Rowing Machines: The Complete Beginner’s Guide

Woman on Rowing Machine

Treadmills, ellipticals, exercise bikes. There are endless exercise machines that promise to make it possible to reach your dream body in the comfort of your own home. Rowing machines are often disregarded, but they probably represent the most effective training possibility out there.

Rowing machines are especially suitable for beginners and have numerous advantages over other options. In today’s article I would like to discuss why rowing machines are so effective and what beginners should consider when starting to row. Have fun! 😉

Is a Rowing Machine Good for Beginners?

Are rowing machines really that effective? And how suitable is a rowing workout for beginners?

I’m sure many questions are weighing on your mind, but let’s start from the beginning. 😉

With a rowing machine you can mimic the movements in a real rowing boat in your own four walls. You can probably guess how effective this kind of exercise is if you’ve ever taken a look at the athletic bodies of Olympic rowing athletes, but also when you try it out for yourself you will see quick results.

Rowing machines provide a real full-body workout, in contrast to other popular activities such as running or cycling, which mainly work out the lower body. And in the case of rowing, I am literally talking about a FULL-BODY workout.

You can target up to 80% of your muscles at the same time with a rowing machine. That’s impressive! To give you a better understanding of this digit, I’ve created a “small” list of the main muscles that are trained:

  • Large Back Muscle (Latissimus)
  • Back Extensor
  • Trapezius Muscle/Neck
  • Rear Delts
  • Front Thighs
  • Hamstrings
  • Glute Muscles
  • Calves
  • Ab Muscles
  • Biceps
  • Forearm Muscles

If that is not an impressive list, then I don’t know what is. 😉

Training on a Rowing Machine

And I haven’t even mentioned the best part yet. What goes along with training such an enormous number of muscles is the fact that our body has to provide immense amounts of energy.

And at this point, just ask yourself: How can our body provide such energy?

You may have already guessed it… It must and will draw on our stored fat reserves! And this, I guess, is music to the ears of nearly all of us! 😉

In fact, rowing machines are perfectly suited for burning fat and losing weight. On average, you will burn between 700 and 1000 calories per hour when working out on a rowing machine.

In addition, it is particularly useful for beginners that rowing machines are very easy on the joints. Neither the joints nor the tendons are worn out and the whole workout is low impact.

In general, it is almost impossible to injure oneself, so rowing machines are the perfect choice for beginners or for strengthening the muscles after an injury.

Which Rowing Machines are the Best for Beginners?

Rowing Machine in the Gym

As rowing machines are becoming increasingly popular, more and more models are entering the market. How can you choose the one that’s perfect for you? There are a few crucial points that differ among rowing machines. I’m sure that all of these options have their pros and cons, but which rowing machines are best suited for beginners?

An important distinguishing feature of rowing machines is the resistance system, i.e. the way in which the rowing resistance is generated. The three best known solutions are rowing machines with water resistance, air resistance and magnetic brakes.

With the first two, the resistance adapts to your own pulling force. The more powerfully you row, the more air or water resistance is built up, and the more intensive the training becomes.

This simulates real rowing on water most realistically and provides a very natural rowing experience!

A magnetic rowing machine, on the other hand, uses a magnet to slow down our rowing motion and thus provides resistance. In contrast to the water and air resistance, the resistance of rowing machines with magnetic brakes does not adapt to how fast and powerful we row.

It can be set manually prior to the workout and remains constant. Depending on the distance of the magnet to the flywheel mass, the resistance can be set higher or lower.

All three types of rowing machines are very suitable for beginners. In the end, you have to decide for yourself what is important to you.

If you are looking for an authentic rowing feeling with a self-adjusting intensity, then water or air rowing machines are a good choice.

Waterrower Rowing Machine

The Waterrower and the Concept2 Indoor Rower are perfect examples in these two categories. In general, these two are among the most popular rowing machines that you can currently buy. This is a huge advantage, especially for beginners, because both machines have a huge community because of their popularity.

You can therefore easily get in contact with other people interested in sports and get training tips. In addition, I think it is always very motivating to have other beginners at your side and to work on your goals with other people supporting you.

I’d suggest that you just take a look at both rowing machines for yourself. You will find the Waterrower here and the Concept2 here.

Building Muscle with a Rowing Machine

But rowing machines with magnetic brake mechanisms also have several advantages. Apart from the rowing feeling, these models provide an equally effective workout for building muscle and burning fat.

In addition, the magnetic systems are usually much cheaper to buy, very low-maintenance and also very quiet.

The most popular machine among the magnetic rowers is the Xterra ERG200 Rowing Machine, which you can take a look at here.

For those of you who are undecided and want to combine the advantages of the different braking systems, a 2-in-1 rowing machine could be perfect. These models combine the benefits of different types of resistances. In the case of the SereneLife Rowing Machine, air resistance as well as magnetic brakes are used. Have a look for yourself. Find the machine here.

All the pros and cons of the different systems, as well as many other useful information can be found in my rowing machines category.

Tips for Beginners on a Rowing Machine

The Correct Rowing Technique for Beginners

For beginners especially it is very important to learn the proper rowing technique! Only with the right technique can you maximize the training effect and minimize the risk of injury.

Since the rowing technique can be learned much better with pictures than just with written words, I’ll drop a video for you here that explains the technique very well. So, invest just a few minutes of your time and become an expert from the start. 😉

How Often and How Long Should a Beginner Use a Rowing Machine?

Exercising on a rowing machine is a lot of fun, especially at the beginning! However, you should always allow your body to recover because otherwise the desired training effect will not be achieved and you might even harm your body more than you strengthen it.

For this reason, I recommend that you work out three times a week at the beginning and always take at least one day off between the rowing workouts.

Start off with 20–30 minute sessions and get used to the rowing motion first before slowly increasing the intensity afterwards.

Ultimately, I advise beginners to always listen to their own body. Nobody knows your body as well as you do and you can take advantage of that! Take the signs, like sore muscles or fatigue seriously and take breaks accordingly. In general, start slowly and get your body used to the new training stimuli.

Just start with a 20-minute rowing session at about 60% of your maximum heart rate, i.e. at medium intensity. You can then increase the duration by five minutes per week until you reach about 40 minutes.

In my opinion, 40 minutes of rowing is definitely enough to achieve all your desired health and fitness goals. So, if you’ve reached the 40 minutes, simply increase the intensity by increasing the resistance.

Setting Up a Rowing Machine for Beginners

Rowing Machine Exercising

In order to set the basic resistance of the rower, rowing machines with air resistance often have an air damping system that works like the gear shift of a bicycle. The damper controls how much air is entering the flywheel.

For the Concept2 Indoor Rower, you can choose between 10 different levels. The higher the level, the higher the air supply. An increased air supply results in a greater resistance.

A low air damping setting (1–4) is comparable to a low gear when cycling. Sometimes, a low setting is also compared to rowing in a narrow racing boat, while a higher setting simulates the feeling of being in a heavier boat.

The same is true for the Waterrower. The more water you put in the tank, the greater the basic resistance. A lot of water simulates a heavy boat, while small amounts of water mimic the feeling of lighter rowing boats.

However, this should not be confused with the general intensity of the workout. The setting of the air damper makes the resistance feel different, but has no influence on the actual resistance, which is only determined by the power and speed of your rowing strokes.

Nevertheless, I would advise beginners to keep this basic resistance level low in order to concentrate more on the correct rowing technique and to get used to the rowing movement.

If you feel comfortable with a certain resistance, you can gradually increase it.

For rowing machines with magnetic brakes, you can change the actual resistance as already explained. Again, I advise you to start with a low intensity before slowly increasing it.

The Bottom Line: Rowing Machines for Beginners

A rowing machine is the ideal exercise equipment and is particularly beneficial for beginners! You can work out up to 80% of your muscles and burn tons of calories at the same time without worrying about your joints.

If you learn the right rowing technique and slowly increase the training intensity, you will be able to achieve your training goals quickly.

I hope I helped you with this article and that I answered all your questions. If you have any further questions or suggestions about rowing machines for beginners, feel free to write me an email or just leave a comment below.

Otherwise I wish you a lot of fun for the beginning of your rowing journey. 😉

Benny Laker

I am the owner of High Tech Fitness. I love testing any kind of exercise equipment and enjoy sharing my insights with you.

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