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Your machine may also have a monitor to estimate calories burned.
Don't sit around wondering whether that simple rowing machine is going to give you a good cardio workout -- that time you spend deliberating could be time you spend actually working out. Even a simple rowing machine will give you a cardio workout that will also help strengthen the arms, legs, back and abs -- so long as you're using the equipment correctly. As with any type of fitness equipment, the quality of your workout will depend on the time you spend and the intensity at which you do the exercise.
Before you use the rowing machine for the first time, take some time to inspect its parts and make sure it's safe to use. You won't get a good cardio workout on a malfunctioning machine, and it could put you at risk of injury. Slide the seat forward and back to make sure it rolls smoothly. Look at the handle, seat, foot rests and cables and inspect them for any cracks or damage that may indicate the machine is not in good working order. Avoid using a machine that seems jerky or changes resistance levels suddenly, advises the American College of Sports Medicine.
If you're wondering whether you can get a good workout with your rowing machine, the answer is yes -- but you do need to know what constitutes a "good" workout. According to the 2008 guidelines set forth by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, all adults should get at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity cardiovascular exercise each week, which breaks down to roughly 30 minutes a day, five days a week. If you're aiming for even greater health benefits from exercise, try for closer to 300 minutes a week, or about 60 minutes, five days a week. If you're currently sedentary, aim for about 15 minutes to start, and then work up to a longer workout over time. According to the American Council on Exercise, a 150-pound person will burn about 238 calories using the rowing machine for 30 minutes at a moderate pace; a 200-pound person will burn about 318 during that same time.
Starting Your Workout
Other important parts of any cardio workout include a proper warm-up and cool-down of about five to 10 minutes. You can do yours by walking around the gym, or you can warm up by rowing slowly for that period of time. To get started on the machine, sit on the seat, place your feet on the foot rests, grasp the center handle and press with your feet and legs to slide backward, causing your arms to extend as well. When your legs are fully extended, pull your hands toward your belly. Then move back to the starting position by bending your knees and extending your arms back out. Start slowly and work up to full speed, avoiding any hard pulling or jerking.
You'll know you're working at moderate intensity if your heart starts beating faster and you break a light sweat after about 10 minutes on the rowing machine. If you want an even "better" workout that will help you burn more calories and build muscle faster, speed up your pace -- while remaining in control -- or increase the tension level on the machine. This can move you from a moderate-intensity workout to a vigorous-intensity workout. Vigorous-intensity workouts will cause you to break a sweat after just a few minutes, your breathing will be deep and fast and it will be hard to say more than a few words without taking another breath.