A rowing machine is easily one of the best options to burn calories in a joint-friendly way. But how can you optimise your rowing workout and boost your calorie burn?

Making a workout plan, sticking to it and maintaining the correct form help maximise the calories you burn on an indoor rower. You can also do rowing variations and add other exercises to your fitness routine for optimum results.

Keep reading to learn how to apply all these and enhance your next rowing session.

How to Effectively Burn Calories on a Rowing Machine

While rowing exercises may seem straightforward, there are ways to do them correctly and boost their calorie-burning effects.

Here’s a checklist to start your weight loss journey right.

1. Draw your rowing workout plan.

It is no good to row inconsistently or use your rower for hours.

Instead, make a workout plan based on your body weight, exercise intensity and duration.

These factors can objectively guide your fitness journey to achieve your desired results. Using a calorie counter can make planning easier.

For beginners, 30 minutes of moderate rowing five days a week is a good start. Regularly doing this should give you noticeable results in 3 to 4 weeks.

But then, bodies react to exercise differently. Some can burn calories more than others due to several factors.

So, apply a personalised approach when creating and implementing your rowing workout plan.

Use tracking devices or the built-in tracker of your indoor rower to check your progress.

The figures you get are signals when to level up your plan, either by increasing the resistance, extending your workout time, or doing other exercises.

Rowing Workout Plan and Monitoring

2. Know and apply the proper rowing form.

Using the rowing machine with the proper form helps you burn calories and lose weight.

It’s also crucial in protecting your airways and avoiding injuries, too.

And there are four phases you need to master to achieve this:

  • Phase 1: Catch. Sit on the rower, position your feet, and grab the handle. Keep your knees bent, arms straight and upper body leaning forward at the hips. The catch serves as your starting position.
  • Phase 2: Drive. Now, pull backward by pushing your legs, then pull your arms. Do these in sequential order instead of pushing and pulling simultaneously. This way, you’ll make the flywheel spin faster, which should be your goal in every row.
  • Phase 3: Finish. Keep your legs straight, your torso leaning backward, and your elbows bent. The handle should be near your midsection. Relax your shoulders.
  • Phase 4: Recovery. Finally, return to starting position. Start by straightening your arms, then tilt your torso forward at the hips. Next, bend your knees as you move your body forward. Make sure they are not bowing outward. Now, repeat!

It will take some time to master the proper rowing technique and burn calories efficiently. But eventually, it will become second nature.

Practice a lot, then move on to more advanced rowing exercises when ready.

Check out this more detailed step-by-step guide on how to start rowing better.

3. Sit taller.

This technique is part of learning the proper form. But I want to emphasise it, especially if you need to shape and tone your core muscles.

When you push and pull, keep your back straight and your gaze in front, not downward.

It will help you maintain proper alignment and target your abdominal muscles correctly each time.

This position also keeps your airways open, letting you breathe properly and get through an extended rowing machine workout without issues.

Proper Rowing Machine Form to Burn Calories

4. Make your legs work more.

While rowing is a full-body workout, your legs do most of the work. Aim to produce up to 50% of power from your legs.

Your core and back should contribute about 30%, while the remaining 20% should come from your arms.

The reason? Your legs and glutes contain more body muscles than other parts.

Exercising them means you target more muscles and burn calories with minimal rowing machine strokes.

Putting so much effort into your arms will not produce the best results, and you will tire yourself out sooner.

Your legs, on the other hand, have the endurance for extended rower training.

5. Apply rowing exercise variations.

Imagine doing the same task over and over again. Soon you can accomplish it without exerting much effort.

You might even feel bored while doing it. Our body reacts to monotonous workouts in the same way.

And unfortunately, we do not burn calories as much once our bodies get used to a rowing machine routine, resulting in a fitness plateau.

So, when you’re ready, make your rowing exercises more exciting and challenging.

Here are some suggestions on how to level up your exercise routine.

Endurance training

This variation can be your starting point when transitioning from beginner to advanced rowing.

Here, you’ll work out at a low resistance training level and steady, moderate pace for long periods.

You can begin with 30-minute sessions, then progress to 1 hour. Later, you can mix this up with other rowing or cardio exercises.

Ladder workout

Another way to step up your indoor rowing routine is to increase your stroke rate in phases. Start with 20 strokes per minute.

Then, increase your speed by one rowing stroke every minute. Continue doing the one-stroke increment until your body hits its limit.

The advantage of this technique is you get to improve according to your fitness status instead of besting a set target.

Power stroke intervals

Power strokes are explosive strokes that push you backward. These require you to push and pull with all-out effort.

You can start with ten power strokes within 24 strokes per minute, followed by ten recovery strokes to make one set.

Next, double your power strokes at 26 strokes per minute. Finally, try 30 power strokes at 28 strokes per minute.

Adjust the number of strokes and duration based on your fitness level.

Rowing Machine Exercise Variations

6. Incorporate other exercises into your rowing workout plan.

Rowing machine exercises can burn calories and encourage weight loss.

But working out with an indoor rower alone means you might neglect other major muscle groups that also need attention.

Fitness experts agree that cardio and strength exercises lead to optimised workout results.

So, start burning more calories by alternating your workout routine with other activities, like a weightlifting session, treadmill workout or aerobic exercise.

Try mixing up low and vigorous forms of exercise into your rowing workout plan to infuse the benefits of high-intensity interval training (HIIT) with indoor rowers.

7. Complement your rowing sessions with a proper diet.

I know this is not exactly a method to maximise actual rowing.

However, your rowing sessions will be pointless if you do not eat right.

So, eat more fruits and vegetables while reducing carbohydrate and protein consumption.

Have a small serving of lean meat and grains in every meal. And remember, starving yourself is not the proper way of dieting.

This incorrect habit only disrupts your metabolism, making you consume fewer calories and gain more weight.


Without a doubt, rowing machine sessions are practical if your fitness goal is to burn calories and lose weight.

However, you can only get this health benefit when you use the equipment properly.

Observe the correct posture and use your leg and arm muscles more as you row back and forth.

Also, monitor your progress regularly to make the necessary exercise duration and intensity adjustments.

And of course, don’t forget to apply good eating habits.

A high-quality cardio machine is also one of the keys to good calorie-burning workouts.

So, check out my reviews of the top indoor rowers in Australia, and start rowing to a healthier you!

Rowing Machine Session

1. Which is better for weight loss: a rowing machine or a treadmill?

Both exercise machines help you burn extra calories and lose weight. But their distinct features make them more suitable for your goals. For instance, the treadmill is an excellent cardio equipment for burning calories. Eventually, your weight loss progress will slow down, shifting your focus to muscle development and toning. And a rower will be more effective for you at this phase.

2. Can you reduce belly fat on an indoor rowing machine?

An indoor rower lets you burn calories and tone your muscles. In turn, you also reduce your body fat percentage and belly size. However, burning belly fat will be more successful when paired with efficient rowing, a healthy diet and better lifestyle habits.