The rowing machine is one of the most popular pieces of fitness equipment today. And many people are out there searching for beginner rowing machine tips to help them get started safely, well, and quickly.
With good reason!
Indoor rowing is a total-body, non-impact workout that’s both easy on your joints and super-effective. You also get a good amount of strength training in a rowing workout, particularly if you’re newer to exercise.
Basically, every BODY can row, regardless of age, fitness level, or ability.
In fact, the older you are the better the rowing machine is for you!
It’s perfect if you’re looking for a low-impact alternative to joint-pounding activities like running, or if you’d like a lower-intensity cardio option that also allows you to build strength.
Got a weight loss goal?
The rower is the best option going! Three to four rowing workouts per week, some mixing in strength moves, combined with a solid nutrition plan will get you well on your way to reaching your target.
The Benefits of Rowing
If you’re wondering whether rowing is really right for you, consider these amazing rowing machine benefits:
- It’s great for building a strong heart and lungs
- It helps build power and speed
- It can help build bone density
- It can be calming and meditative
- It’s great for people at any age – there’s no limit to how old you can be and still row
- It’s a great fat burner
We could go on and on! It’s safe to say that rowing gives you some of the best bang there is for your fitness buck.
And with rowers now available for all price ranges and levels of complexity and Internet connectivity, there’s never been a better time to get into it.
Rowing Machine 101: Terms to Know
If you’re a rowing machine beginner, where should you start? There is some specialized lingo that goes with the sport, but don’t be put off by that. It’s easy to learn and there really are just a few key things you’ll want to know if you’re just starting out.
Here are some that are worth getting familiar with:
Damper: On a Concept2 rower, it’s the tab on the side of the fan (the “flywheel”) that controls how much air gets into the machine and determines how heavy it feels, much like gears on a bike. As a starting point, set it between 3 and 5 (Not 10!) NOTE: This is not the resistance, YOU set that by how hard you push and pull.
Monorail or Slide: The part of the machine that your seat slides on.
Parts of the Stroke: The rowing stroke has 4 parts – the Catch, Drive, Finish, and Recovery. The two most important, especially for beginners, are the Drive phase, where you push back on the machine, and the Recovery phase, where you return from the back of the machine up to the front.
More to come on this later!
Ratio: The relationship between the Drive portion of the stroke and the Recovery. Rowing is different in that it’s not a one-to-one effort. You always want your drive to be shorter than your recovery, typically by a ratio of 1:2 or 1:3.
Split: The “split per 500 meters,” or the time it takes you to row 500 meters. This will be displayed in a central location on your monitor. Your goal is to make the number smaller, which means you’re getting faster!
Strokes Per Minute: The number of strokes you take in a minute. Remember, a high stroke rating does not necessarily equate to a faster split or overall time.
“Paddle” or Rest: In rowing, you never completely stop until the workout or the race is over. When you see “rest” in a workout, that means you row easy, taking the pressure off, for the time or distance specified.
Beginner Rowing Machine Tutorial Video
Many rowing coaches try to overcomplicate the process of learning how to row by giving beginner rowers way too many things to think about.
It doesn’t have to be so hard! In fact, we can teach you to row – or help you teach someone else to row – in 2 minutes or less!
The simpler we can keep things in the beginning, the easier it is for anyone who wants to row to get started. That’s a beautiful thing!
Check out this video with UCanRow2 Master Instructor Cassi Niemann for a quick overview. Don’t forget to subscribe while you’re there so you don’t miss any of our updates!
Want to take this video with you to the gym or your home rower so you have it when you need it?
Download our free Before You Row checklist to get set up perfectly on the rowing machine every time AND link from your phone to our quick instructional video.
How Much Rowing Should Beginner Rowing Machine Users Do?
So now you’re set up to row and you know the basics of the rowing stroke. You’re ready to do your first workout.
You may be wondering: How long is long enough to start getting results?
Even if you’re used to working out, you may find your first few rows taxing just because it’s a new activity – one that’s working 86 percent of your muscles on every stroke!
So don’t worry if you can only do a few minutes in your first few times on the machine. Row consistently, a few times a week, and you will soon find you’re able to stay on the machine for longer and longer intervals.
Our RowNow beginner rowing program takes this into account. It starts you out with short workouts and builds safely and progressively over time to help you make progress you can see and feel.
Depending on how much you row and how often, you may start seeing results in as little as a couple of weeks.
Once I got to the point where I could row consistently every week for 20-30 minutes or more every time, I was amazed at the changes in my body.
For others, it may take a little longer, and you may find that the joy of moving on the machine Is plenty to keep you motivated and inspired.
Either way remember, the rowing machine is always here for you and there’s no rush or particular timeline you need to follow.
What’s the Best Beginner Rowing Machine Workout?
When just starting out, aim to row for 5-10 minutes at an easy pace, 20-22 strokes per minute to start.
Do that first, then take a break. Stretch, get some water.
If you still feel good do a second round, or even a third.
You want a 1:2 or 1:3 drive-to-recovery ratio for this. So think about getting a strong PUSH on the drive, and being PATIENT on the recovery so that you’re counting one on the drive and two to three on the recovery.
All the work is done on the drive so there’s nothing to be gained by rushing back up to take the next stroke.
In fact, if you do that you’re just missing out on the meters you could have gotten by taking your time!
Keep your focus on getting into the rhythm of the stroke and feeling the Zen of the flywheel.
If you watched our beginner rowing technique video, pay attention to following that order of operations. Arms out straight at the back of the stroke, swing the torso forward, THEN bend the knees and come up to the front of the machine.
That’s all you need to worry about right now.
Keep It Simple At First
As we said before, there’s no need to overcomplicate things in the beginning!
The basics of the rowing stroke are very simple. Get those down and you’re on your way.
Then you can spend the rest of your life polishing the finer points. Very much like a golfer does to work on their stroke continuously!
Don’t worry if it doesn’t feel super hard at first, that will come with time and practice!
Don’t worry if it feels robotic at first – you will smooth that out over time too.
Also, know that it will ALL get easier and flow more smoothly with practice. Your brain won’t always be working overtime, promise!
Once you can row 20 minutes without stopping, you’re ready to add more complicated or longer workouts and classes to your regimen.
Nothing’s stopping you now!
Try This Beginner Rowing Machine Workout
Have you gotten started and now you’re ready to try something a little more?
Here’s a fun beginner workout from our fitness book, 101 Best Rowing Workouts:
Row 300 meters at 20 strokes per minute
Paddle rest for 2 minutes
300 meters at 22 strokes per minute
Paddle rest for 2 minutes
Stretch and get a drink. Ready for more? Do two more rounds, either Increasing the stroke rate again to 24 and 26 strokes per minute or repeat this series of 20 and 22 strokes per minute.
If you try this one, definitely let us know in the comments how you did!
Rowing Machine Beginner Workouts – Beginners Program
The best way to get started with rowing is to follow a program specifically designed for that purpose.
A targeted program will help you make way more progress than random workouts on YouTube or anywhere else.
Our best recommendation for that is our RowNow beginner program is perfect!
It’s progressive, row-along rowing drills and workouts with an expert coach, UCanRow2 Master Instructor Cassi Niemann. Everything is specifically designed to take you from complete beginner to confident rower in just 4 weeks.
It also comes with bonus tools, cheat sheets and checklists to help you make the most of every workout AND keep track of your progress.
If you’ve ever said, “I’d love to row but I’m not sure how to start,” this is the program for you.
Beginner Rowing Machine Questions We Get Asked
Newer rowers ask great questions! Here are some excellent ones we’ve gotten recently. If we missed yours, add it in the comments and we’ll answer.
Is Rowing Better Than Other Cardio Machines?
Few cardio machines combine the one-two punch of being total-body AND low- to no impact.
Plus, few if any fitness machines are as versatile as the rower. and offer such a wide variety of workout options.
From relaxing restorative rows all the way to endurance training and lung-busting sprints, the rowing machine meets you where you are and it takes you as far as you want to go.
Can You Use the Rowing Machine If You’re Injured or New to Exercise?
On the injury, that depends on the nature of it and the guidance you’ve gotten from your medical professional. Always check first to be sure you’re cleared to row.
That being said, many people use rowing to rehab from health conditions, joint replacements, and the like. Or to prevent those from happening!
Rowing is perfect for someone who’s new to exercise! We often hear from people who are new to fitness or getting back into it, that they love the rhythm of the rowing stroke and how they can get a great workout in a short time.
If you’re brand new to rowing AND to exercise you may want to start out with a lesson or two from a certified rowing instructor. We have them all over the world, and if there isn’t one near you contact us and we can set you up with just the right person for you.
Is It Enough to Make Rowing Be Your Whole Workout Every Time?
Rowing alone will get you a long way towards reaching your fitness goals. That’s true whether you’re doing it to build strength, more endurance, general fitness, or for weight loss.
Eventually, you’ll probably want to branch out and add other exercises for cross-training. Examples include yoga and pilates for mobility and weight training to build additional strength.
It’s worth mentioning, too, that the rowing stroke is a repetitive motion. So doing something to break that up in your workout week is always a good idea.
Variety IS the spice of life after all!
What’s Next Once I Know How to Row?
Once you’re confident about your rowing and are ready for more, there are lots of ways we can support you:
- Rowing workouts on demand that you can do on your schedule. Beginners welcome!
- Our RowReady program will let you take the wheel on your training and go deeper on your rowing technique with longer, more challenging workouts that you do on your own.
- RowStrong is for you if you’re looking to get serious about adding strength training to your rowing workouts.
- If you’re passionate and think you may want to share that with others one day by learning to teach, our Coaching Crew membership community is a great place to start.
What If I Need Some Extra Help Or Support?
We’re here for you whenever you need it, to answer questions, give you on-demand workouts to row along with, or custom training plans to meet your particular fitness goals.
Drop a comment or question below, join us in our RowStrong group on Facebook, email us at infoATucanrow2.com or find us on Instagram and other social media @ucanrow2.
We’d love to help you get started, and love rowing as much as we do!
For Further Reading
The Best Rowing Workout Warmup