Here’s Why Everyone Is Calling Indoor Rowing, “The New Spinning”

I often get asked, “What is the best form of cardio exercise?” There are two ways to answer this question. The expected answer would be the scientific approach and list of cardio workouts with their calorie burn efficiency. Let me help you out and save you the time of a Google search:

Exercise Type Calories Burned in 30 Min.
Kickboxing Class 298
Mountain Biking 230
Rollerblading 184
Rowing Machine 262
Running 8 min/mile 338
Running 10 min/mile 270
Running 12 min/mile 216
Soccer 189
Step Machine 162
Swimming Laps 297
Tennis 182
Walking 15 min/mile 122
Walking 15 min/mile on 10% incline 284

Or the answer you will get from me is: whatever you like the best! That is the best form of cardio exercise. Let’s face it, running may be at the top of every list you will see as far as calories burned per workout, but if you don’t like to run then how often are you going to be prone to do it? Whatever form of cardio you get the most enjoyment out of is the best because it is the one you will more likely stick with. Remember, we are trying to make this a lifestyle choice. We don’t want this to be a chore.

If you are new to the workout scene, I would encourage you to explore as many options as you can to find what suits you. One option that seems to be gaining popularity lately is rowing. I have no clue as to why it just now seems to be gaining steam as a fitness trend. It is nothing new, and for years it seems like in gym after gym you would see one or two rowing machines sitting in a dark corner of the gym at the end of a long line of treadmills all alone looking pathetic and collecting dust. It seems like those days are over for the faithful, neglected rowing machine! But why are they getting so popular now, you maybe asking yourself.

1. Now It’s A Group Thing

Like spinning, its two-wheeled, land-dwelling cardio workout cousin, rowing has made the transition from being an outdoor competitive sport to indoor group exercise class. One of the biggest selling points for group classes like spinning or rowing is the social aspect of it. I saw this first-hand years ago when I used to teach a regular spin class. You get a core group of regulars and it becomes almost like a family. So much so that I can remember people in my class checking on one another if someone had been absent from a few classes. This group socialization is something that CrossFit has tapped into and marketed with huge success. Besides this built-in accountability, the benefit of the group is that you will tend to go harder than you would by yourself.

I saw this play out two different ways when I taught spin. One way is that the natural competitive nature we all have just comes out. Most people will voluntarily step inside ‘The hurt locker’ to keep up with the person next to them in an attempt to not be outdone by them. The other is the ‘cheerleader’ effect, or when classmates begin to encourage one another to reach deep and turn screws.

2. Anyone Can Do It

Just about anyone can row no matter your age, gender, or present fitness condition/weight. Rowing machines get their resistance either from a fan or from water, so the harder you pull the more resistance you will feel. You are in control of your own destiny.

3. It’s Easy To Learn

Even if you’ve never given it a try, rowing is pretty easy to learn. The form and proper technique can be picked up in a matter of minutes.

4. Progress Is Easily Measured

Who isn’t amped about seeing numbers go up? The console on a rowing machine will give you your average strokes per min, total time, pace, watts and/or calories. Of course, brands or models of rowing machines may vary on the info displayed, but you get the point.

5. Rowing Is A Full-Body Workout

The notion that it is only an upper body workout is totally false! Your quads, hamstrings, and glutes will all get worked if done properly, not to mention your core, lats, traps, shoulders and biceps. The more muscle groups we can activate, the more calories we are going to burn!

6. It Burns A Ton Of Calories

Which brings us to how many calories you can burn while rowing indoors. It is not hard to find articles with calorie counts anywhere from 400-800 calories an hour! If you care to get a little more exact, check out this rowing calorie calculator based on body weight.

7. Rowing Improves Aerobic Power

Indoor rowing will go a long way toward improving your aerobic power. You might also hear this referred to as maximal oxygen uptake, aerobic output, or VO2max in some circles. Basically, this is the most oxygen you can consume while performing a max exertion over time.

8. It Also Improves Strength Endurance

In addition to aerobic power, rowing will also help you improve your strength endurance. Strength endurance boils down to your ability to produce force over time. Basically, the stronger you are, the more force you can generate, and the longer you can produce it, the faster you will move over a given distance. If we break it down ‘Barney Style,’ it takes longer for you to poop out.

9. It’s Low Impact

Between being low impact and incorporating so many large muscle groups, which increases the amount of calories burned, indoor rowing is a great alternative for those who are overweight. Once the weight comes off, it would be much easier to transition gradually to other weight-bearing cardio activities. Due to being low impact, rowing is also great for rehab applications as well.

10. It Even Relieves Stress!

Fun fact: rowing reduces stress! It has been found that the fluid, rhythmic, repeated motion associated with rowing has an impact on stress relief.

11. Last But Not Least, Rowing Improves Mobility

The joints of the lower extremities will go through a wide range of motion during the rowing stroke without straining them, thereby helping to improve flexibility and minimize stiffness. This makes rowing a great exercise for those with joint issues like arthritis.

Final Words About Rowing

From a fitness industry professional viewpoint, the applications go beyond a basic sweat-dripping cardio workout to being a very complimentary piece of equipment that I am fond of throwing in a circuit with clients as well. I find it is a very easy way to keep my client’s heart rate up during a circuit. I also find that due to the cardio/full body workout nature of rowing, it is ideal for warming my clients up before their training sessions.

I think this goes without saying, but in our overly PC and litigation-happy world, I think I must circle the bases and remind you that if you are looking to try anything new, it might be wise to consult your physician first. If you haven’t found your cardio niche yet, I would encourage you to pick your favorite Pandora or Spotify groove, pop the earbuds in, and give rowing a go!


Tim Clark
Tim is a full time gym manager/personal trainer, part time gym designer, part time blogger and part time pseudo-entertaining public speaker as well as a former college athlete and former firefighter with a BS degree from Fresno State in Kinesiology and an AS degree in Respiratory Therapy. His passion is seeing everyday people get healthy and live life to the fullest.

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