Rowing for weight loss: the 30-day workout plan for fat burning

Looking to take up rowing for weight loss? Here’s everything you need to know including a tried-and-tested workout regime

Woman doing a rowing for weight loss session
(Image credit: Getty Images)

Rowing for weight loss is a great way to fat burn – and fast. 

Whether you’ve already invested in one of the best rowing machines so you can get your sweat on before, after (or during) work hours, or you prefer to row in the gym, these machines offer a great way to work lots of muscle groups in your body. 

According to Sarah Craske, a personal trainer who owns F45 Cambridge Station (opens in new tab) in the UK, rowing is a great workout that is easy on your joints, despite it being an intense form of exercise. 

Sarah says: “The rowing machine gives you a full-body workout and uses roughly 86% of your muscles.”

But there’s more. The top-rated rowers can also help to build muscle in your core, legs, arms, and back – all areas which, when developed, can contribute to better posture.

However, if the thought of sitting on a rowing machine for a prolonged period of time doesn’t appeal, this is where Sarah’s 30-day rowing for weight loss plan comes in. 

The rowing for weight loss plan will help build up your endurance gradually, so you can really reap the rewards.

To help get you started, we’ve included some tips on improving your rowing form for preventing injury and increasing speed, or you can find out about the muscles worked by rowing machines. If you’re looking for even more ways to shed some pounds safely, discover the best exercise machines to lose weight.

Rowing for weight loss: Your 30-day workout plan

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(Image credit: Getty Images)

Ready to get rowing? Give Craske's 30 day plan a go and see the results for yourself. 

Day 1  

Workout for 30 mins, performing six rounds of the following:

- 1 minute rowing at a moderate effort  - 1 minute power strokes at an increased speed  - 1 minute power strokes at an increased speed from previous  - 30 seconds rowing at max effort - 90 seconds easy pace to cool down

Day 2 

3-4 rounds of the following. Incorporate floor exercises and take 30 seconds rest in between exercises.

- 1 minute power strokes at a fast pace. - Floor exercise: 10 reps push ups - Floor exercise: 10 reps Russian twists - Floor exercise: 10 reps sumo squats - 1 minute row at an easy pace 

Day 3  

30 mins. As many rounds as you can.

- 10 power strokes - 10 recovery strokes - 10 power strokes  - 10 recovery strokes 

Day 4  

REST DAY! Be sure to take some time to recover and soothe sore muscles to ward off the dreaded DOMS. The best foam rollers can help.

Day 5

25 mins – low intensity. Row at a speed that is comfortable for the duration of 25 minutes.

Day 6 

10 mins – high intensity x 2. Row at a fast pace for 10 minutes without stopping. Take a 30 seconds rest and then repeat. 

Day 7 

Distance challenge. Row at a comfortable speed until you reach 750 meters on the machine.

Day 8 

REST DAY 

Day 9 

Six rounds of the following:

- 1 minute at a moderate effort 
- 1 minute power strokes at an increased speed 
- 30 seconds max effort
- 90 seconds easy pace to cool down

Day 10

15 mins – high intensity x 2. Row at a fast pace for 15 minutes without stopping. Take 30 seconds rest and then repeat.

Day 11  

Distance challenge. Row at a comfortable speed until you reach 1000 meters on the machine.

Day 12 

REST DAY

Day 13 

3-4 rounds of the following. Incorporate floor exercises and take 30 seconds rest in between exercises.

- 1 minute power strokes at a fast pace
- Floor exercise: 10 reps push ups
- Floor exercise: 10 reps Russian twists
- Floor exercise: 10 reps sumo squats
- 1 minute row at an easy pace 

Day 14 

Distance challenge. Row at a comfortable speed until you reach 1500 meters on the machine.

Day 15 

30 mins – low intensity. Row at a speed that is comfortable for the duration of 30 minutes.

Day 16

REST DAY

Day 17 

30 mins. As many rounds as you can.

- 10 power strokes
- 10 recovery strokes
- 10 power strokes 
- 10 recovery strokes 

Day 18 

20 mins, high intensity x 2. Row at a fast pace for 20 minutes, 30 seconds rest and then repeat.

Day 19

20 mins – high intensity x 10. Row 250 meters on the machine. Rest for one minute, then repeat.

Day 20 

REST DAY

Day 21

3-4 rounds of the following. Incorporate floor exercises and take 20 seconds rest in between exercises.

- Row until you hit 30 calories 
- Floor exercise: 30 sit ups
- On the machine: perform 30 sit ups
- On the machine: perform 30 Russian twists 
- Row until you hit 30 calories 

Rest for one minute, then repeat.

Day 22 

30 mins. As many rounds as you can.

- 10 power strokes
- 10 recovery strokes
- 10 power strokes
- 10 recovery strokes 

Day 23

25 mins – low intensity. Row at a speed that is comfortable for the duration of 25 minutes.

Day 24

REST DAY

Day 25

Distance challenge. Repeat three times, rest for 30 seconds in between intervals. Row at a comfortable speed until you reach 500 meters on the machine.

Day 26  

3-4 rounds of the following. Incorporate floor exercises and take 20 seconds rest in between exercises.

- Row until you hit 30 calories 
- Floor exercise: 30 sit ups
- On the machine: perform 30 sit ups
- On the machine: perform 30 Russian twists 
- Row until you hit 30 calories 

Rest for one minute, then repeat.

Day 27 

REST DAY

Day 28 

25 mins – high intensity x 2. Row at a fast pace for 25 minutes, 30 seconds rest and then repeat 

Day 29

40 mins – low intensity. Row at a speed that is comfortable for the duration of 40 minutes 

Day 30

Distance challenge. Row at a comfortable speed until you reach 2000 meters on the machine

Rowing for weight loss: How to use a rower

Craske explains that it's important to practice correct form on the rower to avoid injury. First, slide your feet into the foot plates. The strap goes over the base of your big toe. Ensure that the straps are well adjusted, and your feet fit tightly into them. 

Next, grab onto the handle – not too tightly – with an overhand grip. Ensure you are sitting tall in the seat. 

'Your arms should be straight in front of you while flexing the ankles and knees," says Craske. "Keep shins at a vertical angle from the floor, and pull your shoulders down while engaging your core muscles." To protect your lower back, slightly lean forward, making sure you keep tall and straight. 

"The next movement is all in the legs, pushing against the foot plates. During this, your core remains braced. Once you push back, hinge the hips and lean your torso back about 45 degrees. This is then followed by your arms pulling the handle towards the torso – aiming just under your ribs."

To finish, your body should be braced as your knees are locked out, as in the video above. The torso will be at a very small angle, and elbows will be back with the handle pulled into the base of your sternum. It's the opposite to the position you started in.

Craske adds that when you drive back, it's all in the legs. 

"Your quads should really be the ones feeling it after your rowing workout."

Understanding rowing terms

  • Stroke: This is made up of different parts: the catch, the drive and the recovery. 
  • The catch: The first part of any rowing movement, when you're down at the front of your rowing machine, knees bent and upper body leaning slightly forward. 
  • The drive: Pushing away with your legs, leaning back and pulling the cable towards you.
  • The recovery: Return to the original catch position. This is when your hands move away from your body and your seat slides down the machine’s rail, back to the start.
  • Stroke rate: This indicates the number of strokes you take. A stroke rate is measured in strokes per minute, or SPM. 'A good consistent stroke rate is 24-30 SPM, but you'd go even faster if racing against the clock,' says Craske.
  • Damper settings: The difficulty or resistance level on your rowing machine. Usually it's scaled at 1-10, and if you're using a rowing machine with a fan, it controls the airflow through the wheel. The more air goes in, the more effort it takes to row. Craske recommends starting at 3-6 whilst you build good technique.
  • Power strokes: Rowing hard and fast for sprints or HIIT sessions. Give it all you've got! 
  • Recovery strokes: The opposite. Slower strokes to catch your breath..

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(Image credit: Getty Images)

What to eat for rowing workouts

"Ideally, eat between two and four hours before training," says Craske who advises a high-carb meal to provide plenty of energy. After your workout, Craske recommends plenty of water as well as a light-carb, high-protein snack, which "ensures proper recovery and muscle development". You could also try a post-workout shake, using one of our best protein powder for weight loss entries.

About four hours after your rowing for weight loss session, eat a well-balanced meal containing protein-rich foods such as eggs, chicken and lean meats. If you're vegetarian or vegan, you can try nuts, legumes, tofu or other soy products. Check our best vegan cookbooks for loads more protein-packed, post-workout meal options.

Looking for more like this? Try out this advanced rowing machine workout or take on this HIIT workout for fat loss. 

Lucy is a freelance journalist specializing in health, fitness and lifestyle. She was previously the Health and Fitness Editor across various women's magazines, including Woman&Home, Woman and Woman’s Own as well as Editor of Feel Good You. She has also previously written for titles including Now, Look, Cosmopolitan, GQ, Red and The Sun. 

She lives and breathes all things fitness; working out every morning with a mix of running, weights, boxing and long walks. Lucy is a Level 3 personal trainer and teaches classes at various London studios. Plus, she's pre- and post-natal trained and helps new mums get back into fitness after the birth of their baby. Lucy claims that good sleep, plenty of food and a healthy gut (seriously, it's an obsession) are the key to maintaining energy and exercising efficiently. Saying this, she's partial to many classes of champagne and tequila on the rocks whilst out with her friends.

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