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Differences Between Indoor and Outdoor Rowing

Differences between indoor and outdoor rowingWhether it’s outdoor rowing in a boat or indoors on a rowing machine, there’s nothing like rowing to give yourself a full-body workout!

Both forms are guaranteed to get your heart rate going and provide a killer total-body workout!

While the two are similar in nature, there are a lot of differences between indoor and outdoor rowing.

Some of these differences are hard to detect, unless you’ve had the chance to try both.

I began rowing on an indoor rower, until one day my friend invited me out on the river to do some outdoor rowing. Man did it take some time to get used to!

Here’s a short list highlighting the differences between indoor and outdoor rowing I discovered.

I’ll also explain how to make your indoor rowing machine into an outdoor rowing machine!



Rowing outdoors will give you better views that constantly change with every single stroke.  This makes rowing on the water fun and dynamic. Plus, the added benefit of breathing-in fresh air adds even more to the experience.

Rowing outdoors can also be very quiet and meditative, which is why many people are drawn to the activity.

Outdoor Rowing Scenery


The only scenery you will have when you’re rowing indoors will be whatever you have in front of you. This could be a wall, television, or other fitness equipment if you’re at a health club.

This isn’t necessarily a bad thing because sometimes people enjoy exercising while watching their favorite TV show or watching the news. You can also enjoy some of your favorite music or listen to an audio book.

These things cannot be done while rowing outside.

Other people choose to bring their rowing machine outside. You can even place it near beautiful scenery or in the snow like I did below!

Rowing Machine Outside



Rowing in a boat requires a great deal of balance, especially if you’re rowing alone.

If you don’t know how to balance properly, you can expect to tip over and fall in the water. So you better have a life jacket on or know how to swim!


Using an indoor rower doesn’t require you to learn how to balance on the machine. Just hop on and start rowing.

However, Concept2 does offer slides for your indoor rower to give you the experience that feels like a scull/boat.

You can visit my complete Concept2 Slide article to learn more and order through the C2 slide web page.

Check out the video for an idea of how to change your indoor rower into an outdoor rowing machine!


There’s a big difference between the levels of experience needed to row outdoors and indoors.


If you’ve never rowed in a boat before, it’s best to learn how to row by joining a rowing club. They will teach you how to setup your scull, how to row with proper technique, and other pointers on how to balance and row properly.

The skills you acquire while in the club will help you tremendously when it’s time for you to row on your own.

It’s definitely possible to learn by yourself, but it will be more difficult and time consuming. Having an experienced teacher will allow you to learn how to hold an oar correctly, feather the blades, and perform a proper rowing stroke.


Rowing on an indoor machine requires no training whatsoever – you can just sit down and go.

However, it’s best to learn how to row with proper form to avoid injury and to maximize your workout.

Just ask a personal trainer at your local health club for assistance with your form. You can also watch a few YouTube videos showing you how to row with proper form before you row by yourself.

The video below is a good example that shows you how to row with proper form on an indoor rower.

Required Attention Level


When you’re rowing outdoors, whether it’s with a team or by yourself, you have to pay attention at all times!

Since you play a large role in where the boat goes, you have to be on the lookout for where the boat is going as you try to get from point A to point B. The slightest change in direction can cause you to crash or veer off course.

A lot of times you will be rowing with limited space, which means you will have to constantly be aware of your surroundings. You can’t just start rowing and stop 30 minutes later, like on an indoor rowing machine.


Conversely, on an indoor stationary rowing machine you don’t have to worry about bumping into other boats or land. Just row until you hit your target distance or time for the workout.

Whether you row or just sit there, you’ll always be in the same place where you started.

This can be a relief when all you want to do is get on your rower and zone out. Sometimes I like to do a nice steady-state session where I row and zone out for 45 minutes. This isn’t possible when rowing outdoors.



It’s not cheap to row outdoors. You can easily expect to spend over $4,000 for a single-person boat, oars, and car rack with slings.

Concept2 RowErg Indoor Rowing Machine with PM5 Monitor

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06/21/2024 12:28 am GMT

You can purchases the #1 bestselling Concept2 Model D Rower for 1/4 the price. It is used by all Olympic Rowers and proffesional athletes for off the water training.

You can check out my full Model D Rower review here.

You can also check out the full list of rowing machines to compare other prices and models.



Rowing outdoors provides a one-of-a-kind experience, but it takes a lot of work before you can get started.

You have to get your boat out of the garage, secure it to your car rack, drive down to the water, remove the boat from your car rack, carry it to the launch point, set up your boat, and then you can finally start rowing.

Once you’re finished rowing, you have to repeat the steps again (in reverse) to get your boat home.

Never mind all the stretching, warming-up, etc. Just getting to row can take well over an hour or maybe two!


On the other hand, with an indoor rower you can just hop on  (if you own a rower at home; if not you’ll have to drive to your local gym) and start rowing. Of course I recommend a short warm-up and stretch.

Then when you’re finished, you can hop off and you’re done!

Many times when I’m in a rush, I can get a full rowing workout done in 30 minutes. This includes warm-up, rowing, and cool-down.


There’s nothing quite like rowing outdoors in your own scull/boat.  You get beautiful scenery, fresh air in your lungs, and a killer workout all at the same time.

There’s also something extremely peaceful and meditative about outdoor rowing.

Although the experience is hard to replicate on an indoor rowing machine, it can sometimes be fairly close to outdoor rowing.

Not to mention it’s also much cheaper, requires no formal training to use, and is more convenient.

You can also change your indoor rower to an outdoor rowing machine by taking it outside and placing it on slides like mentioned above. This is the best way to combine the best elements of indoor rowing and outdoor rowing.

I’ve seen people take their rowing machines to the beach, on top of mountains, and even next to waterfalls!

Whichever rowing experience you prefer, you’re guaranteed to be dripping sweat and burning tons of calories, too.

I hope you enjoyed my comparison of indoor vs. outdoor rowing. If you have any experience with both, I would love to hear your feedback in the comment section below!


  1. Hi, I want to get into rowing with the view of possibly competing. I have only ever rowed in a gym, and found it easy, challenging and satisfying! I know that there are indoor rowing competitions, and so was wondering if I chose to do indoor rowing, would I be expected to know how to row on water too ? Are indoor rowers snubbed at by outdoor rowers ? (I might try both but the indoor option seems easier in terms of time and cost

    1. Hi Mae,

      Awesome! Glad to hear you are enjoying rowing so much!

      If you want to do indoor rowing competitions you do not need to know how to row on water. A lot of people only have experience on ergs because, like you said, they are easier to access and more affordable.

      There are some people who “snub” others who only use ergs but it’s not that serious and is more light-hearted. Mostly people who are good at rowing on water, “crew”, like to remind people on ergs that “ergs don’t float”. They are mostly reminding people who score well on ergs or have good times, that those times don’t literally translate to what you would get on water. Basically you can get better times and scores on an erg than on water.

      It’s definitely not something you should worry about and the rowing community is very nice and welcoming!

  2. Which stationary rowing machines are best to be left outside in a covered garage in North Florida?

    1. Hi Michelle – I would say an air rower would be best as they are the most durable and I’ve seen them in gyms that are semi-covered. Keep in mind that all metal rowing machines will eventually rust so the lifetime of the rower will be reduced if they are kept in damp environments. The parts are not stainless steel and the monitor can also have components that will rust.

  3. Hi! I am going to start taking classes with a rowing club in a few weeks for outdoor rowing and am nervous because I really haven’t rowed (maybe a tiny bit on an erg). I am also overweight 5″6″ and 235 pounds. I am really excited because I wanted to find a new way to exercise that’s not the same as doing the treadmill every day. I have run some in the past. I just wonder is this something that a newbie could take on? I am also hoping as I continue doing this that I may get in better shape maybe lose weight etc. Any advice or feedback would be appreciated.

    1. Hi Devri – it’s natural to be a little nervous to try something new! You will have all the help you need when you show up to class. I’m sure they have dealt with beginners before! Just show up and have fun!

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