Rowing Exercises that AREN’T Rowing

Picture this familiar scene: you walk into the gym at peak after-work time. Every class is full, every treadmill is taken, every bike is being cycled, every elliptical is occupied. The one machine that’s empty? The rower.

Luckily, with just a rower, you can get a cardio AND a strength workout in if you’re a little bit creative. Here’s how.


Start by reviewing your rowing form. Then, get your heart rate pumping with this 20-minute circuit:

Warm up for three minutes by rowing at a comfortable pace (2:30 min/500m on your rowing dashboard).

Row at a sprint pace for one minute (aim for under 2 min/500m pace). Recover for one minute. Repeat seven times.

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Cool down for three minutes.


Don’t move from your rower! Perform three sets of 15 reps of each of these strength moves on your rower.

Pikes or Rowing Machine Knee Tucks

Get into a push-up position with your feet on the seat of the rower. Slowly raise your hips up in the air until your hips and legs are in the pike position. Slowly lower back to starting position. Alternatively, bring your knees into your chest in a tuck position for rowing machine knee tucks.

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rowing machine knee tucks

Bicep Curls

Sit on the seat of the rower or stand straddling the machine, facing the dashboard. Make sure resistance on the rower is turned up to the max if that’s something you can adjust on your rower. Hold the rower handle with an underhand grip, keeping your elbows parallel with your shoulders. Knees should be softly bent. Slowly curl the handle up, keeping your elbows at shoulder height while contracting your biceps. Lower all the way down.

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Front Deltoid Raise

In a seated position, hold the handle with your arms fully extended in front of you, palms face down. Lightly grip the handle in your palm with your thumb and raise the handle straight overhead until arms are straight.

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Elevator Lunge

Stand facing away from the rower with your left foot on the seat, feet hip-width apart. Slowly slide your left foot back and lower into a lunge until your front thigh is parallel to the floor, bending your standing right knee to lower even further. Slowly stand up, using your weight on your standing right foot to return to starting position. Repeat on opposite side after 15 reps.

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Decline Push-Up

Begin in push-up position with your feet on the seat of the rower or on the rowing machine, hands slightly farther than shoulder width. Slowly lower your chest to the floor, keeping your core engaged. Pause and push back up to starting position.

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Sit on the rower’s seat with your feet in the straps and your knees bent (you can place your hands behind your head if that makes you more comfortable). Slowly lower your torso as far back as you can without arching your lower back. Pause and use your core (not your hands!) to sit back up to starting position. You can incorporate funky variations like arms overhead or adding a twist for more difficulty.

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Finish with a little more core. We broke down the perfect plank form here. For another rower variation, you can place your forearms on the seat and while keeping your lower body completely still, slide your forearms slightly forward and back.

Move Workouts

About Kristen Geil

A native of Lexington, Kentucky, Kristen moved to Chicago in 2011 and received her MA in Writing, Rhetoric, and Discourse from DePaul while trying to maintain her southern accent. Kristen grew up playing sports, and since moving to Chicago, she’s fallen in love with the lakefront running path and the lively group fitness scene. Now, as a currently retired marathoner and sweat junkie, you can usually find her trying new workouts around the city and meticulously crafting Instagram-friendly smoothie bowls. Kristen came on to A Sweat Life full-time in 2018 as Editor-in-Chief, and she spends her days managing writers, building content strategy, and fighting for the Oxford comma.

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