One of our Instagram followers asked the question: “Explain this whole ‘rowing split times’ thing to me. What are they, what should I be looking for in them, and how can I use them to row faster?
You ask, we deliver!
If you’re newer to rowing, the split can be a confusing thing. You hear people talk about it all the time, but what is it even, and how can you use it to become a better rower?
You can use the split in a number of ways to track your rowing workout performance, measure your progress and improve your results. We’ll explore more in this post.
What Are Split Times?
Your split time (“split” for short) is simply the amount of time it takes you to row 500 meters on your rowing machine. Most machine monitors will give you your rowing splits, and it’s a convenient way to track your progress from workout to workout.
For example, if the machine says “2:00/500m”, that means it will take 2 minutes to row 500 meters. The number will change as you row because the machine is constantly updating based on your current effort.
Just as runners talk about their mile time, rowers talk about their split. You’ll often hear people say, “I took three seconds off my split!” That simply means they reduced the amount of time it took them to row 500 meters in that instance or on that rowing machine workout.
If you have a goal of rowing faster, you should aim to reduce your split time as much as possible while still rowing efficiently and powerfully, maximizing every stroke and holding good form.
Is my rowing split the same as my stroke rate?
They are different! Your split measures how quickly you cover that 500-meter distance, your stroke rate refers to how many strokes you take in a minute.
People mistakenly think there’s always a direct correlation between your rowing splits and your stroke rate (also known as “strokes per minute” or “spm”).
While it’s true that your split will probably go down if you’re taking more strokes in a minute, it’s really the amount of force you’re applying on the drive portion of the stroke that matters, and you can vary that at any stroke rate!
So it’s equally possible to row 500 meters in 3 minutes or more going 20 strokes per minute as it is to cover the same distance in 2:15 or less at that same stroke rate.
It’s all about how hard you push and pull!
What Is a Good Rowing Split Time?
“Pace” is another way you’ll hear split time described. Those terms are interchangeable.
What’s “good” will vary depending on a number of factors including your age, weight, current fitness level, and experience with rowing. It also depends on how far or hard you’re trying to go!
If your goal distance is 500 or 2000 meters, you can row a lot harder – and therefore cover that distance faster – than you could if you were rowing a half or full marathon.
Racing aside, a general rule of thumb is to start by rowing slowly and gradually increase your speed (drop your split) over time.
For many people that may be something in the range of 2:30 – 3:00/500m or more initially, dropping over time as you gain fitness and get more efficient with your rowing.
Bottom line, a good rowing split time is one that allows you to meet your goals throughout the workout, and to complete the workout still with good technique.
For beginners, that’s likely to be a more moderate pace, while more experienced rowers will probably row faster without sacrificing their form.
Don’t fixate on the numbers!
Unless you’re preparing to compete or attempt a record, there’s no “right” split you should be hitting. The answer to “What is a good rowing split time?” is whatever you need to do to hit your target effort level on every rowing machine workout.
How long should it take you to row 500 meters?
For beginners, it’s more important to focus on form and technique than split or distance.
Setting those good habits early will pay off in the long run in your results, and keep you healthy and injury-free! As you progress, you can gradually increase your speed and distance.
Your actual number will vary widely depending on how old you are, your general fitness level, age, weight, and how powerful your stroke is. It’s nearly impossible to give a number because it’s different for everyone!
To illustrate the point, I looked at the Concept2 500m world rankings. They range from 1:10.5 to 5:05.1 in athletes ranging in age from 12 to 103 years old!
So as you can see, it really does depend on who you are, and truly any result is a great place to start!
How to Find Your Own Target Rowing Splits
It may sound obvious, but if you’re interested in improving your rowing machine fitness it’s a great idea to regularly check your progress.
Sometimes you’ll see people talk for example about a “2K pace + 6 seconds” for workouts. That means they’ve rowed a 2000m piece and worked to do it the fastest they could. Then they take their average split time and go 6 seconds slower.
We typically prefer to have people use a different, more user-friendly barometer like a 4-minute test, but the concept is sound. However, many rowers don’t have a baseline to work from, and that’s ok!
Pick a distance that seems doable and repeatable, 4 minutes, 2000 meters, 5000 meters, something like that. It probably won’t be a half marathon, but if endurance is your thing, have at it!
Set your monitor for your target distance, and record your time/distance and your average split and stroke rate when you’re done. Repeat monthly or quarterly.
Generally speaking, you’re looking for the pace/split that will allow you to focus on your technique and a good effort, rather than constantly worrying about your finish time.
It’s also important to note that everyone progresses at their own rate. There are no set base splits, unless you’re trying to qualify for a competitive rowing program, and that’s a different animal.
That being said, it’s always a good idea to challenge yourself every once in a while. Pushing yourself beyond your comfort zone can sometimes lead to impressive results, at any age or stage!
Find Your Target With The Rowing Splits Calculator
Do you have your heart set on hitting a particular time for a distance, or do you NEED to hit a particular time for a distance?
Check out the Concept2 pace calculator. You can use it to quickly determine your target pace for a distance, or see how far you can go in a certain amount of time when rowing at a particular pace.
It makes the math easy, and we’re all about easy math around here!
How to Find Where You Rank Against Others
Sometimes you just want to know where you stand against your peers. Here are two ways to do that:
Concept2 maintains world record rankings in 13 categories of both meter and time targets. Go into them and you can see what the top racers in your age category have done.
Those numbers can be a little daunting though! If that’s the case for you check the Concept2 season rankings. You’ll get the numbers for the current ranking year only, and they may be a bit lower.
Keep in mind though, on both lists you’re likely up against former Olympians and National Team rowers from around the world! They’re a special breed, and not one that you need to feel compelled to compete with.
In either list, you may want to take a look at the 50th percentile result (or lower even). That’s the middle of the pack, and a nice place to be or work towards, especially if you’re new to rowing for effort.
Our best advice is always to meet yourself where you are and progress at your own rate. As long as you know you’ve done the best that you can do on any given day, you’re good!
Tips for Improving Your Rowing Machine Split Time
Learn to row slow
This could also be phrased as, “How to row faster,” something we get asked about ALL the time.
There’s a saying in rowing, “you can’t row well high if you can’t row well low.”
It may sound counterintuitive, but the key to low splits and fast times is getting good at rowing strong at low stroke rates.
It’s all about learning to really connect and generate power in your stroke on the drive, then move that through the rest of the stroke. Rowing at stroke rates of 18-20 strokes per minute help you slow down so you can groove the right technique in your muscles.
Get comfortable with being uncomfortable
Rowing at a low split, where you’re generating a lot of power on the machine (regardless of how many strokes you take in a minute) isn’t easy.
You can increase your tolerance for that discomfort by progressively spending more time in that challenging intensity zone, where you could only answer a question with a word or two, or maybe not at all.
It never feels good to be in that place, mind you, but you can get more familiar with it. By adding a few more seconds in that range progressively over time, you’ll work your way into holding lower splits for longer.
If your goal is to lower your splits and row faster, you have to row consistently.
So don’t let your home rower become a clothes hanger, or ignore the machine at your gym!
Build a habit of rowing several days a week and doing workouts that challenge you.
And don’t be discouraged if it takes time to see results–everyone progresses at different rates. Just keep using the machine consistently and you will see improvements over time!
Sample workouts for improving your rowing split times
If you’re looking to improve your rowing splits, then you’ll need to focus on your power output.
Below are two workouts we love that can help you do just that.
In both cases, be sure to warm up well before attempting them. You should be sweating but not breathing hard before you start the workout.
Cooling down after the workout is just as important! Take a few minutes to row lightly, get your heart rate down and enjoy the easy, relaxing swing of the movement.
As always, be sure you have clearance from a health professional before doing these or any rowing workout.
Here’s a workout that Master Instructor Heather Alschuler likes to use to help people predict how they will do in a 2000-meter race:
Row either 8 rounds of 500 meters, rowing slowly in between for another 500 meters of recovery OR
row 4 rounds of 1000 meters, doing 1000 meters of recovery paddling in between.
Your goal is to row “negative splits,” meaning you get faster on each piece as you go.
The average split for either of the workouts should be close to what you can hold over a full 2000-meter race.
The 500s Workout
Row 5 rounds of 30 seconds of work and 30 seconds of rest.
What are your thoughts on this? Do you have a target split you’re working to reach? We’re happy to answer any questions, just drop them in the comments and we’ll get back to you?
Want more help with this?
- Power is one of the things we all need to be working on to build our fitness. Download this FREE handout that will give you workouts to help you build fitness in 5 key areas, power included!
- Ready to go deeper? Check out the Power Builder Series in our on-demand workouts. It’s 4 row-along workouts with Master Instructor Cassi Niemann that will help you practice rowing faster.
- Just getting started with rowing? Our RowNow program is designed to get you up and rowing well in just 4 weeks, even if right now you’re a complete beginner!