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Paul_D's picture
Rowing Machine - help/tips

As my MA training is usually stop/start in nature (as the instructor stops the class to demonstrate techniques etc) my cardio fitness is somewhat lacking.  In an attempt to improve this I picked up a cheap rowing machine.  Whilst I am ok with the correct technique of how to row on it, I am in the dark as to how to go about using it effectively to improve my cardio.  I am sure, as with most things, there is a correct way to get the most out of the equipment,

Just completely guessing I have proposed to row for 5 mins slowly (to warm up) 5 mins medium pace, 5 mins quickly, 5 mins medium pace, 5 mins slowly (to cool down).  Once I find the 5 minutes fast in easier, maybe increase it to 10 minutes.   I am also not sure of the frequenting of using it either, I am guessing 2-3 times a week?

As I say though I am guessing, so if anyone has any experience/suggestions they would be appreciated.

Thanks in advance.

Iain Abernethy
Iain Abernethy's picture

I use the rowing machine a lot. For health purposes, I like to do 5K as that takes me around 20 mins. I also like to use the cross-trainer too (like the rower, it does not aggravate prior injuries to knees and back). I will do 20 to 30 mins of CV training each day (in addition to martial arts, weights, etc). My traveling and teaching schedule means that normally get done 5 days a week.

To make it a bit more martial, I will do 2K as quick as I can (normally around the 7.5 mins mark for me). That gets pretty anaerobic and brings up that internal conflict (the inner voice that wants me to back off the intensity). And on the days were I want something very martial, I will do a tabata i.e. 20 seconds with all I have, 10 seconds rest, and repeat eight times. That’s “just” four minutes, but it is hell on earth because of the super high-intensity. Something to be built up to!

Assuming you are in good health, I’d start doing it every other day for 20 mins or so at a intensity level that leaves you sweaty and breathing heavily. If you want to be more scientific about it, you can work out your maximum heart rate (220 – your age) and work to 70 to 80% of that. So, if you are 40 years old, your MHR is 180. So, you want to keep your hear rate between 126 and 144 beats per minute for 20 to 30 mins. A heart rate monitor is a good investment. Failing that, take your pulse for 10 seconds every 5 mins, and make sure your heart beats between 20 and 25 times. After a while, you just “know” that you’ve got the intensity right.

All the best,


Paul_D's picture

Thank you, that's very helpful, much appreciated.

tubbydrawers's picture

Hi Paul,

I have used a Concept 2 rower for many years in gyms. Now if the rower you are using is a Concept 2 here are some ideas -  I used to put the lever on level 10 when i first started out, but if you want to row as if you are on a boat then there is something called 'drag factor'. This is usually in the range of 3 - 5 on the damper setting on the flywheel. I eventually went out and bought one 11 years ago and am rowing around 50-80km a week on average.

There is a guideline in the menu on the concept 2. As well as many usefull guides on the Concept 2 Website. depending on which country you are in.

Hopefully you have the technique down to row - you only have to look at Youtube to see how bad the technique is from a lot of people :) There is a way to row on these units.

There is a technique guide in the menu as well.

There is a motivation / log book on the website that you can join up to and you get awards, prizes etc for completing challenges each month and you can be part of a virtual team to keep your interest going.

I made my own Bunkai Rowing Group - but there is only me in it at the moment!! as well as my wife - she rows now and again.

As what Iain said, doing 5km rows / 2 km sprints is a good way to get the intensity up. It helped me get through a lof of Black Belt gradings with the stamina needed.

As for frequency - it all depends on your goals. I row nearly every day, I don't run as it hurts my knees and I dont have access to other equipment apart from my bag work and a skipping rope. Sometimes its best to do interval training, and with the concept 2 you can set the boat pace, distance and time to rest all in the one row with various settings. Also there are 'games' in the menu too.

If you look at google and type in 'the pete plan' this will help you get your times down over a 3 week period.

If you need anything else, like ideas, guides etc, just get in touch, I have assumed you are on a Concept 2 as they are one of the popular units and to be honest they are quite good.


tubbydrawers's picture

Sorry forgot to add this point. Again referring to a Concept 2 rower here:

A good stroke rate is around the 21 - 25 mark. It means at this rate you are using more legs rather than your arms / back. If I am racing or trying for a very fast time, then it will go above 30 - 32 strokes a minute. But for general usage, I row between 21-25.

Hope that helps :)


Paul_D's picture


I don't know what the rower is but it's not a concept 2.  I got it for £10 off Facebook Market, it doesn't even have a rope than wraps/unwraps around a reel, the handle is just attached to rubber which stretches, and the end of the rower is just shaped to make it looks like there is a whele/coil inside :-) I got it as I have a big grading next month, going to be 6-7 hours, and I have zero cardio, so if I stop using it after that then it's no biggy If i decide after that to keep it up I will probably invest in a proper one eventually.