Is Rowing Considered Cardio?

Is rowing considered cardio

Yes! Rowing is considered a cardiovascular activity. The great thing about the rowing machine is that it can be used to get in a great cardio workout or some resistance training. It comes down to the speed of your movements. Whether in the gym, at home, or in the boat or canoe, rowing works over 85% of the muscles in your body.

What IS Cardio?

First things first, we need to establish what defines a workout as cardio and what makes it a resistance session. Although they are different, you can get a great cardio workout using resistance-type machines, such as a row machine.

Cardio is one of the three main types of workouts you can do to improve your overall health and wellness. Resistance and weight training are the other two types. You can turn almost any activity into a resistance workout, but a cardio session requires one very important thing- a faster pace causing a higher heart rate.

Cardio and Resistance Training

Cardio is short for cardiovascular exercise/endurance. Cardio moves also focus on improving your heart health. Endurance is improved as your heart gets stronger, pumping blood to your body more effectively and working with your lungs to expand for more airflow.

In the gym, it happens when you push yourself above normal daily movements and feel your heartbeat increase and your breathing become labored. Now you must focus on your breathing to continue moving, thus building your endurance.

Simply put, cardio means a session of fast-paced movements for at least 20 minutes to burn calories and give your lungs a workout along with your muscles.

Resistance training is the act of pushing or pulling against an external force, causing you to use your muscles to react against said resistance. For instance, pulling a band away from your body while standing in a stable position or pushing a weighted sled across the floor are excellent resistance training methods. These moves are typically done at a slower tempo but still get your heart pumping.

This is a form of strength training and can include weight training. Any form of resistance to your body, push-ups, lifting a dumbbell, or pulling a cable down are all ways to perform a resistance exercise with slow and steady movements.

What is Rowing, Exactly?

Our ancestors mastered the rowing motion as they traveled across vast waters to survive and discover new lands. Today, we row for many reasons, fishing, canoeing, sports, and overall health and fitness.

Rowing- The Motion and the Purpose

The muscles required to use the rowing machine effectively include everything from the neck, shoulders, core, glutes, and calves. Even the tendons used to flex your ankles get a great workout. It really is a full-body movement, although if you are new to rowing, ask someone to show you the proper form or check out this video on how to use it properly. You don’t want to get injured before you get started.

The PURPOSE of mastering the rowing machine for fitness includes:

  • Improving cardiovascular endurance (better lung capacity to breathe more efficiently).
  • Toning lean muscles.
  • Strengthening those muscles and joints.

If cardio is the purpose of using the rowing machine, set the resistance levels low and go for speed in your movements. You will quickly feel your heart rate increase and get in a great sweat session. The motions become second nature as you build muscle memory from repeating the same movement for extended periods.

Row vs. Run: Which is a Better Cardio Workout

We’ve established that rowing is a great way to get in your cardio for the week, but how do you accomplish such a sweat sesh, and why might it be a better option than running?

Rowing uses all your major muscles, but so does running, so why choose to get on what might seem like a complicated machine when you can go for an easy run? All the same muscles get a great workout, including your lungs, but each option has some benefits. Let’s compare, shall we?

Rowing for Cardio

  • Low impact, high cardio output
  • Easier on your joints and hip
  • Non-weight bearing form of exercise
  • Stationary and safer for those with vision impairment
  • Balance is less of an issue
  • A more focused core strengthening move than running
  • It helps improve posture with the pulling motion

Running for Cardio

  • No equipment needed- run anywhere
  • .The movement is simple and more natural- no push/pull coordination needed
  • High impact - High Cardio
  • Harder on the joints/hip
  • Load-bearing movement since your body is upright

Benefits of Both Options

  • Amazing cardio endurance builders
  • Full body workouts
  • Interval training, long, short, or resistance options available
  • Both work over 85% of muscles
  • It can be done outdoors or inside on a machine
  • Cardio, in general, is good for your heart
  • Helps strengthen bones

Health Benefits of Improving Your Cardio

The benefits of getting some time on a rowing machine truly are endless. You can improve coordination, endurance, heart health, and lean muscle mass. Rowing is considered a great cardio workout. Consider adding it to your next gym session.

As you improve your cardio endurance, you will start to notice other health benefits:

  • Lowered risk of diseases
  • Improved stamina
  • Stronger muscles
  • Increased mood (healthy hearts fight against depression and anxiety).

You can use a rowing machine for cardio and resistance purposes and get amazing results either way. Ultimately it depends on how fast you move on the rowing machine and how you set the resistance.

A good resistance session can also include cardio since it is anything that raises your heart rate. Cardio sessions are not typically considered resistance sessions, as many cardio-focused exercise machines have little to no resistance. The rowing machine is one exception to the standard.

Just be sure to get some assistance from a trainer or experienced user if you are trying it out for the first time. It can take a few tries to get the hang of the push and pull motions, but it will surely kick your core’s butt!


Hey, I'm Michael Jones and I support this blog with a group of authors consisting of Personal Trainers, Physiotherapist and sellers of fitness equipment.

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