The most effective rowing workouts balance muscle building with calorie burning, creating a strength-and-cardio workout. Using too much resistance can cause lower back strain, while using too little resistance decreases your calorie burn. In addition to cardio workouts, you can focus on muscle building or anaerobic conditioning, as well. Varying the amount of resistance you use during rowing will let you create different workouts and improve your overall fitness as you work your way into the best shape possible.
Rowing machines, also known as ergometers, require you to use your arms, chest, shoulders, backs, hips, core, and legs to move the machinery with a repetitive pulling motion while seated. Depending on how much resistance you use, you can create workouts that are primarily muscle building, aerobic, or anaerobic.
The most effective rowing strength workouts use the maximum resistance you can use, or close to it. Depending on the type of machine you have, you may be able to vary your hand and feet placement, working different muscles. Create 3x5 workouts by performing five repetitions of a high-resistance row, then taking a one-minute break before repeating the same set. Perform three sets of one type of rowing motion before you take a three- to five-minute break and begin a new set of rows. You can vary your rowing motion by emphasizing your legs as you perform the rows for one 3x5, then emphasizing your upper body when you do the next 3x5.
The most effective rowing cardio workouts use a resistance level that won’t tire you out after a few minutes and let you keep going for 30 minutes or longer. You can vary your resistance during a rowing cardio workout to work your muscles and cardio system differently. For example, use more resistance for two minutes to elevate your heart rate through more intense muscle use. Decrease your resistance to very little to create 90-second sprints every five to 10 minutes.
The most effective sprint training workout on a rowing machine uses little resistance, so you can perform high-intensity sprints over the course of 15 minutes without having to stop due to muscle fatigue or cramping. This type of training is usually done only by well-conditioned athletes. Also, it should only be done with the approval of a doctor.
Row hard for two minutes, then take a one-minute break. Repeat this pattern for 10 to 15 minutes. Start with shorter sprints and take a longer recovery, if you are new to sprint training.
No matter what type of rowing workout you do, start with five minutes of moderately intense warm up movements. This will create better muscle contractions as you exercise, according to fitness expert Brian Mackenzie (http://www.brianmac.co.uk/warmup.htm). Decrease the repetitive stress on your muscles and joints by warming up off the rowing machine, using jogging in place, jumping jacks, or other movements.
When you are done with your workout, set the resistance to zero and row at a very slow pace for several minutes to lower your heart rate. Get off the machine and cool down for five minutes, walking around the room and shaking out your legs and arms. Finish your workout by static stretching your muscles to help lengthen the muscles you have just shortened.