How Many Calories Does Rowing Burn?

Rowing is a popular exercise for weight loss and is designed to emulate the motion of rowing a boat.

If you’re a regular gym-goer, you will likely have seen and might have even dabbled in using a rowing machine, the most common of which is the flywheel rower. However, if you’re new to rowing or are interested in starting you might be curious to know: How many calories does rowing burn?

In this article, I cover some key information about rowing, from the benefits of rowing to how many calories rowing burns. 

Without further ado, let’s get started.

Group of sporty muscular people are working out in gym. Cross fit training. Paddling training apparatus. Top view of four sportsmen are rowing together.

Rowing is a natural motion and you should be able to pick it up pretty quickly once you know how. That being said, it’s important that you spend time focusing on your form and technique. If you’ve never rowed before, you might be wondering how the rowing stroke works.

The rowing stroke is divided into four parts: Catch, Drive, Finish, and Recovery. These parts all flow together in a smooth, continuous, powerful movement to create the rowing stroke.

The Catch

The catch is the part of the stroke where the oar would be hitting the water. To mimic this, your arms should be straight, your head should be neutral, and your shoulders need to be level and not hunched.

You’ll be down at the front of the machine with your knees bent and your upper body is leaning forward from the hips with the shoulders in front of the hips.

The Drive

The drive is the part of the stroke where the power is generated. Start the drive by pressing against the footplates until your legs are straight, lean back, and begin pulling the handle toward you.

Your hands should move in a straight line to and from the flywheel and your shoulders should remain low and relaxed.

The Finish

In the finish position, your legs are straight, the handle is pulled into your chest, and your torso is leaned back slightly, using good support from the core muscles.

The legs are extended and the handle is held lightly below your ribs. Shoulders should be low with wrists and grip relaxed. 

The Recovery

In the recovery phase, you’ll move your hands away from your body and slide down the machine’s rail back to the catch position you started in.

Extend your arms until they straighten before leaning from the hips towards the flywheel.

Once your hands have cleared your knees, allow your knees to bend and gradually slide the seat forward on the monorail.

For your next stroke, return to the catch position with shoulders relaxed and shins vertical.

If you’re a beginner at rowing, you’d probably benefit from someone watching you row to ensure you’ve got the right technique. Don't pull too hard until you are comfortable with the technique fundamentals.

Muscles targeted

The major muscle groups it targets include:

  • Upper back.
  • Arms.
  • Pecs.
  • Abdominal muscles.
  • Obliques.

Benefits of rowing 

Rowing is a full body workout

The first, and most obvious benefit of rowing is that it’s nearly a full body workout! Rowing works the majority of the major muscle groups - including your lats, upper back, quads (quadriceps), hamstrings, core, biceps, and forearms.

It is thought that 60% of your power should come from pushing with the legs, 20% from bracing the core, and 20% from pulling with the arms, making rowing a great exercise to get the whole body moving!

That being said, it’s a great exercise to tone up your whole body whilst simultaneously getting stronger overall with very little stress or pressure on your muscles and joints.

Rowing is low impact 

Rowing is great for losing weight as it burns a significant number of calories without putting added stress on your joints. When it’s done properly, rowing uses a fluid motion with very little to no chance of being injured, unlike high-impact exercises such as running.

As a result, rowing with proper form and technique allows you to control the movement and pace and is a great exercise to turn to for active recovery. Additionally, it is a great exercise for anyone who suffers from osteoarthritis or arthritis or for people who are struggling with other aches and pains.

This primarily comes down to the fact that a rowing machine will help you strengthen your joints and increase mobility without causing more damage provided that you have taken enough time to perfect your form.

Rowing can reduce stress 

Many people exercise as a relief from a stressful day, and the same concept applies to rowing. Rowing can help to reduce stress by producing endorphins, the feel-good chemicals in your brain.

Not only do these endorphins act as a natural painkiller, but they also help you sleep better and make you feel better overall.

If you’ve had a particularly stressful day, a 30-minute session of moderate rowing is bound to make you feel calmer and like you’ve achieved something rewarding outside of the workplace!

Rowing is a feel-good, meditative exercise

While you might find the most calming benefits by rowing outside on the water, rowing requires a rhythmic movement that is relaxing for many people.

This comes from the smooth, gliding motion you can create on the ergometer and the repetitive movements that allow the mind to go on autopilot. That being said, rowing is great to switch off when you’ve had a long, stressful day at work and allows you to just be in the moment.

If you pop your headphones on and your favorite playlist, you are more than likely to find yourself in “the zone” and your workout will be over before you know it!

It promotes good heart and lung health

As a cardio exercise, rowing strengthens the cardiovascular system, which includes the heart, blood vessels, and blood. 

Due to the fact that rowing has been known to enhance your lung’s ability to provide oxygen to the blood, heart, and the rest of your body, it is often associated with promoting good heart and lung health.  

As a result, if you’re looking for a way to keep fit without putting a lot of strain on your body or joints, then rowing might be the answer for you.

Rowing can boost weight loss

Rowing can help you to lose weight in conjunction with a calorie deficit. The easiest way to lose weight is to burn more calories than you take in, either by dieting or expending more calories through regular exercise.

As rowing is a great way to exercise without placing stress on your joints, it can help boost weight loss without the same strain that other types of cardio place on your body. Incorporating rowing into your workout routine regularly is a great way to contribute to this deficit and will allow you to keep fit and lose weight gradually.

Eating more protein and vegetables is a good method to keep you fuller for longer, alongside regularly exercising to ensure that you are always in a calorie deficit.

How many calories does rowing burn?

Believe it or not, rowing is an excellent way to burn calories whilst still being a low-impact exercise. However, the calories you burn through rowing will differ based on a variety of factors, including the machine you’re using, exercise intensity, and body size.

Typically speaking, a 125-pound individual can burn 255 calories in 30 minutes of a vigorous rowing workout. A 155-pound person can burn 316 calories, while a 185-pound person can burn 377 calories.

Competitive rowers have been known to use up almost twice as many calories over 2,000 meters as runners burn up during a 3,000-meter steeplechase. 

That being said, you will need to keep in mind that the number of calories you burn is also affected by your age, basal metabolic rate, and health status. Additionally, the intensity of your workout will also change the number of calories that you burn.

A guide on how to row

  1. To begin, you need to sit down on the pad and secure your feet with the straps.
  2. Next, turn on the electronic tracker on the rowing machine. Some models turn on automatically when you begin rowing.
  3. Grasp the oar with your thumbs wrapped around it loosely.
  4. Start in the “catch” position with your arms straight, leaning forward at the hips with your shoulders in front of your hips and your shins nearly vertical.
  5. Next, move to the “drive” position by pushing with your legs and swinging your body back in a vertical position.
  6. Now, transition into the “finish” position with an arm pull. Your hands should move in a straight line from the flywheel with your shoulders relaxed.
  7. Enter the “recovery” position by returning to the start position. Let your arms move forward, then tilt your torso forward, and finally bend your legs.
  8. Repeat for the desired duration of your workout.

Common rowing mistakes 

Failure to engage abdominal muscles - A mistake people often make is not engaging their abs during each stroke. As a result of this, the lower spine is forced to overcompensate for weak abdominal muscles. Before you push back with your legs, make sure your core is engaged. 

Bad posture - A common mistake made when rowing is bad posture, such as rounded shoulders. Rounding through the back and slumping forward places stress on the back and shoulders and can lead to you straining or injuring yourself if you’re not careful.

Rowing with only your arms - A common misconception about rowing is that you need to pull on the handle with all your might, but this is wrong! Putting too much pressure on your arms, shoulders, and back can cause serious injury to your body. The majority of the power needs to come from you pushing with your legs, saving your arms from a lot of strain.

Bending the knees first during recovery - A common mistake is bending the knees first during recovery. Bending the knees first changes the timing of the move and the effectiveness of the exercise.

Following the proper order of the recovery movement (arms, hips, torso, and then knees) allows you to get into a solid rhythm and get the most out of the stroke.

Catching your heels with your seat - If your pace is too quick, your seat will slam into the front of the rower and your body will begin to jerk forward uncontrollably. To regain control, pay attention to timing of your strokes. 

Tips on form and technique 

Don’t overexert yourself - To help make rowing a habit, be sure to stop exercising when you’re too tired to maintain proper form. As soon as you feel your form begin to slide, you should stop to minimize the risk of injuring yourself.

Drive with your legs - Rowing is all about your legs. Despite your natural instincts, your legs are far stronger than your arms and should be doing the vast majority of the work. Your quads and glutes should feel like they’re burning after a hard rowing workout.

Don’t pull with your arms - Remember to keep your elbows straight as you drive your legs. It’s about your legs, not your arms. As soon as your arms bend, you’ve lost the ability to translate power from your legs.

Don’t grip too hard - Keep enough grip to not lose the handle, but also not so much that you wear out your hands. Failure to do so will result in achy forearms and you tearing up your palms!

Don’t pull your shoulders up - You need to remember to keep your shoulders down as you drive back in the stroke. You don’t want them up by your ears as this is bad form, so imagine you are pulling your shoulder blades together behind you.

Don’t re-bend your knees too soon - As you start to return forward in your stroke, your knees need to remain straight until the handle is above your mid-shin. Hinge at the hips, sit up tall, and wait until the bar has passed your knees to re-bend them.