The Surprising Reason Why Rowing Burns So Few Calories

Rowing has become increasingly popular over the past several years, but it's one of the most misunderstood forms of exercise in terms of how many calories you can burn doing it.

While running burns about 100 calories per mile and biking can burn as many as 200 calories per hour, rowing typically only burns about 100 to 150 calories per 10 minutes of vigorous rowing.

However, before you ditch your rowing machine in favor of the nearest treadmill, consider these factors to get most of your workout.

What are calories and why are they important?

Calories are a unit of measurement for energy. They simply indicate how much food we need in order to stay healthy, lose weight or gain weight.

Many people struggle to understand the concept of calories because they are further broken down into a variety of nutrients which then perform a variety of biological and physiological processes to support your overall health and wellbeing.

However, for the purpose of this post, just think of calories as a unit of measurement for energy. If you want to lose weight, you should be using more calories than you expend (negative energy balance).

Whereas, if you want to gain muscle, you should consume more calories than you expend.

Without getting into the nitty gritty side of things, it's important to understand that manipulating calories one way or another will trigger how your body changes.

Calories burned while rowing

Although Harvard Health states that: a 125-pound person can burn 255 calories; a155-pound person can burn 369 calories, while a 185-pound person can burn 440, it is difficult to place an exact number on calories that you'll burn as there are many factors involved.

Your weight

The more you weigh, the more energy it takes to move that weight. For instance, a 190-pound person will burn 12 percent fewer calories than a 150-pound person while rowing at the same pace on an ergometer (one of those indoor rowing machines).

A similar relationship holds true for any two people at different weights: If one person weighs twice as much as another, he’ll burn twice as many calories for every minute spent on the rower.

This is important because it indicates that the number of calories you burn is based on your body composition.


After any extended amount of time working out, you will burn more calories. For example, say you did 5 more minutes on the treadmill than you normally do, you would have burnt off 5 more calories.

For example, someone who rows for only 10 minutes will burn less calories than someone who rows for 30 minutes. 

This principle is fairly self-explanatory but intensity of the workout for the duration is also important.

Intensity of rowing

How intensely you exercise dictates how many calories you will burn in a set period of time.

It might be tough, but by giving it your all when you row, you will notice that you'll burn more calories in a shorter period of time than if you were to row at a leisurely pace for a long time.

What is important to remember is that making maximum effort over a long period of time will result in a maximum calorie burn.

How to figure out how many calories I burned in a given rowing session?

The Surprising Reason Why Rowing Burns So Few Calories

Rowing machines commonly display the number of calories you burn during your workout and they are quite accurate for average persons.

If you are overweight, skinny (eating disorder related) or you have a muscular physique then these monitors may not display an accurate number for calories burned.

If you wish to calculate exactly how many calories you burned, you can use the Captain Calculator which takes your body composition into account.

Tips to increase calorie burn on the ergometer

Here are a few tips to help you increase your calorie burn on an ergometer. First, is to take a shorter stroke. A shorter stroke means that you will be pulling a handle or foot strap closer towards your body instead of away from it.

You'll actually push back harder with less energy if you shorten your pull because you'll be able to recruit more fast twitch muscle fibers which are more powerful for short, intense efforts.

This could easily mean that a 2k rower who currently rows at 27 strokes per minute and 5:24 per 500m would jump up to 29 strokes per minute at 5:00 min/500m just by learning how to row with a shorter stroke. Practice your technique!

Another tip to increase the number of calories that you burn during rowing is to add more resistance by increasing your drag factor. Increasing drag will require more work from your legs and back muscles which will help you burn more calories.

If your ergometer has a damper setting then you can adjust it as well. The damper setting allows for air flow into and out of your flywheel which increases or decreases resistance on a sliding scale.

Adjusting it higher means that there will be less air flow into and out of your flywheel which will make it harder to pull at lower speeds but easier at higher speeds.

Lowering it means that there will be more air flow into and out of your flywheel making it easier at low speeds but harder at high speeds.

Lastly, make sure to change up your workouts. Rowing is a great full body workout, but make sure to incorporate other machines and other types of workouts to minimize body adaptation.

The more you perform a given exercise, the more likely your body adapts to it. If it adapts, you won't be burning as many calories.


Although many people state that the rowing machine is not the best for burning calories, it has many more benefits and there's plenty of ways to make it burn more calories if you want.

Just like any other exercise, rowing can burn plenty of calories as long as you put in the work, exercise for a proper duration of time and apply further resistance.

If you are planning on purchasing a rower for home use, you can check out this great option on Amazon. It has over 600 positive reviews and growing.

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