Rowing Faster by Going Slower

Mar 31, 2017

To get faster, row slower. This seems like contrary advice, but by varying your stroke rate you can actually improve your technique and overall speed.

As we explain in our Rowing with Greater Intensity video, a higher stroke rate (strokes per minute, spm, or “s/m” on the Performance Monitor) doesn’t necessarily mean greater intensity. To row with greater intensity, you need to push harder with your legs and connect the leg drive through the back and arms into the handle and spin the flywheel. Intensity requires a faster drive. To row at a low stroke rate with intensity, you need to take a little more time on the recovery.

Attempting a stroke rate of 10 s/m (upper right corner) at low intensity

Slowing down the stroke can help teach your muscles better technique that can then be sustained at higher stroke rates. Working hard at a high stroke rate can sometimes compromise your technique, especially as you get tired. By rowing some workouts at low stroke rates, you can reinforce good technique and your muscles will be more likely to reproduce these movements at higher rates as movements become ingrained.

Low stroke rate workouts help to break down the stroke into fundamentals. With each stroke, you can focus on coordinated smooth leg-core-arm transitions and pay attention to your posture, head position, grip and breathing. As you prepare to race, you will need to learn how to carry all this learning into higher stroke rates.

Workouts that vary stroke rates allow you to play with sustaining good technique at both steady state (a comfortable rate you can breathe and talk through) and race rates. Depending on what distance you’re training for (sprints or long distance) the numerical value “low rate” may differ. Practice both controlling your slide (at low stroke rates, such as below 22 spm) and sprinting (at high stroke rates, such as 36+ spm). As you lower the stroke rate, be aware that the flywheel slows down more, just as a boat would. This means that it will require more work to accelerate it again on the next stroke.

We recommend trying the drills below at easy intensities, as they are only meant to explore the concepts and reinforce good habits. They are great for an easy recovery day or mixed in with other movements.

Exploring Stroke Rate

  • For thirty seconds to a minute, see how few strokes you can take while continuously moving through the catch, drive, and finish. No pausing! Can you row fewer than 15 spm? (The Performance Monitor may start incorrectly registering high stroke rates when you row this low.)
  • Row at a comfortable pace at half-slide. Half-slide rowing requires the same body sequence as full compression of the legs, but you get to the catch more quickly. Increase your stroke rating every 10 strokes for 1–2 minutes. Can you comfortably row half slide at 30 spm? Higher?
  • Choose a stroke rate to aim for, close your eyes, and row 20 strokes. Open your eyes. How close are you to the target?

Workout Ideas

  • Throughout your workout, vary the stroke rate every few minutes. For example, in a 30-minute pyramid, change stroke rate every three minutes: 3’@20 spm, 3’@22 spm, 3’@24 spm, 3’@26 spm, 3’@28 spm, 3’@29 spm, 3’@27 spm, 3’@25 spm, 3’@23 spm, 3’@21 spm.
  • Try “stroke rate tens” every minute of your workout. Without varying intensity, take ten strokes at a stroke rate +4 spm over your steady state spm.

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