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21-Minute Rowing Machine Workout for Beginners

 Rowing Workout Plan for Beginners
Rowing Workout Plan for Beginners

If you've ever tried the rowing machine—or seen someone using it—you know it's a great workout. If you’ve never given the rowing machine a try, don’t be intimidated. Luckily, the machine is relatively simple to use and a perfect way to build cardio endurance!

Aside from being a fun challenge, rowing is an excellent option if you're looking for low-impact cardio. It's easier on the joints and lower body while targeting multiple muscle groups like the arms, legs, back, and core. 

Sounds pretty ideal, right? Let’s see what else rowing offers by unpacking its benefits, how to use the rowing machine (if you’re a newbie), and how to integrate rowing workouts into your regular fitness routine.

The Benefits of Rowing Exercises

Rowing is a low-impact, full-body workout that's simultaneously an amazing way to improve flexibility, range of motion, and joint health. The full-body stretch that occurs during each stroke on the rowing machine helps to lengthen muscles, strengthen the core, and improve range of motion in the shoulders, hips, and knees. Additionally, rowing positively impacts mental well-being as the repetitive motion can be quite meditative, reducing stress and anxiety.

Rowing exercise also helps:

  • Improve posture, balance, and coordination.
  • Increase bone density.
  • Reduce pain and stiffness.
  • Improve sleep quality.
  • Improve flexibility of the hamstrings, quads, hip flexors, and shoulders.
  • Strengthen the core muscles.

A versatile exercise that can be modified to accommodate people of all fitness levels, rowing works all major muscle groups in the body, adding up to a total body workout in a relatively short amount of time. 

How to Use the Rowing Machine 

If you've never approached the rowing machine before, don't panic. It may seem intimidating, but you can tackle a new machine at the gym. 

We know not everyone has innate gym machine knowledge—and that’s okay! We’re here to help.

Adjust the Settings

First, start by adjusting the foot straps to secure your feet comfortably. Make sure to set the resistance level on the rowing machine to your preference. Beginners should start with a lower resistance and increase as they become more comfortable.

Proper Seating

Wearing workout attire and proper footwear, sit on the rowing machine with your feet secured in the foot straps. Bend knees close to the chest and fully extend legs to ensure correct settings.

Starting Position

You're ready to begin. Now, hold the handle with an overhand grip with your knees close to the chest.  Keep the back straight, shoulders relaxed, and arms extended. Wrists should be flat. 

The next part is as easy as 1, 2, 3. 

Row, Return, Repeat!

1. Row

  • Push with your legs. Begin by pushing with your legs while keeping the back straight to slide the seat backward.
  • Lean back. Once legs are extended, lean back while pulling the handle toward your lower rib cage.
  • Bend your arms. Finally, bend the arms and pull the handle to your chest. Wrists should be close to the body.

2. Return

  • Reverse the motion by straightening the arms.
  • Hinge forward at the hips and bend the knees to slide your seat back to the starting position.

3. Repeat

  • And repeat! Continue the rowing motion smoothly and fluidly, according to your workout plan. 
  • Make sure to focus on proper form to prevent strain or injury.

Monitoring Progress with Rowing Machine Workouts

Rowing itself originated as a competitive sport. With that in mind, there are a few, fun ways to monitor your rowing progress that are slightly more exciting than hitting 10,000 steps (while still getting that appreciative buzz from your fitness tracker). 

Most rowers begin by tracking their 500m split time to monitor progress, perhaps try competing with friends to see who can log the week's fastest time. Working out with a friend can help to hold you accountable, and keep rowing workouts fun all the while! At Planet Fitness, you can bring a guest—for FREE—as a PF Black Card® member.

You might even adventure further, beyond the gym, by taking your skills to the water. Check with your local lakes to rent a kayak on the weekend!

Incorporating Rowing Workouts into a Fitness Routine

If you enjoy the benefits and effects of regular rowing workouts, try adding them into your cardio routine once or twice a week. The benefits we've outlined are numerous, and the repetitive motion and meditative mindset that rowing encourages are not to be underestimated. 

Ready to make rowing a regular part of your workout? Here's a 21-minute, quick-row workout to complement any strength session. 


We've compiled a quick rowing workout for beginners—organized down to the minute—that is sure to get your heart rate up! 

Program the intervals into the machine's display, which will help you stay on track. Don't hesitate to ask a Planet Fitness team member for help if you're unsure how.

Ready to begin? 

Always perform a few warm-up exercises before starting. Not only will it help your body adjust, but it can also help prevent injuries!


To start, warm up for six 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," 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, keep 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 can, 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 gauge 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 keep your back straight and maintain a slight bend in your knees, even when your legs are extended out.


OK, 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 may need to pause for a breath every few words.


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; 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 this workout pace is too much for you when starting out, optional modifications are taking a break halfway through, shortening the workout time, or simply slowing the speed. If you shorten your row time, stay active the entire 21 minutes, but use the time to stretch, walk around, and maybe do some standing lunges or squats. Or, just hydrate but stay focused on your physical health and well-being.

When completing this rowing workout for beginners, go at a pace you're comfortable with. And when you finish, reward yourself with a green smoothie or a relaxing massage chair session in the Planet Fitness Black Card® Spa.

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