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How to Burn 200 Calories in 20 Minutes on the Rowing Machine

“I don’t have time to exercise!” That’s what you keep telling yourself when you’d much rather drown into the couch and munch on donuts while watching “House of Cards.”

Time is always an excuse people will think of for not exercising. But for others who are truly motivated to meet their fitness goals, they don’t use time (or the perceived lack of it) as a hindrance. They work with it.


Fortunately, fitness experts are coming out left and right to show us how we can get a good, grueling workout in less than half an hour. Nope, you don’t have to sweat it out lifting light weights for two hours or ambling around on the treadmill.

The rowing machine has been around for decades, but it’s only now that people are beginning to realize the full benefit of working out on the ergometer.

For one thing, rowing is a full-body workout that exercises all your major muscle groups, all the while producing practically zero impact on your joints. Plus, it’s a massive calorie-burner that can incinerate as much as 600 to 800 calories in an hour. That’s much more than plain, ol’ running will ever do.

You know what this means, don’t you?

You don’t have to work out for an hour to get considerable results. On an indoor rower, you can exercise for only 20 minutes and start feeling the burn all over. Yes, that’s 20 minutes – less than half an hour – and it already includes your warm-up and cool-down.

This fat-burning workout developed by Concept2 rowing instructor Anna Cummins, which she shared to Shape.com, is designed to quickly burn calories in the least amount of time possible.

Time: 0:00 to 3:00 (3 minutes)

Warm up with three minutes of light rowing. Keep a split time (pace/500 meters) at a high 2:30/500 meters, and maintain a low stroke rate of 16 to 18. On the scale of rated perceived exertion, work at a level of 3. That means it should feel light and easy enough to breathe and carry on a conversation for hours.

Time: 3:00 to 6:00 (3 minutes)

Row at a split time of 2:14/500 meters. Increase your stroke rate to 20 to 22. Rate of perceived exertion should be at a 5. That means you should start noticing your breathing become heavy, but you can still hold a conversation.

Time: 6:00 to 8:00 (2 minutes)

Row harder, aiming for a shorter split time of 2:12/500 meters. Stroke rate should also increase to 22 to 24. Rate of perceived exertion is at a 6. Breathing remains heavy, you can still hold a conversation, but you should start to notice that doing so becomes harder.

Time: 8:00 to 9:00 (1 minute)

Row at a split time of 2:10/500 meters. Keep stroke rate high at 24 to 26. Work at a rate of perceived exertion of 7. This means you should still be able to speak a sentence, but you’re not comfortable enough to keep a conversation going.

Time: 9:00 to 10:00 (1 minute)

Stand up and stretch. Work on legs, hamstrings, glutes, core, and back. Alternatively, you can do walking lunges to increase the burn. Check out the video below to see how walking lunges are done. 

Time: 10:00 to 14:00 (4 minutes)

Go back to the rower. Start rowing at more vigorous rate than the first half of your workout. Aim for a split time of 2:12/500 meters and a stroke rate of 22 to 24. Keep your rate of perceived exertion at 6.

Time: 14:00 to 17:00 (3 minutes)

Row at a split time of 2:10/500 meters. Stroke rate should be high at 24 to 26. Rate of perceived exertion is 7.

Time: 17:00 to 18:00 (1 minute)

Row at the lowest split time of 2:08/500 meters and highest stroke rate of 26 to 28. This is the most difficult set, with a rate of perceived exertion of 9. At this stage, you should be breathing very hard and finding it very difficult to keep on at this pace. You should still be able to speak a few words, but not an entire sentence.

Time: 18:00 to 20:00 (2 minutes)

Cool down at your warm-up pace. Go back to a high split time of 2:30/500 meters and a low stroke rate of 16 to 18. Rate of perceived exertion should be back at 3.

At a glance here is what the workout looks like.



Split Time

Stroke Rate


O:00 to 3:00

Warm up.


16 to 18 spm


3:00 to 6:00



20 to 22 spm


6:00 to 8:00 



22 to 24 spm


8:00 to 9:00



24 to 26 spm


9:00 to 10:00


10:00 to 14:00



22 to 24 spm


14:00 to 17:00



24 to 26 spm


17:00 to 18:00

Cell 8 / 2


26 to 28 spm


18:00 to 20:00

Cool down.


16 to 18 spm


If done right, indoor rowing for 20 minutes gives you the benefits of sweating it out on the treadmill or elliptical for an hour. The key here is to do the exercise right. You can’t just drift forward and backward and expect to reap the benefits of the workout. Rowing is an exercise that demands you do it properly. To be able to do that, keep the following in mind.

1. Maintain a damper setting of 3 to 5.

In my article about the biggest rowing mistakes, I wrote about how many beginners think moving the damper level on the Concept2 up to 10 will give them the best workout. That’s not actually true. As Cummins says, keep the damper setting between 3 and 5. This ensures you get an effective cardio workout.

If you prefer a rowing machine that doesn’t have damper settings and provides consistent resistance instead, you can check out great prices and discounts on the Bodycraft VR500 or on the Stamina Avari on Amazon instead.

2. Be mindful of your form all the time.

The stroke starts by driving with as much power from your legs, while you keep your arms straight and your back upright but hinged slightly forward at the hips. From the side, you should look like your back is at an 11 o’clock angle.

At the end of the drive, pivot back to the 1 o’clock position, but move from your hips, not from your lower back. Never from your lower back. Always keep it upright. This should be followed by the arm movement.

Pull your hands toward the bottom of your chest, keep your wrists straight and your elbows at a naturally low position. Instead of making the elbows fly out to the side, squeeze your shoulder blades together.

The release phase requires the same excellent form, but the order of muscle movement is now reversed. At the drive, you started with the legs, then the core, then the arms. During the release, the arms move first, then the core, then the legs.

3. Keep a drive-recovery ratio of 1:2.

To be able to stay in control of your split time and stroke rate, you need to make sure you maintain rhythm in your strokes. To do that, stay conscious of your drive:recovery ratio. The ideal number for this is 1:2, where you spend two times more time at the recovery than the drive. This gives you time to recover from the drive. It also allows you to reach your split time and stroke rate goals while maintaining proper form and technique.

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