Take Your Rowing Workout to the Next Level with HIIT

The rowing machine is an awesome piece of workout equipment that allows you achieve a fantastic aerobic workout, while also hitting the muscles of your upper back, thighs, shoulders and arms. That’s a whole lot of bang for your buck. Great as a conventional steady state rowing session is, there is a way to ramp up the intensity even further. This technique will put your body through a super intense rowing session that will turbo charge your fat burn while taxing your cardio system to the max. The result is that you will get leaner, stronger and fitter faster.


Let’s HIIT IT!

We’re talking about High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT). HIIT involves doing repeat cycles of high intensity followed by short recovery periods. Typically the high intensity periods last between 15 seconds and a minute, with the recovery periods between 30 and 90 seconds. You may do anywhere between 4 and 12 repeats or you may be training to a set time.

HIIT has been scientifically proven to be a more effective way to burn fat than steady state cardio. As a result, it has become recognized in the fitness community as the fastest way to train to get lean as well as rapidly enhancing your overall cardiovascular fitness. It is also a far more time efficient method of training than steady state cardio.


HIIT Benefits​

  • Burns calories like crazy
  • Increases VO2 Max
  • Time efficient
  • Burns fat, not muscle
  • Increases metabolism for 26 hours following the workout


The Proof

A recent study out of California State University, Sam Marcos had test subjects performing HITT cardio workouts for 3 weeks. At the end of that 21- day period college aged men and women improved their maximal oxygen uptake by 6% as well as improving their stationary bike power output and blood pressure.

  1. In another study, this one based at Colorado State University, a single HIIT cardio workout was shown to increase daily energy expenditure by 200 calories.
  2. A third study, out of Brisbane, Australia showed that HIIT cardio workouts also has amazing benefits for people suffering from coronary artery disease and obesity related conditions.​


Benefits Of Rowing

You can perform HIIT training on any number of cardio machines. You can also perform HIIT sprint running training or use a skipping rope. Going with a rowing machine, however, is a smart choice. Here’s why:

  • Rowing works the major muscles of your body in one fluid motion
  • Rowing allows you to monitor your performance second by second
  • Rowing allows you to go hard during your sprint sessions in a safe, monitored environment
  • Rowing burns more calories than almost every other cardio exercise


Straight To The Workouts

As great a piece of training equipment as it is, the rowing machine is something that you can hurt yourself quite badly on if you don’t do the exercise properly. Good technique is crucial. Start each stroke by pushing with the legs, not pulling with the arms. Keep your wrists in line with the handle so that the pulley wire remains parallel to the floor. Your back also needs to be straight, not rounded throughout. This will increase the power of each stroke and reduce tension on your lower back.

Warming Up

When performing HIIT training of any type, it is really important that you thoroughly warm yourself up. When it comes to HIIT, the best form of warm up simply involves performing the exercise that you will be doing at a slow pace for 5 minutes.

Begin every session with 5 minutes of slow, steady rowing. Starting in the catch position with your knees bent and arms fully extended, drive back until your legs are fully extended and your back is at around a 45 degree angle. Engage your lats as you pull your elbows back.

Workout #1: 30 Second Sprint

Total Time = 9 minutesSprint Intervals = 6 x 30 secondsRecovery Intervals = 60 seconds

In this workout you will begin your first sprint immediately after your 5 minute warm up is done. When you hit the 4:30 mark, begin slowly ramping up your intensity. Then, when that 5:00 shows, it is time to go for it. Increase your cadence to a sprint, making sure that you are still performing a full, posturely correct movement. Keep pushing for the full 30 seconds, imagining that you are heading for gold at the Olympics – don’t leave anything in the tank!

Once your 30 seconds is up, it’s time to recover. But you’ve only got one minute. Give yourself 20 seconds of non movement to get your breath back. Then begin rowing slowly again as you build up to your second sprint.

Your goal on sprint number two is to not let your intensity level drop below what it was on the first sprint. Stay focused and push it hard.

Repeat this cycle until your have done six 30-second sprints. Do it right and you will collapse off of the rowing machine, a quivering mess!


Workout #2: 60 Second Sprint

Total Time = 15 minutesSprint Intervals = 6 x 60 secondsRecovery Intervals = 90 seconds

This one is a major step up from HIIT Workout #1 and shouldn’t be attempted until you’ve done at least a month on the first workout. This time you will be doubling the length of your sprint and adding 30 seconds to your recovery time.

Doubling your sprint time is a major psychological as well as physical challenge. You won’t be able to sustain the full intensity of a 30 second sprint, but that should be your goal. Just push it as hard as you can. And rather than thinking 60 seconds in your head, break it down into six 10 second mini sprints.


Choose Your Rowing Machine Wisely

Your HIIT Rowing workout is only going to be as effective as the machine that you’re sitting on. There are a number of companies producing home rowers and the quality varies greatly. You simply cannot afford to end up with a dud rowing machine. Check out our Rowing Machine reviews for 2020 to make sure that you invest in a rower that will do the business when you need it to.



By performing these short, sharp HIIT rowing sessions on alternate days three times per week, you will be performing the most effective fat burning cardio workouts currently known to man. They’re going to be challenging and you may not look forward to doing them, but they will prove to be the key to achieving the lean physique that you attain to.



(1) Journal Strength Conditioning Research, 26:138-145, 2012

(2) Physiological Reports, 1 , 2012

(3): E00131, 2013 
British Journal of Sports Medicine, published online February 21, 2013​