How To Create Your Own Rowing Machine Fitness Program

A word of caution, once you start rowing you’re going to become addicted. If you’ve never rowed before, approach your rowing machine fitness program with caution.

It’s easy to overdo it. Over exercising can lead to injury, illness, and burnout. We’ll first talk about starting slowly and then we’ll take a look at five different types of rowing programs you can consider trying.

Starting Slowly – The Smart Approach for First Time Rowers

If you’ve never rowed before then it’s important to spend time focusing on form and becoming accustomed to rowing. You can approach this one of two ways.

1. Time – Row for a specific amount of time each day and add time as you become accustomed to the machine and the form. For example, you might row for five minutes the first day, six minutes the second day, and seven minutes the third day. You get the idea. Gradually increase your time until you’re rowing for about twenty minutes.

2. Distance – Because a rowing machine is geared to display the meters you’ve rowed, you can row a specific distance each day. For example, 250 meters the first day, 300 meters the second day and so on.

A Quick Word About Warming Up

Warming up is important. If you dive right into a full intensity workout you can hurt yourself. There are many different approaches to warming up. It’s important to warm up in a manner that feels right for you. Here’s a suggested warm up routine. You can modify it to suit your personal needs and fitness goals.

1. Slow and Steady – Row for 250 meters at a very relaxed pace. You should be between 25 and 30 strokes per minute. You’ll probably average around two to three minutes for your 500-meter pace.

2. Moderate Intensity – Kick your intensity up for the nest 250 meters. Try to keep your strokes between 20 and 25 strokes per minute and reduce your 500-meter average time.

3. All Out – For the final 250 meters row as strong and hard as you can. Your strokes per minute should be reduced and your pace should increase.

You can add distance to your warm up or you might row for a specific amount of time at each intensity level. Start with this program and modify it to fit your needs. Now, let’s take a look at the various programs to consider.


The warm up program just explained is a great example of an interval. Intervals rotate intensity levels. They give you time to recover between high intensity rounds. An example of an interval might be:

• Warm up
• 500 meters moderate pace
• 500 meters high intensity
• 500 meters moderate pace
• 500 meters high intensity
• 500 moderate pace
• 500 high intensity

3000 meters is a pretty good distance. If you’re averaging two and a half minutes for your moderate interval and two minutes for your intense interval that’s about a 20 – 22 minute workout including your warm up. You can add a cool down to get more time on the machine.


A Tabata is an exercise program created by Izumi Tabata. It alternates twenty second high intensity efforts with ten second rests.

This cycle continues for four minutes or eight cycles. Now you can modify the Tabata to whatever time seems right for you. However, consider trying it first with the 20 seconds on and the 10-second rest to get a feel for how it works.

Here’s an example of a modified Tabata workout:

• 1 minute high intensity
• 20 seconds rest
• 1 minute high intensity
• 20 seconds rest

Continue for ten minutes. A Tabata is a great addition to a more involved workout. For example, you might add pushups, sit-ups, burpees, or squats to your workout to get some strength training in as well.

Timed Workout

The next type of workout is one that’s great for people of all fitness levels. It’s exceptional for beginners and for advanced athletes who want to get their daily minutes and meters in. After you’ve warmed up, row at a moderate intensity level for a specific amount of time.

For example, if your doctor told you to exercise twenty minutes a day, then once you’ve warmed up, set the timer for twenty minutes and row around 20-25 strokes per minute. Keep your intensity the same during the entire workout.

Distance Workout

Like a timed workout, you can also set a predetermined distance you want to row. As you remember, your rowing machine shows the distance you’ve “rowed” in meters. You might aim for anywhere from 2500-5000 meters depending on your fitness level.

One goal that some athletes have is to row 100,000 meters a month. If you set a goal like that, then this type of workout will help you effectively plan and execute to achieve your goal. Maintain a moderate intensity during the workout.

Adjust/Increase The Resistance Level

By: P K

As you might remember, most rowing machines have an adjustable resistance level. The common rule of thumb is that a level four or five most accurately reflects the resistance you’d feel in the water.

However, that level may be too much for you if you’re just starting out. And if you want to get a really intense workout you might increase the resistance level.

You can apply the resistance changes to any type of workout. For example, for an interval-training program you might decrease the resistance during your moderate intensity intervals and increase it for the high intensity workouts. The goal would be to maintain your strokes per minute during both moderate and high intensity.

You can also increase the resistance as your fitness level increases over the coming months.

Play around with various rowing fitness programs. Find one that suits your personality, current fitness level, and desired goals. Rest assured any program you choose is sure to be challenging as rowing is one of the highest full body calorie burning exercises you can do.

The first time you sit down to use your rowing machine; it’s going to be an educational experience. Using them correctly isn’t intuitive. However, it is fun and once you learn the proper form for a stroke, you’ll be able to quickly ramp up and improve your fitness.