Rowing uses many muscles at once, you pull with your arms working your biceps, shoulders, and back, and you push with your legs, working your quads, hamstrings, and lower back. The calories burned during this exercise must be a lot, right? Let us find out.
What are calories?
Calories are a measurement of energy and our bodies burn a certain amount of this energy daily through breathing, sleeping, and bodily functions like digestion and the non-exercise activity we do throughout the day like sitting to watch television or even mowing lawn. We call this our NEAT, which stands for non-exercise activity thermogenesis. (1) To lose weight and get leaner, you must burn more calories than you consume.
If you consume 2500 calories daily, but your NEAT calories are 2000, then you will gain 1 pound a week for weeks on end. One pound of fat takes 3500 calories to burn or gain.
If you wanted to lose fat and get leaner, you will have to eat about 1500 calories and burn 2000 calories. You do that naturally if that is your NEAT level, but later you will need to increase the calories you burn without lowering the calories you consume. This is where cardio comes in.
A combination of both lowering calories slowly and doing cardio is the healthiest way to lose fat.
Is rowing a good way to lose fat?
Cardio like rowing is a fantastic way to lose weight healthily and burn lots of calories and is one of the safest forms of cardio because it is low impact, which means it is light on the knees and lower back. (4)
The calories that rowing burns vary with your activity level, the amount of time you spend on the machine, and how much intensity you use when on the machine. Some people will burn a lot, and some people will burn more, even at the same weights because genetically people have different metabolisms and caloric burn rates. But these are the calories burned when rowing according to Healthline.
Figure 1: Calories burned while rowing (Daniel Preiato 2020)
In figure 1, you can see the calories burned while doing the row exercise, depending on intensity and bodyweight. The numbers vary a lot based on your genetics and intensity, but if you put in the most effort that you can, then you will burn a lot of calories.
How does rowing compare to other exercises when it comes to calories burned?
According to a Harvard University article, in 30 minutes of exercise, vigorous rowing beats aerobics, weightlifting, yoga, water aerobics, and moderate stationary bicycling. (2) Vigorous rowing burns 255 calories for a 125-pound person, 369 calories for a 155-pound person, and 440 calories for an 185-pound person. (2)
Only 4 exercises beat the row machine in calories burned according to Harvard University, The elliptical, the ski machine, high impact aerobics, and vigorous bicycling. The bicycle and ski machine are also low impact cardio choices, but depending on your personal preference, will determine how many calories you burn on those exercises and if you will want them in your exercise regimen forever.
If you do an exercise that you do not enjoy, it will be hard for you to be intense with it and get the most out of it. That is why the most important thing you do when it comes to staying fit and being active, is to do the things you enjoy.
If you enjoy playing soccer and doing calisthenics then do that. If you do not enjoy lifting weights and using the elliptical, then do something that you will enjoy and try new things.
How can I burn more calories while rowing?
Now, let us say you enjoy doing rowing as an exercise and want to burn a lot of calories while rowing. To burn more calories than you are now, you must do these things. First, you must use proper form on the exercise and be consistent while doing it.
If you only use good form sometimes, you will not be benefiting from the exercise as much as you can. You also risk injury like lower back problems from overuse.
Lower back injuries are common among people who row, this is why good form is extremely important when doing exercise seriously or exercise at all. (3)
To row with good form, you must sit comfortably and go through the motion without bending your back. Adjust the machine to where you are eye level and adjust the footplate also to keep good posture.
Pull with your hands and push with your legs as well, it is a dual movement. You must do both to do the exercise correctly and to get the most out of it. Powerful leg drive is important as well as the pulling.
When doing the movement, bend your knees before you straighten your arms that way you will have a better overall motion when going back and forth between bent knees and straightened knees.
Finally, take your time and slow, and breath. This gives you time to give the most on your next stroke. (3)
You can move on to rowing for longer periods of time if you have the time to do so. You can also make it more difficult by adding more resistance to the exercise.
This will make the exercise harder, which will burn more calories since your body must use more energy to get the activity that is more difficult finished.
Rowing is a great exercise for burning calories and building cardiovascular fitness. (5) Once you get the proper form down and consistently improve at rowing, you can burn however many calories you want! Just remember, do the exercise that you enjoy and can do without getting bored of quickly, but, is still challenging.
You should consult a doctor before starting any exercise regimen, and especially if you have health conditions such as heart problems or trouble, high blood pressure or hypertension, diabetes, or obesity – or if you are 40 years old or older, make sure to check with your doctor before you begin a regular exercise regimen.