There’s no debating the benefits of the rower.
It’s low impact, uses every large muscle group in the body, and develops strength and endurance. It can serve as both a great warm up or cool down, in addition to being a brutal workout in its own right. The motion itself isn’t overly technical, and even a new Crossfitter can jump on and go. 500m? Got it!
However, even if you feel confident with your form and technique (thanks, Coach!) it’s easy to zone in on time or calories, with an occasional glance at your stroke rate, and disregard everything else on that little screen. Watts? Split time? Bah.
Guess what? It’s time to get reacquainted with your rower. Understand these measurements to help your rowing be as efficient as possible.
Stroke Rate (SPM)
Stroke rate is the number of strokes you can complete in a minute. You will see it on the monitor as SPM in the lower left corner. In simpler terms, SPM is how many times you can go back and forth on the rower. Beginners to intermediate usually have a number between 18-30 while a competitor’s may be 30-40. Sometimes a high stroke rate can also mean poor technique, though, so having intention and control will allow your SPM to stay at a consistent pace, which is your ultimate goal.
More than half of your power should be coming from your legs while the rest will be divided between your core and arms. You can practice your SPM by trying this: For one minute at a time try keeping your SPM at 18 and go up by two’s until you hit 30. Then go back down to 18. If done correctly, this should take about 14 minutes. This will help give you consistency in your rows to come.
Split Time-the best way to measure your workout
Split time refers to how long you can row a certain distance on the indoor rower. This is usually the biggest number on the monitor and the number most people measure their row by, even though they may not fully understand it. It will show you the time/distance as minutes/500 meters or minutes/2 kilometers. This number tends to vary 5-10 seconds during your row. You are looking to keep that number at a steady pace just as you would on a treadmill. If you were to watch a runner change his pace by 5-10 seconds throughout his run, you would think he was crazy. It’s not much different on a rower. The key to keeping your split time steady is to find control within your breathing pattern, and to have the damper at a workable setting that will allow you to achieve that. Practice your split times as you would your stroke rate. Row at a slow/light jog pace for 30 seconds, then go to a fast/sprint pace for another 30 seconds.
Not to add confusion, but.. the stroke rate and split time have everything and nothing to do with each other! What?! Compare it to gears on a bike. Different stroke rates will allow different effectiveness at different speeds. Keep this in mind: a lower SPM will be more taxing on the muscles while a higher SPM will be more taxing on your lungs. Neither is right or wrong. If you know you have a strength workout ahead of you, aim for a higher SPM. If you have a lighter weight day, aim for a lower SPM.
Watts refers to the amount of pure power you expend in a single stroke. The higher your watts, the more powerful your strokes are. Watts can somewhat indicate how fit and efficient a rower and their stroke is. High watts usually comes with low splits; however, technique is a huge factor in this. Technique is crucial to power production. This takes time and patience so don’t panic if your watts aren’t through the roof. Get your split time to where you want it, then work on your power!
The Damper is the lever that you will see on the right hand side of the flywheel/fan cage. The damper does not control the resistance or intensity, but rather controls the amount of air that flows into the cage. A higher damper allows more air which creates more work while a lower damper allows less air, creating less work. The intensity of your row comes from how hard you are driving with your legs and pulling with your arms. In simple terms, a lower damper will provide more of an aerobic workout, and a higher damper will give more of a strength workout. Are you ready for this? A damper setting of 3-5 will likely give you the best overall workout. Most Crossfitters will have their damper set at 8-10 because they assume it’s the most challenging. It may be more challenging but it’s also more taxing and exhausting on the muscles.
Last but not least, look at the positioning of your feet. You will notice holes and numbers on the flexible piece of plastic. That piece of plastic is movable and will help keep your feet stable. It is a pretty important factor to the overall rowing experience but we’ll keep it simple. Once you place your foot on the plate and your heel is all the way down, you’ll want the strap to cross over the ball of your foot. It’s that easy.
You may be feeling a little overwhelmed with all of this new rower knowledge, but don’t. Choose a number to focus on and do just that. Give yourself some time to practice your rowing based on the Stroke Rate, Split time, and Watts on an individual basis. Once you become comfortable with how they all work together, you will be a rock-star rower. Ask your coach for clarifications, take it one row at a time, and enjoy!