Is Rowing A Viable Alternative To Cardio?

July 10, 2023 0 Comments

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In this article I will be answering the question “is rowing a viable alternative to cardio?”. Rowing is a great exercise for improving your cardiovascular conditioning. It is also a complete full body workout.

This article will explore this topic in more detail and present some interesting insights relating to rowing as a form of cardio.

Is Rowing A Viable Alternative To Cardio?

The truth is that rowing is more than viable as an alternative to traditional cardio in the gym. It is a lot tougher as well, especially if you are rowing on a very tough setting.

Rowing works lots of muscles simultaneously – the back, legs and arms. It is less stressful on the joints compared to running on a treadmill. It is also more enjoyable as a workout medium.

The benefit of rowing is that it improves your work capacity significantly and makes you more conditioned. You will find that this will translate into other activities.

You will benefit from better cardio when playing sports. You will also find that you have more energy in your regular workouts and get less tired. 

Rowing Engages Multiple Muscle Groups

One of the big benefits of rowing is that it engages lots of muscle groups. It is a true full body movement and very effective for conditioning.

When you are rowing you are using your legs, arms and back to perform the movement. More muscles are involved than simply walking or running on the treadmill, or using the elliptical.

This makes it a highly effective workout. Whilst rowing is low impact, it is not easy when you select more difficult settings on your rower. For me when I am using the rower on the highest setting, I become fatigued after 150 repetitions.

The great thing about rowing is that progression is built in. To make progress you can do more total repetitions, perform your workout in a faster time or adjust the difficulty of the rower.

This makes rowing a really fun challenge. As your cardiovascular conditioning improves from regular rowing, you will find that your work capacity will also improve in the gym.

Less Stressful On The Joints

Rowing is less stressful on the joints compared with other forms of cardiovascular activity.

I also enjoy using the treadmill on a decent incline setting and pace. But it is more stressful on the joints than the rower. Going out for a walk in nature is also very enjoyable and low impact.

Rowing offers a great low impact exercise that can be done indoors at any time. It can be therapeutic on the joints, especially at lower difficulty levels. You can choose to row at a higher setting for less time or an easier setting for more time.

I would certainly recommend rowing as the perfect option for cardio if you don’t want to put too much stress on the joints. Walking in nature is also a suitable low impact form of cardio.

Calories Burnt

As rowing engages so many muscles in the body, you will find that you can burn a lot of calories from this activity if you row for a decent length of time.

Just rowing for 30 minutes can burn upwards of 300 calories. More calories will be burnt if you are heavier. For reference, I can burn around 50 calories from using the treadmill for 5 minutes on a high incline setting.

I would burn around 400 calories from rowing for 30 minutes at a moderate pace. I weigh 98kg, so even rowing moderately will burn more calories in 30 minutes than walking briskly on a treadmill for the same length of time at a decent pace and incline.

This means that rowing is very good from a fat loss perspective. If you row regularly and ensure a healthy diet, you will find that you will maintain a healthy weight and reduce body fat.

Enjoyment Aspect

High intensity rowing is not easy but it is very rewarding. Going for more repetitions each workout in a given time at a high setting really pushes you to the limits.

You can switch up your rowing workouts and do some workouts at a moderate intensity as well. This way you can vary the length of your rowing workouts. I also enjoy brisk walking on the treadmill on an incline.

But I find that rowing is ultimately more rewarding for me as a form of cardio. I like to row at higher intensities and try to make progress workout to workout.

You can make rowing more exciting by competing with others. In many gyms there are multiple rowers side by side. You can compete with a friend and see if you can post better numbers.

This introduces a competitive element to the rowing and helps make it more enjoyable as well.

Mind Pump Show’s Views On Rowing As Cardio

The Mind Pump Show present some interesting insights from time to time. They cover a range of topics and discussed rowing. They compared rowing to other forms of cardio.

Overall, I felt that they were a bit scattergun in their conversation relating to this topic. They didn’t really focus on rowing as much as I expected in their show.

They do make some good points which I agree with. Firstly, this is that explosive rowing can improve cardio while maintaining strength.

This is true to a degree, although you won’t maintain your strength just from rowing. Specificity is also an important concept that they raised.

Swimmers for example are very good at swimming, but perform sub par in other sports. Specificity is an important concept in fitness in general. Ultimately, to get better at an activity you have to work on that activity.

To make progress on the rower, you have to use it regularly and aim for steady progressions. Make your rowing workouts fun and you will be more likely to stay consistent.

Whilst rowing can improve your work capacity, it won’t necessarily mean that you will be well conditioned when playing other sports. It will however improve your work capacity in the gym. This is because you are already used to lifting weights in the gym.

The improved cardiovascular conditioning that you gain from regular rowing will transfer very well to your gym workouts as a whole. You will find that you are more effective and get less tired during workouts.

Final Thoughts

Is rowing a viable alternative to cardio? The answer is that it is more than viable. You can use rowing as an alternative to cardio full stop.

In my case, I like to combine rowing with two other forms of cardio. These are walking in nature and brisk walking on the treadmill on an incline. Everyone has different preferences though.

Some people will enjoy cycling in the park or using the elliptical. The benefit of rowing is that it offers a low impact full body workout that will improve your conditioning and is enjoyable. It is a more effective means of burning calories than walking on a treadmill.

If you want to share your own experiences using the rower, please leave a comment!

As always, stay safe and enjoy your training!

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