7 Rowing Machine Workouts for Beginners


gym bunnies rowing in a group

Getting on an indoor rower for consistent workouts is one of the smartest fitness decisions you can make. For most people who are used to just jumping on a treadmill or elliptical trainer, this can be an intimidating experience, as few of us are taught how to properly row.

However, knowing the best rowing machine workout routines before your first rowing session can make the experience more enjoyable and rewarding.

After all, no one wants to look like a fool in a public gym full of fitness buffs, which is also why we've gathered a short list of best affordable rowing machines to use at home.

Rowing Machine Exercises for Beginners

These are the most important tips every beginner needs to know before jumping on an indoor rower for the first time. This will put you on the right path towards getting what this powerful workout has to offer.

The Basics

Rowing is not rocket science and as intimidating as the experience may be for a beginner, anyone can learn to do it successfully.

Once the basics are covered, reaching your most ambitious fitness goals will be within reach.

The Proper Technique

the Sunny Health & Fitness ASUNA 4500 Magnetic Rowing Machine in full glory

What is the best rowing technique? Before your first rowing session, taking the time to learn the best rowing techniques is critical. Without the proper form, instead of getting the desired full-body workout, your rowing session will turn into a week-long back ache.

Many of us prefer videos to reading these days so it's refreshing to know that popular brands such as Concept 2 have several videos of the best techniques that can be adopted to gain maximum benefits from your rowing sessions.

Remember, the right rowing techniques enhance your ability to work out quicker and more efficiently over time.

Injuries can be eliminated while also preventing harmful techniques that can be difficult to stop once learned.

Track Your Rowing Progress

image showing the dashboard of the Model D Rower

Tracking your progress should be a part of your workout regimen no matter which machine you use. Be sure to record all your workout statistics for each sessions and compare to your prior workouts to find your progress.

For starting out, the main statistics to track for your rowing workout will be the day of your workout, distance rowed, time and resistance level or total watts. It's important to note that recording only the time and distance will dis-incentivize you to increase the resistance, which will likely limit your calories burned during workout and your progress, so it's important to track the resistance level as well.

Once you find yourself hitting a plateau in your rowing workouts, you can also start recording information like time of day exercised, how much sleep you got the night before, and what you ate in the 3 hours up to your workout.

The following are a few good resources for tracking your rowing workouts:

  1. Pen and paper - though it seems like a dated method, several gym-goers find this to be the most effective way in following through in tracking workouts.
  2. Smartphone app - search google or the app store on your phone and you will find tens (dare I say hundreds??) of applications that allow you to track your workout metrics. Several of these require a subscription, but there are some that are free. My favorite is JEFIT, which has a free version that works great for this. They also have a premium program that gives you access to professionally-planned workout programs,
  3. Online website - if you spend more time on your computer than your phone, then you may be more likely to track your progress in your internet browser. One good resource is Concept 2, which offers an Online Logbook and tons of public challenges throughout the year to help users push their body to the limit. Another good resource that allows you to track your progress online is Bodybuilding.com
  4. Smartwatch - this may be the most convenient option if you already have a fitness smartwatch. Not only are you not asked to pull out your phone or notebook in the middle of your workout, but the right device will actually record your workout for you, saving you the hassle of writing down your distance, calories and time. Here is a great article on the best smartwatches to track your workout right now.

Partner Up

partner up during rowing

If you are constantly training alone with no accountability to another party, it can be easy to give up. This is especially true when trying new routines that can be hard on the body in the beginning.

Fortunately, some third party apps allow users to find training partners all over the globe. You can then track each other’s progress even if you live tens of thousands of miles apart.

Start Slow

One of the biggest temptations for beginner rowers is to attempt to pound the machine with intensity right from Day One. However, your priority should be perfecting the right technique while ironing out how to keep your rowing pace steady.

7 Best Beginner Indoor Rower Workouts

There are hundreds of indoor rowing machine workouts available. However, it is important to focus on the right technique first before gradually building up to more advanced workout routines.

Workout 1 - Testing the Water

Your very first workout on a rowing machine should last up to 5 minutes. After that, take a break, stretch the body, and walk for a few minutes.

If there are no burning pains and you feel up to the task, try doing up to 3 more cycles of 5-minute sessions before calling it a day.

Be sure not to overdo it. If this is the most exercise you've had in a month or more, take it slow as it's likely your muscles, heart and lungs are not all on the same level of support.

Workout 2 - Getting Faster

This is the point where it is recommended for rowers to begin experimenting with power output and stroke rate. Look for the Stroke Rate and Power Output readings on your LCD monitor.

Depending on the type of indoor rower you own, power output may be measured in pace, watts, or calories. Here is the 26 minute workout plan in detail:

  1. Row comfortably for 3 minutes at 20 strokes per minute
  2. Rest for a minute
  3. Row harder for 3 minutes at 22 strokes per minute, trying to maintain the same resistance.
  4. Rest for a minute
  5. Row harder for 3 minutes at 24 strokes per minute, trying to maintain the same resistance.
  6. Rest for a minute
  7. Row comfortably for 3 minutes at 24 strokes per minute
  8. Rest for a minute
  9. Choose and take note of any preferred stroke rate and row for 10 minutes at a slightly reduced resistance level.

Note your preferred steady state row rate because it will be referenced in the next workout plan.

Workout 3 - The 5 Minute Builder

This 26 minute workout allows beginners to row for longer at varying stroke rates. Let’s see what it entails.

Repeat 4 cycles of 5-minute rowing sessions at different stroke rates. Make sure you start off from a stroke rate that is at least a few seconds ahead of the steady state rate employed in the Workout 2.

For instance, if the figure was 20 strokes per minute, then follow this routine for each 5-minute cycle.

  1. 22 strokes per minute for the initial 2 minutes
  2. 24 strokes per minute for the next 2 minutes
  3. 26 strokes per minute for the final minute
  4. Get some rest by rowing easily for 2 minutes before repeating your next 5 minute session

Workout 4 - Finding Your Groove

Once you have mastered the ability to row at different strokes per minute over time, the next step is to introduce rowing at a steady pace for a longer period of time.

  1. Row continuously at a pace that falls between the 2nd and 3rd workouts for 10 minutes straight
  2. Rest for 3 minutes by rowing at a slow pace
  3. Row for another 10 minutes, trying to maintain the pace from step 1
  4. Try to stick to a stroke rate between 20 and 24

Workout 5 - Testing Yourself

The next step in improving your rowing performance is to learn the fastest rate at which you can row.

  1. Row at your hardest intensity for 1 minute straight
  2. Row easy for a minute to get some rest
  3. Repeat the cycle for the next 20 minutes
  4. Make sure you keep your eyes firmly on the performance monitor and try to aim for a rate between 20-24 strokes per minute
  5. After each workout session, make sure your pace is recorded

Workout 6 - The Advanced Beginner

When you are short on time, high intensity interval rowing routines can be a powerful way to burn calories and build your muscles. This workout is for users who have perfected the first routines indicated above and hopefully improved their technique.

  1. Row for 2 minutes at a pace of 26 -32 strokes per minute
  2. Row easy for another 2 minutes to get some rest
  3. Repeat the cycle 4 or 5 more times
  4. Once you are done, get up from the rower and stretch for at least 2 minutes

Workout 7 - Taking it to the Next Level

Method 7 involves combining the previous 2 workout routines and can be a powerful way to transform beginners to intermediates.

  1. Row hard at 20-22 strokes per minute for 60 seconds
  2. Take a 60-second rest by rowing easy
  3. Crank things up by rowing hard again at a faster rate of 26-32 strokes per minute for 2 minutes
  4. Row easy while resting for another 2 minutes
  5. Repeat the cycle 5-6 times


Following the workout steps outlined above can do wonders for your body no matter which individual goals you may have.

As long as you have a powerful indoor rower at home, you should see significant results within a few weeks.