Rowing Machine Strokes Per Minute Can Be Deceptive

Rowing Machine Strokers Per Minute - LCD Console

When starting out, many people obsess about rowing machine strokes per minute, but this isn’t necessarily what you should be most concerned about when using an indoor rower.

Keep in mind that your primary focus when rowing for exercise is to get a good cardiovascular workout, not to break any speed records. It’s also important to remember that the numbers for strokes per minute can be deceptive.

Your Optimal Cardio Rate

Rather than trying to push yourself to use as many strokes per minute as you can, you should focus on reaching the optimal heart rate for a good cardiovascular workout.

Try rowing to achieve and maintain your target heart rate for at least twenty minutes at a fairly steady rate.

For many people, a good rate is about 25 rowing machine strokes per minute. If you go too slowly, you won’t elevate your heart rate enough to give you the cardio results you’re looking for.

On the other hand, if you try to push yourself to do too many strokes per minute, you could end up with muscle exhaustion, forcing you to quit rowing before you’ve got enough cardio time in.

Once you reach the point where you can easily maintain your target heart rate for 30-40 minutes at a steady rate, you can start changing things up by varying your stroke speed. 

Try working up to 30 strokes per minute and maintaining it for 3-4 minutes, then push yourself to 35 strokes for one minute before dropping back down to 20-25 strokes per minute in order to recover. Repeating this process for a half hour will give you an excellent interval workout.

Some Commonly Asked Questions

Here are some of the questions that are related to strokes per minute that you might be interested in learning about...

What's a good target stroke rate?

Again, the number of strokes per minute, or cadence, is less important than your form and your power, but in general most rowers will have a stroke rate between 18 and 30.  It's better to have 18 good, strong strokes per minute than to have 30 poorly executed, weak strokes.  So keep your focus how you move and how intense your pull is.

How long should you work out on the rowing machine?

That's something you need to determine for yourself.  If you're just starting out, you should begin with about 15-20 minutes per day at a comfortable intensity level.

From there you can either extend your time and continue to work out at a comfortable level, or keep the same time and step it up your intensity level.

Most people with a regular routine will work out about 30-45 minutes per day.  So if you can work your way up to that amount of time, and you're using a good amount of intensity throughout, you should be in good shape.

We discuss various workouts you can do, some shorter, some longer, and these may be a good starting point for you.  Again, don't concern yourself with strokes per minute on the rowing machine...focus on your technique and your effort...that's how you get the best results.

How long should it take to do a 500 meter row?

Of course, that's going to vary from one rower to the next, depending on a number of factors, including height, weight, age, fitness level, etc. You may be able to do it in 1:30, while someone else might do it in 2:00.  That doesn't mean that you are in better shape, unless all other influencing factors are the same.

For example, taking a look at the Concept2 Rankings, if we select a 500m race, 19-29 year old males, the top time is 1:13.5 with an average of 1.33.9.

If we change that to 30-39 year old females, the top time is 1:30.5, a little better than the average 19-29 year old male time.  The average for the older women is 1:58.

So you can see that there is a big difference between average times it will take different individuals to complete the same amount of distance on the rowing machine.

What is split mean on a rower?

Your split is basically your speed and is based on a distance of 500m.  So if your split time is 2:00 that means it took you 2 minutes to complete 500m.  It's kind of like when you race, and you're running a 7:00 mile.  500m represents a fraction of the typical 2000m race.  So it's a measure of how fast you are completing a 1/4 of that race.

Why Strokes Per Minute Can Be Deceiving

Some people confuse rowing machine strokes per minute with overall speed. You can have, for instance, two people both covering a specific distance, such as 500 meters, at the same speed of three minutes, but using a different number of strokes because one person is using more power in each stroke.

The more powerful your stroke, the more quickly you’ll cover the distance regardless of your strokes per minute. Fortunately, most of today’s best indoor rowers have consoles that can help you gauge your power, strokes and speed accurately.

It may be helpful to talk to someone who has rowed regularly or is a competitive rower if you’d like to learn more about the relative importance of your rowing machine strokes per minute.

Here are some related articles for you so you can get the most of of your rowing experience:

Improve the Effectiveness of Your Rowing Machine Exercises

Best Rowing Machine Techniques for Productive and Safe Workouts

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