Is your workout worthy of your time? Many of us stall our sweat sessions by meandering around the fitness floor, waiting for equipment to open up, or evaluating which exercises to do next. These interruptions affect the effectiveness of your workout by decreasing your heart rate, motivation and calories burned.

The next time you’re at the gym, try building your program around a single, versatile piece of equipment such as the rowing machine. An often overlooked toning tool, the rower offers a total-body, low-impact strength-training session that fries fat faster than a treadmill or elliptical. And with a little creativity, you can use this device for so much more than rowing. Here’s how:

Rowing 101. Because the rowing machine can be intimidating and easily misused, it’s important to understand proper form.

You may be surprised to learn that rowers generate the majority of their force from their core and legs, rather than their arms. Being mindful of this will prevent you from pulling from your lower back or arms only, which can result in injury. Aim for strong, smooth strokes, not speed.

  • Start by sitting on the saddle and securing your feet to the machine. With your knees bent, hinge at your hips and extend your arms to grasp the oar. Keep your shoulders back and gaze forward. This starting pose is known as “the catch.”
  • The first phase is to powerfully push through your legs, moving the saddle back. From here, use your core muscles to tilt your torso back to about a 45-degree angle.
  • The second phase is to use your shoulders, back and arms to pull the oar in toward your chest.
  • Return to the starting position by releasing your arms, then bending your legs so you shift your weight back toward the machine. Remember, this is a progressive movement that works specific body parts at different times. A simple rhythm to remember is legs then arms, arms then legs.
The proper rowing form.
Courtesy of Ashley Greenblatt
The proper rowing form.

Avoid such mistakes as rolling your shoulders forward, hunching or bringing the oar too high. If you feel tension in your lower back, your form is off. For beginners, start on a lower resistance, such as a three or four. Consider consulting a personal trainer for a quick demonstration.

Belly burner

  • Begin in a plank position with the balls of your feet resting on the surface of the seat. The seat should be positioned halfway on the rail. Keep your shoulders stacked over your hands for the entire exercise.
  • Using your core muscles, hike your hips up toward the ceiling to slide the seat forward. When you reach the top, hold for two counts then slowly release your legs and seat back to the starting stance. Repeat 10 times.
Pikes on a rowing machine.
Courtesy of Ashley Greenblatt
Pikes on a rowing machine.

Shake a leg

  • Start by standing on the left side of the rower, with your body facing away from it.
  • Bend your right knee to place the ball of your foot on the seat.
  • Keep your shoulders aligned above your hips and core engaged as you glide your right leg back into a lunge. Don’t let your left knee extend past your toes. Repeat 10 times then switch sides.
A type of split squat on a rower.
Courtesy of Ashley Greenblatt
A type of split squat on a rower.

Ham it up

  • Place a towel or mat on the floor at the back of the rower. Sit with your knees bent, resting your heels on the seat. Lie back onto the floor, extending your arms out to the sides.
  • Push through your heels and hands to elevate your hips, pulling the seat closer toward your body until your knees are pointing up at the ceiling. Hold this position, squeezing the glutes and hamstrings for 10 counts, then slowly release.
  • Continue this static hold for 10 reps at 10 seconds each.
Hip bridge on a rower.
Courtesy of Ashley Greenblatt
Hip bridge on a rower.

By simplifying your session, you can trim hours from your workout.

Ashley Blake Greenblatt, ACE-CPT, is a certified personal trainer and wellness coach. To learn more, visit ashleyblakefitness.com.