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A 20-Minute Rowing Workout for Beginners

two people on rowing machines and some on treadmills
Think you don't have time for the gym? This 20-minute rowing workout for beginners will prove you wrong!

by Catherine Santino


If you've ever tried the rowing machine (or even seen someone using it), you know that it's a great workout. The machine is fairly simple to use, and it's a perfect way to build up your endurance for higher intensity workouts!

Aside from being challenging, rowing is a great option if you're looking for low-impact cardio. It's easier on the joints and lower body, while still targeting multiple muscle groups like the arms, legs, back, and core. Sounds pretty ideal, right?

A Fun, Engaging 20-Minute Rowing Workout for Beginners

Rowing is a great exercise for new and seasoned gym-goers alike. We've compiled a quick rowing workout for beginners — organized down to the minute — that is sure to get your heart rate up! You can program the intervals into the machine's display, which will help you stay on track. Don't hesitate to ask a trainer for help if you're unsure how.

Ready to begin? Remember to perform a few warm-up exercises before you start. Not only will it help your body adjust, it can also help prevent injuries!


To start, warm up for five minutes to get your blood pumping. Make sure the resistance on the machine is set to the lowest option. The first movement of the exercise is called the "catch" and you should be seated at the front of the machine with your knees bent and your feet securely placed in the foot holds.

To complete a row or "drive," grip the handle and pull it toward your chest as you push through your feet to move your seat backward on the track. Try not to lock your knees. At the end of your extension, lean your body back (hinging at the hips) while keeping your core engaged and back straight. Finish by pulling your arms back until your hands are at your chest. Then, extend your arms and lean forward using your hips as the hinge. Instead of slouching forward, focus on keeping your back straight and your core engaged. Slowly bend your legs at the knee until your shins are almost perpendicular to the ground. Now you're back at the starting position! Continue rowing at a steady (but comfortable) pace.

If it helps, you can break the movement down into three phases: First, drive with your legs, then lean back with your body, and finish by pulling your arms back. Now, reverse: Extend your arms, lean forward with your body, and bend your knees.


Time to increase the resistance! If you're able to, adjust your speed up to 20 spm (strokes per minute). If this is too intense, reduce your strokes - the goal is moderate intensity. If you need a guage for what this means, try using the talk test, and aim for an intensity where you can talk, but wouldn't be able to sing.


Your muscles are probably starting to feel it now. If you're comfortable kicking things up a notch, increase your speed to 22 spm, or an increase from the moderate intensity you selected above. Be sure to continue keeping your back straight and maintain a slight bend in your knees, even when your legs are extended all the way out.


OK, you're halfway there! Time to give it everything you've got. Once again, if you're able, increase your speed. A good target to aim for is 24 spm, or where you can talk, but need to pause for a breath every few word.


Nice work. You're not quite done yet, but it's all downhill from here. Reduce your speed back to 22 spm during this interval. Try not to let your form slip just because you're slowing down; keep your focus on each movement.


Time to reduce the resistance on the machine again. You can decrease your speed to 20 spm, just remember to keep breathing through the exercise. You're almost there!


Take five minutes to cool down. Return to the pace you started at, gradually slowing while still being aware of your form.

If you feel this workout is too much for you to complete when you're just starting out, you can take a break halfway through, or shorten it to something you can manage. Use the time to stretch, walk around, and maybe do some standing lunges or squats. Or, just grab yourself some water.

When completing this rowing workout for beginners, it's important to go at a pace you're comfortable with. When you're finished, reward yourself with a green smoothie and make a plan to record yourself next time around to see how you can improve.

As always, please consult with a physician prior to beginning any exercise program. See full medical disclaimer here.