Would you just start lifting a barbell without knowing how much does it weigh? Would you ever complete running a marathon without monitoring your pace? If your answer is NO, stop neglecting the rowing numbers on the performance monitor while you row on a rowing machine, or ergometer.

performance metrics on the rowing machine monitor

The monitor is an effective tool that will give instantaneous feedback during your workout. Furthermore, most rowing monitors feature wireless connectivity. You may establish a wireless connection with your smartphone and tablets, introducing compatible fitness apps to upgrade your indoor rowing experience.

The performance monitors and compatible rowing apps from different rowing machine brands are different. Yet, they display the key rowing numbers reflecting your performance for each workout, ranging from time/duration, distance, speed/pace, calories, to watts, which helps control and supervise your rowing workouts.

Let’s dive into two major rowing metrics that you should be aware of, i.e., your intensity and your rhythm, which are essential to your success in rowing.

1. Rowing Numbers – Split Time

Generally in the rowing world, your intensity should be displayed as the SPLIT/500M. It essentially shows how fast your boat would finish 500 meters at your current intensity level. Sometimes your intensity can be shown as WATTS or CAL/HOUR. However, those metrics change so much and so frequently because they’re so variable.

Therefore, sticking with the split/500m and getting used to reading and understanding that is going to be your best bet.

500m split time

What does split time mean in rowing?

Split time normally refers to the time it takes you to row 500 meters. It shows your speed and is a reflection of the amount of force you apply to each stroke. A 2:00 split time means that it takes you two minutes to complete 500 meters.

The harder you work, the faster you row, the lower this figure will become. It is a very effective tool to find consistency with each stroke.

You’ll most often see “real” rowers using the 500m split display. As such rowers get very well attuned with what kind of splits are impressive and which are not.

The display of the performance monitor may show your average speed per 500-meters or your predicted time for completing the 500m workout based on your current speed. It all depends on the model you are using and the setting you have selected.

Why the split time is essential to perfect your rowing workout?

During a rowing workout, the 500m split time is a very useful pacing tool. It gives you real-time feedback on whether you are on track to achieve your finish-time goal. Thus, it helps you maximize your efforts during any workout with rowing. With a performance monitor or rowing app, you can easily know what splits you’re supposed to be hitting at specific distance markers.

If the monitor or app says 2:00/500m, this means it will take you 2:00 to row 500 meters. Pretty simple, right?

Therefore, if you held the split time of 2:00 for 2,000 meters, it would take you 8:00 to complete the 2 km row (500 x 4 = 2,000 and 2:00 x 4 = 8:00).

Review your splits after each rowing workout to determine how well you did with pacing and what you can improve for the next workout.

What number should it be?

It depends on your rowing machine and your fitness level. Usually, an athletic rower will aim for 2 minutes or less. To increase your pace, push out with more power — don’t just pump your arms faster.

How to control your split time?

Practice makes perfect.

Ignoring all the other rowing numbers on the monitor, you can practice holding a series of different split times, ranging from feeling like a light jog to feeling like a sprint. Hold them for thirty to sixty seconds each. Practice this regularly until you have the power to make split times happens.

2. Rowing Numbers – Stroke Rate

The other rowing metric to understand and grasp is your rhythm, which is shown as your stroke rate or your strokes per minute (S/M).

As a beginner, it is CRUCIAL that you understand that your stroke rate has nothing to do with your boat speed, your intensity, your split per 500 meters. It is simply the rhythm at which you row at.

spm stroke rate

What does stroke rate mean in rowing?

Stroke rate is cadence or pace reflecting how many times you row (stroke) on the rower in 1 minute. Measured in “strokes per minute” (“s/m” or “spm”), the number is updated every stroke on your performance monitor screen.

What number should it be?

Most of the time in training this number should be somewhere between 18-30spm. In a competitive scenario stroke rate could be between 30-40spm.

Here are some general guidelines to help match your stroke rate to your workouts:18-22 spm

Conduct your rowing workouts at lower stroke rates is helpful for practicing your technique, stroke sequence, and rhythm. However, if you intend to do long hard workouts, these stroke rates are not recommended. As you may feel more like doing a strength workout than an aerobic workout.24-28 spm

These stroke rates are recommended for longer rowing workouts. These rates are slow enough for you to apply good, strong technique that can be maintained. Rowing at this range would be comfortable if you perform steady state rowing workouts.30-36 spm

Higer stroke rates are easier to maintain over short distances. These stroke rates demand fast twitch muscles. As a result, you will fire rapidly.

However, a higher stroke rate requires more energy to maintain. You will fatigue more quickly.

These higher stroke rates are best practiced with interval training and for racing distances up to 2km.38+ spm

High stroke rates are mostly used by athletes for racing and short distances. Rowing at these stroke rates will mobilize your fast twitch muscles as well. They use anaerobic metabolism for fuel and provide short bursts of speed.

What’s the best stroke rate?

It is not an exact number, as it would be a challenge for you to row at the exact same SPM throughout your entire workout.

It is recommended that you maintain an average stroke rate within two strokes of the given range, provided that you can perform good technique during the exercise time or distance.

How to control your stroke rate?

As you get more advanced, you will realize that certain stroke rates help you optimize certain rowing distances. How to make it happen?

Again, practice makes perfect.

You can practice holding a consistent stroke rate, ignoring all the other numbers on the performance monitor. Practice holding a specific SPM for an extended period of time. It might be quite challenging at first, but if you persist it will improve.

The goal is to get on a rower and to row at a certain average SPM, and you can do it consistently without compromising your rowing technique. Because through practicing, you know immediately how it feels to row at a certain SPM range.

Tips for finding the proper stroke rate:

If you increase your stroke rate but cannot maintain it, then it is recommended that you decrease your stroke rate during your workout.

If you increase your stroke rate but don’t see your pace improve, it indicates that your technique is suffering.

Decrease your stroke rate to where you gain speed by rowing correctly.

Check this stroke rate instruction video for more advice on which stroke rate should you use on a rowing machine.

Final Thought

Except for acquiring good rowing technique, the stroke rate and the split time should be the 2 numbers you have control over and you use to strategize your way to perfect your rowing workout. You will surprisingly find yourself progress from novice to elite.

Happy rowing!