When you think about rowing, the first things that probably come to mind are prep school crew teams and Ivy League regattas—not a hardcore workout. And while strapping yourself into that boat-like contraption may be intimidating, there are plenty of reasons you should give it a go.

For one, “rowing is a total-body workout that works 84 percent of the muscles in your body,” explains Annie Mulgrew, certified fitness instructor and program director at City Row in New York City. There’s a common misconception that it’s all about upper-body strength, but it’s really about pushing with your legs and engaging your core.

Like indoor cycling, you control the intensity, so you’ll have to keep yourself accountable. But done right, rowing is a workout like no other. Experts say that rowing at five miles per hour burns as many calories as running at 6.7 miles per hour (a pretty fast clip), and even burns more calories than indoor cycling. Rowing is also low-impact, so it’s safe and easy on your joints.

The only problem? Most people have no idea what to do on a rower, besides sit there and, um, row. Fortunately, Mulgrew designed a far more effective workout below. With speedy intervals on the rower and strength moves performed off the machine, this killer routine torches fat, improves endurance, and is actually fun.

The Right Way to Row

Before you begin, it’s key to nail proper rowing form—which can be tricky. Here, Mulgrew breaks it down in four simple steps:

1. Start in catch position: knees bent, back straight, butt back, arms reaching forward.

2. Push back through your legs while leaning back almost simultaneously (don’t lead with your hips).

3. Once you’re leaning back at a 45-degree angle, pull the bar to the top of your upper abs (just below your bra line, ladies), keeping elbows lifted. This position is known as the drive and it should be held for a solid second before the return.

4. For the return, extend your arms straight before your torso follows by coming forward with a hip hinge, keeping your core firm. Then bend your knees to take you back to catch position.

Make sure to keep your core strong and firm throughout the entire stroke. This prevents a “wiggly” spine and reduces the risk of lower back pain or injury.

The Workout

Ready to get into action? Try this 20-minute interval routine that Mulgrew created based on her classes at City Row. You’ll start with a warm-up and isolations, then you’ll move into a pyramid-style circuit that alternates between sprints on the rower and strength moves off of it. You’ll notice mention of split time, which refers to the amount of time it takes to row 500 meters (and will be displayed on your machine’s monitor). For full descriptions of the strength moves, see below.

The Exercises

Air Squat

Stand with feet a little wider than hip width. Extend arms straight out, palms facing down, or hold hands in prayer position in front of your chest (whichever is more comfortable). Squat down, sending hips backward as knees bend, making sure chest and shoulders stay upright. Keeping weight in heels, drive back up to stand.


Stand with feet hip-width apart. Bend down, placing hands on floor in front of feet. Walk hands forward as you brace your core, squeeze your glutes, and maintain a flat back (like doing a plank). When hands are beneath your head, reverse direction and walk hands back to starting position.

Shoulder Tap Push-Up

Perform a push-up. At the top, hold high plank position. Tap left shoulder with right hand, then tap right shoulder with left hand, engaging core to keep hips level. That’s 1 rep. (Tip: The wider your feet are, the easier this will be.)

Triceps Dip

Use a bench, box, or even the rower to perform dips. Face away from the object and place hands on edge, keeping arms straight and heels on ground. Lower your body until arms are bent at 90 degrees, keeping torso as vertical as possible. Press back up until arms are straight.