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3 Intense HIIT Rowing Workouts To Get Your Heat Pumping

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A HIIT rowing machine workout is essentially a HIIT doing any type of exercise: you perform short, high-intensity bursts of rowing interspersed with low-intensity recovery periods cycled back-to-back continuously. 

But what are the best HIIT rowing machine workouts?

In this article, we will share how to do a HIIT rowing workout and a few examples of rowing machine HIIT workouts to try out at your next session. 

We will cover: 

  • How to Do a HIIT Rowing Workout
  • 3 Great HIIT Rowing Workouts

Let’s jump in!

A person on a rowing machine.

How to Do a HIIT Rowing Workout

There are 2-3 primary ways that you can increase the intensity of the rowing exercise during a HIIT rowing workout. 

The reason that there is a range is that one of these methods is only applicable to certain types of rowing machines.

#1: Power or Effort

Firstly, and most importantly, the best way to increase or decrease the intensity of your effort with the hard and easy intervals during a rowing HIIT workout is by modulating the power or effort with which you press or push off the footplates and pull back on the handles.

Many beginners focus on the pulling aspect of the rowing stroke, mistakenly thinking that the bulk of the power comes from using your upper body to pull harder and faster on the handle.

However, while you will generate more power by pulling harder and faster on the handle of the rower, the majority of the power and speed of your rower stroke really comes from the leg drive or how hard you are pushing off against the footplates with your feet.

A person doing a HIIT rowing workout.

The drive phase of the rowing stroke begins at the catch, which is the position when the seat of the rower is all the way forward close to the monitor, and your knees are bent up.

Then, you should explosively press off against the footplates, driving your feet into the footboards to extend your legs.

This should feel like the difference between a jump squat and a regular squat. You want the movement to be explosive and extremely powerful.

Furthermore, there is an order to the muscular involvement and movement in the rowing stroke. During the drive phase, you should lead with your legs, beginning that powerful jump squat movement. 

Then, hinge at your hips, using your core muscles to swing your trunk back. Finally, engage your lats, shoulders, and arms to pull the handlebar in towards your sternum as your legs fully extend into the “finish position.”

This is where your legs are fully extended, and the seat of the rower is all the way back as far as it will get from the monitor when you are on the machine.

The more forcefully and explosively you push with your legs during that jump squat-like motion to initiate the drive phase, the more intense your workout will be, and you will find that your rowing split, which refers to your speed or how fast you can row 500 meters at that effort level, will drop significantly.

During HIIT rower workouts, when you are on a hard interval, focus on maximizing that forceful push-off, and when you are doing a recovery interval, you can use less pressure as you push off the footplates.

A person on a rowing machine.

#2: Stroke Rate

A secondary way to modulate the intensity of your rowing exercise during HIIT rowing workouts is to adjust your stroke rate.

Stroke rate, which is measured in strokes per minute (spm), is like cadence when running or cycling. It refers to how fast you are moving the seat of the rower up and down the rail in terms of how many times per minute you are completing one full rowing stroke.

Another common mistake that beginning rowers make is that they intuitively think that the higher your stroke rate, or the faster you are moving your body, the faster you will row, dropping your split.

Although this is true to some degree, you will see greater improvements in your split time, meaning you will row faster by using more power or force when you press off the foot place. Increasing your stroke rate is like icing on the cake. 

Once you have maximized the power you can produce, if you can get in a few more strokes per minute, your split time will drop.

However, you will see far greater improvements by potentially even slowing down, taking fewer strokes per minute, but making each stroke as powerful and explosive as possible.

Some of the best rowers only perform 18 to 20 strokes per minute, yet their split times are way faster than novice or intermediate rowers, who are not generating as much force and are flying up and down the rowing machine at 36 strokes per minute.

Usually, something around 26 strokes per minute works well during rowing workouts.

A person on a rowing machine in a dark gym.

#3: Resistance or Drag

Lastly, on some rowing machines, you can adjust the amount of resistance, or drag, offered by the machine.

Of course, the more resistance you use, the harder and more intense your HIIT rowing workout will be.

With that said, adjusting the amount of resistance during a rowing HIIT workout isn’t really feasible because your hands are tied up, and you don’t want to stop.

Additionally, the resistance doesn’t need to be adjusted on certain rowing machines. 

For example, with the Hydrow, the recommendation is to always keep the drag set at 104 to replicate rowing in the real water, and with water rowers or fan rowers, you don’t need to adjust the resistance because your effort level automatically modulates the amount of resistance you feel.

Therefore, when in doubt, during HIIT rowing machine workouts, press harder with your legs during your “on” intervals and ease up on the pressure during recoveries. Slow down your stroke rate to maximize your power.

A class of people on rowing machines.

3 Great HIIT Rowing Workouts to Try

Here are a few rowing machine HIIT workouts to try:

#1: 15-Minute Beginner HIIT Rowing Workout

A 15-minute HIIT rowing machine workout may seem short, but if you’re just getting started rowing, it will feel quite exhausting. 

Plus, HIIT is a highly efficient type of workout, allowing you to reap the benefits of longer moderate-intensity steady-state cardio workouts in about 40% less time

  • Warm up with 2 minutes of easy rowing. 
  • Complete 4 sets of rowing 45 seconds hard, 45 seconds easy.
  • After the fourth set, give yourself an additional 60 seconds of easy rowing (1:45 total).
  • Complete 4 more sets of rowing, 45 seconds hard, 45 seconds easy.
  • Finish the last minute with easy rowing to cool down.

During the “hard” intervals, make sure to get your heart rate up to at least 85 percent of your maximal heart rate to derive the benefits of HIIT-style training.

A person on a rowing machine.

This type of intensity is what helps HIIT rower workouts be especially beneficial for burning fat and losing weight and potentially boost your metabolic rate for up to 14 hours or more after you hop off the rowing machine.

#2: 15-Minute Advanced HIIT Rowing Workout

If you’re short on time, try this advanced HIIT rowing machine workout.

Your hard efforts should be at max effort, and since there is so little rest, you’ll be feeling it!

  • Warm up with one minute of easy rowing.
  • 6 x 45 seconds of max effort rowing, 15 seconds very easy.
  • 1 full minute of easy rowing.
  • 6 x 45 seconds of max effort rowing, 15 seconds very easy.
  • Cool down with one minute of easy rowing.
A person strapping in to a rowing machine.

#3: 25-Minute Rhythm HIIT Rowing Workout 

This workout plays around with your stroke rate.

  • Warm up with three minutes of easy rowing at 18-20 strokes per minute (spm).
  • Row 60 seconds at max effort at a stroke rate of 26 spm.
  • Recover for 30 seconds by keeping your stroke rate at 26 spm but drop your effort level to a “jog” effort rather than a sprint.
  • Row 60 seconds at max effort at a stroke rate of 28 spm.
  • Recover for 30 seconds by keeping your stroke rate at 28 spm but drop your effort level to a “jog” effort rather than a sprint.
  • Row 60 seconds at max effort at a stroke rate of 30 spm.
  • Recover for 30 seconds by keeping your stroke rate at 30 spm but drop your effort level to a “jog” effort rather than a sprint.
  • Row 60 seconds at max effort at a stroke rate of 32 spm.
  • Recover for 30 seconds by keeping your stroke rate at 32 spm but drop your effort level to a “jog” effort rather than a sprint.
  • Repeat the interval portion three times (twice if you are a beginner).
  • Cool down with two minutes of easy rowing.

Don’t forget, when in doubt, during HIIT rowing workouts, push harder with your legs!

Remember, rowing is just about a full-body workout, working several different muscle groups to really get in a well-rounded session. For more detail on exactly what muscle groups the rowing machine works, check out our article: What Does The Rowing Machine Work: The 12 Muscle Groups Used.

A person on a rowing machine.
Photo of author
Amber Sayer is a Fitness, Nutrition, and Wellness Writer and Editor, as well as a NASM-Certified Nutrition Coach and UESCA-certified running, endurance nutrition, and triathlon coach. She holds two Masters Degrees—one in Exercise Science and one in Prosthetics and Orthotics. As a Certified Personal Trainer and running coach for 12 years, Amber enjoys staying active and helping others do so as well. In her free time, she likes running, cycling, cooking, and tackling any type of puzzle.

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