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Meet Your New Go-To Cardio Machine: The Rower

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  • Post last modified:September 26, 2023

Wondering “is rowing good cardiovascular exercise?” The concise response is a resounding “yes!” The rowing machine is an incredible piece of cardiovascular equipment not only because it elevates your heart rate quickly, but also because it simultaneously strengthens the muscles in your posterior, upper extremities, abdominal region, and lower limbs. However, if you are new to using a rowing machine, strapping yourself in without conducting prior research can be extremely perplexing. Seriously, attempting to comprehend those perplexing numerical values on the screen without understanding their meaning will not benefit your body in any way.

Here, a breakdown of the rowing machine’s control panel, deciphered by Annie Mulgrew, the director of programming at CITYROW. Below, she explains precisely how to use a rowing machine and what all those measurements signify. (Read up on the advantages of incorporating the rowing machine into your cardiovascular workouts.)

Decoding the Rowing Machine Control Panel:

Strokes Per Minute (SPM):

Your speedometer (indicated as 25 above) reveals the number of strokes (consider these as your repetitions) you execute within one minute. With regards to SPM, higher does not equate to better. Always strive to keep your SPM below 30 — exert maximum effort during the pull and recover during the return motion — and you will accumulate more meters (think of it as the distance covered on water) and engage more muscles in a shorter period of time.

Split Time:

Split time refers to the duration it takes you to row 500 meters (as shown as 5:31 above). It is influenced by both speed (SPM) and power (the force exerted by your legs during extension). To understand how it functions, attempt the following: Row 500 meters at a rate of 26–28 SPM and aim to maintain a consistent split time for two minutes. Then, decrease your rate to 22–24 SPM and evaluate whether you can exert sufficient force to sustain the same split time.

Timer Button:

Press this button, located in the lower left-hand corner, and then use the “up” or “down” arrow to set a timer in 30-second intervals. Press the center button and observe how many meters you can row within the designated time frame. Aim to cover a greater distance during each interval while maintaining the same SPM rate.

Distance Button:

Press this button, found in the lower right-hand corner, and then use the “up” or “down” arrow to establish a distance objective in 50-meter increments. Afterwards, press the center button and ascertain the duration it takes you to complete that distance at 26 SPM. Recover, and then strive to cover the same distance in a shorter amount of time.


This indicates either the duration you have been rowing for or — if you have selected the timer button — the remaining time left for you to row. It is located in the bottom left-hand corner of the display screen.


Similarly, this displays either the distance you have rowed or the distance remaining (if you have chosen the distance button).

It’s located at the lower right side of the screen above.

Total Meters

The sum of all the meters you have covered during a specific session. This measurement can be found at the center of the display above.

Total Time

The duration of your rowing session. It is located in the upper left corner of the display above.

Total Calories

Consider this as the power you are exerting on the machine, rather than the number of calories burned. For instance, try rowing at a rate of 26 SPM until you reach 10 calories. Take a break, then row at 26 SPM again, but decrease your split time in order to reach 10 calories in a shorter period. This information is displayed in the upper right corner of the screen above.

Ready to row, but need more guidance? Check out this rowing workout video from CITYROW or this 20-minute total-body rowing workout.

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