5 Great Rowing Interval Workouts For Your Next Rower Session

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One of the best things about doing rowing interval workouts is that the type of exercise lends itself well to high-intensity interval training (HIIT). The rowing stroke is a total-body exercise, with studies suggesting that rowing works about 86 percent of the muscles in your body.

The greater the muscular involvement, the more cardiovascularly- and metabolically demanding the activity because working muscles all need oxygen to create the energy (ATP) required to contract and generate force.

This increases the energy cost (number of calories burned), helps increase your heart rate into higher heart rate zones, and strengthens quite a few muscles of the body, all during the same workout.

Therefore, rowing can be a great way to do high-intensity interval work while you get a cardio and strengthening workout in one.

In this article, we will share how to do interval workouts on a rowing machine and examples of some great rowing interval workouts for rowers of different levels. 

We will cover: 

  • How to Do a Rowing Machine Interval Workout
  • 5 Great Rowing Interval Workouts For Your Next Rower Session

Let’s jump in!

People blurred while doing interval workouts on a rowing machine.

How to Do a Rowing Machine Interval Workout

A rowing machine interval workout is usually much like a HIIT workout doing any type of exercise: you alternate between performing short, high-intensity bursts of rowing with low-intensity recovery periods cycled back-to-back continuously.

HIIT rowing workouts, by definition, should get your heart rate up to at least 85% of your maximum heart rate (85-90 percent or higher) during the “on” intervals.

However, you can also do rowing interval workouts that are at lower intensities but still involve modulating the intensity of your effort rather than doing a steady-state endurance rowing workout.

The benefit of HIIT rowing workouts over low-intensity intervals or moderate-intensity steady-state rowing is that HIIT is way more time efficient and provides more of a metabolic and fat-burning boost.

Studies suggest that due to the very high intensity, the HIIT workout structure allows you to reap the benefits of longer moderate-intensity steady-state cardio workouts in about 40% less time

Two people doing rowing machine workouts at the gym.

Plus, HIIT workouts have been shown to be especially beneficial for burning fat and losing weight, with studies suggesting that HIIT workouts may boost your metabolic rate for up to 14 hours or more after you hop off the rowing machine.

Even if you aren’t up to doing a high-intensity rowing interval workout, you can also break up the rowing machine workout into different segments of different effort levels of stroke rates to help divide a longer workout into digestible chunks. 

When doing rowing interval workouts, the two main factors you can play around with are your effort level and your rhythm.

Your effort level deals with the power and force with which you are driving your feet into the footplates and exploding off as you press backward and then pull the handle of the rower.

The rhythm refers to your stroke rate, or how many times per minute you are completing a full rowing stroke, down and back on the rowing machine.

A person on a rowing machine.

5 Great Rowing Interval Workouts For Your Next Rower Session

#1: 10-Minute Beginner Rowing Interval Workout

For beginners, starting with a 10-minute interval rowing workout is a doable milestone. A 10-minute rower interval workout may sound short if you are accustomed to other forms of cardio exercise, but if you push hard enough on the “on” intervals, it will still be challenging. 

Plus, rowing uses lots of muscles you might not be used to using (such as your lats), so you may be surprised how challenging short rowing interval workouts can be.

  • Warm up with 1 minute of easy rowing. 
  • Complete 8 sets of rowing 30 seconds hard, 30 seconds easy.
  • Finish the last minute with easy rowing to cool down.
A person on a rowing machine.

#2: 15-Minute Rowing Machine Interval Workout

This rowing machine interval workout will have you working at two different heart rate intensities: 77-85% of your maximum heart rate and 85-90% of your maximum heart rate. 

Both of these workloads fall into the “vigorous” intensity cardio zone, according to the American College of Sports Medicine, but the lower of the two intensities isn’t vigorous enough to qualify as HIIT. It may feel more like “uncomfortably hard” but not “pushing to the max.”

  • Warm up with 2 minutes of easy rowing. 
  • Complete 4 sets of rowing 45 seconds hard, 45 seconds easy at 77-85% of your maximum heart rate.
  • After the fourth interval, give yourself an additional 60 seconds of easy rowing (1:45 total).
  • Complete 4 more sets of rowing 45 seconds hard, 45 seconds easy at 85-90% of your maximum heart rate.
  • Finish the last minute with easy rowing to cool down.
A person on a rowing machine.

#3: 20-Minute HIIT Rowing Interval Workout 

This HIIT rowing interval workout kicks things up a notch because the “hard” efforts will be maximum intensity—100% effort—with relatively short rest, so you’ll be feeling it!

  • Warm up with one minute of easy rowing.
  • 6 x 40 seconds of max effort rowing, 20 seconds 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.

#4: 25-Minute Pacing Rowing Interval Workout 

This workout plays around with your rowing rhythm or 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 28 spm. This should feel like a sprint.
  • 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 at a jog effort.
  • 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 at a jog effort.
  • Finally, row 60 seconds at max effort at a stroke rate of 34 spm.
  • Recover for 30 seconds by keeping your stroke rate at 34 spm at a jog effort.
  • Repeat the interval portion three times. Beginners can do two rounds, and advanced athletes can try four rounds.
  • Cool down with two minutes of easy rowing.
A person on a rowing machine.

#5: 30-Minute Cardio Circuit Training Rowing Interval Workout

Although most people who do rowing interval workouts focus on just doing rowing intervals on the rowing machine, you can also do cross-training rowing interval workouts that involve rowing machine intervals interspersed with off-machine strengthening and cardio exercises.

For example, you might do a rowing interval workout where you do blocks of two minutes of hard rowing, then you hop off the machine and do 30 seconds of squats, and then you jump back on the rower for another hard rowing interval. 

You might continue this pattern, switching up bodyweight exercises, or even using weights, depending on your fitness level, primary training goals, and the type of workout you want to do.

These types of rowing machine interval workouts can help break up the monotony of longer, steady-state rowing workouts while helping you get your strength training and cardio workout done simultaneously.

A person on a rowing machine.

This can help you maximize your effort during the rowing intervals.

  • 2 minutes of easy rowing to warm up
  • Do 2 minutes of hard effort rowing (like running or sprinting effort)
  • 60 seconds of jump squats / 2 minutes of hard effort rowing
  • 60 seconds of alternating jumping lunges / 2 minutes of hard effort rowing
  • 60 seconds of tuck jumps / 2 minutes of hard effort rowing
  • 60 seconds of mountain climbers / 2 minutes of hard effort rowing
  • 60 seconds of burpees / 2 minutes of hard effort rowing
  • 60 seconds crossover mountain climbers (right knee towards left shoulder, and left knee towards right shoulder) / 2 minutes of hard effort rowing
  • 60 seconds inchworms (walk your hands out to push-up position, then walk your hands back to your feet and stand up straight) / 2 minutes of hard effort rowing
  • 60 seconds high knees sprinting in place / 2 minutes of hard effort rowing
  • 2 minute of easy rowing to cool down

You can modify this last workout to be more of a strengthening workout with strength training exercises like push-ups, squats, deadlifts, dips, step-ups, etc., depending on the exercise equipment you have available and your goals.

Ready to give these rowing interval workouts a try? As we mentioned, rowing is just about a full-body workout. To get into even more detail about the specific muscles the rowing machine works, check out our article: What Does The Rowing Machine Work: The 12 Muscle groups Used.

A group of people in a gym watching someone do a rowing interval workout.
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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