are, the more calories you will burn. The number of calories will depend on many factors, including your weight, as well as the duration and intensity of your rowing machine workout. 

How much you weigh will also impact the number of calories you burn. The range, for example, is between 210 and 294 calories burned during a moderate 30-minute rowing workout, according to Harvard Health. 

Rowing machine

Rowing Machine Workout Motivation

Motivation is one of the keys to any successful workout. But how do you stay psyched about rowing over the long term? Here are a few suggestions:

  • Establish short-term goals. Keep a training diary in which you give yourself scores each week and month on how well you did with your training. When you reach a consistently high score, you earn a reward.

  • Set mini-goals and fun targets. For example, calculate how many meters you need to row in a given week and try to beat the previous week’s score.

  • Find a training partner. If you and your workout buddy can’t train at the same time and place, call each other, or meet every week to discuss your training that week. You can even compete as a way to stay motivated and achieve your goals.

  • Make it a routine. “Set aside a part of your day as your rowing time,” Alex suggests. “I prefer mornings, but any time is great!"

Why Rowing Is a Great High-Intensity Workout

High-intensity, low-impact training (HILIT) is the perfect balance of cardio and strength training, as it mixes both power and grace. It challenges your muscles and your heart while avoiding unnecessary stress on your joints. It’s a smart choice for people of all fitness levels and abilities.

Rowing is a good example of HILIT, offering a full-body workout that targets multiple muscle groups, including your arms, shoulders, back, legs, and core. 

Specifically, Peloton Row is an excellent low-impact alternative to high-impact exercises like running, dance cardio, and high-intensity interval cardio. And, with adjustable resistance levels, you can create a rowing workout with an intensity that challenges you both physically and mentally, while protecting your joints and building strong, lean muscle. 

Peloton Row offers a versatile, effective, and safe high-intensity workout that provides:

  • Improved muscle strength and overall fitness

  • Enhanced cardiovascular health

  • Minimal joint stress

Accessories to Elevate Your Rowing Workout

Often, a rewarding rowing machine experience comes down to certain details, such as comfort, safety, and stability. To make a great rowing machine experience even better, you’ll need certain accessories. We recommend:

  • Heart rate monitor

  • Heart rate band

  • Rowing machine shoes

  • Rowing gloves

  • Chain oil

Cross-Training Benefits

As Peloton instructor Katie Wang has previously written, “Rowers know how to get the most out of every sweat. That’s because rowing truly is a full-body workout. It combines low impact, cardio, and strength, working 86 percent of your muscles, all at the same time.”

Even so, Katie continues, just as runners can run stronger and faster when they incorporate strength training into their workout regimen, the same is true for rowers. Strength training on days you’re not rowing will improve how you row. 

Here's why strength training is so important when you commit to a regular rowing machine workout:

  • Strength training improves your muscular endurance, allowing you to row longer and with more explosive power at the catch.

  • Strength training can help prevent injury.

  • The majority of rowing involves legwork. If you struggle with feeling a lower-body burn when you’re on your Peloton Row, you may be overcompensating with upper-body strength. Lower-body strength training, in addition to extra core work, can provide a noticeable shift when you get back on the rowing machine. 

“How awesome is it that rowing gives you a great lower-body and upper-body workout at the same time,” adds Katie. “It’s why rowing pairs so perfectly with strength training.” (Psst, you may want to try Katie’s favorite strength exercises for rowing.)

We’re Ready to Row When You Are

Peloton Row offers a low-impact, high-intensity workout with many health benefits. It can help strengthen your arms, legs, and core; improve your cardiovascular health; increase your endurance; torch calories; and help you achieve your fitness goals and enhance your general health and well-being. Learn more about Peloton Row and the many benefits of a Peloton membership, including curated workouts led by world-class trainers and a supportive community to work out with.


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