Rowing for Fitness and How to Determine Your Fly Wheel Setting
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Written by Andrew Linn

March 13, 2017

*Written by Jeremy Lindquist

Rowing can be an excellent exercise or sport helping you improve strength in many muscle groups at once, and it can also be used to improve your cardiovascular conditioning and endurance in a non-impactful way like burpees or running. This is great for people looking to improve their general fitness levels in a way that doesn’t need to cause joint pain or back pain. These restrictions for many people can drastically turn a great workout into a miserable experience. However, with some focus on good form and utilizing simple interval structures into your weekly routine, you can find a new-found level of confidence with the rower, notice increases in power, and cardio conditioning. I want to talk you through a few of the foundational elements to pay attention to while you practice rowing and some warm-up structures you can use to improve your next row test result.

Coaching your row:

Anatomy: The rowers we use are the Concept2 Indoor Rowers. These units are built to handle a whole lot of power, torque, and they glide so smoothly, they make finding a nice feel in your workout a great experience. However, as with any piece of equipment, knowing technique and form cues are the easiest ways to eliminate extra work and move efficiently to be sure you are putting as much of your power into your workout in a safe manner. Click here for some key points to think about with proper rowing technique.

If seeing things in motion are more helpful for you, check this video we made for some useful tips: Click here

The Dampener:

Along the side of the flywheel is a sliding lever that rotates about a scale of numbers from 1-10. This tool simply acts as a magnetic brake on the rotating flywheel. Kind of like the difference between bench pressing less than 30% of your Bench Press max weight for 30 reps vs. 5 reps at 90% of your max. You can get more of an endurance and cardio effect on a low dampener number, or you can get more of a power focused workout rowing at a 10 on the dampener. Decide what the purpose of your workout is for this occasion and adjust as necessary.

There have been questions about what is the optimal dampener setting for testing scenarios (example: monthly 4:00 time trial row).  It’s not so much about what the dampener setting is set at, but more of how well do you know how to pace yourself with pulling force and cadence to create an average pace.

Scenario 1: You start off extremely strong and can row at a rate of 1:40/ 500m pace, and your cadence is at 25 strokes per minute. At this rate, you would be at the work rate required to row over 1200 meters in 4 minutes. A very high level of power and conditioning fitness is needed to hold this rate. If you are finishing closer to 1000 meters in 4:00 in your previous tests, you will want to adjust your work rate to something more along a rate of 2:00/ 500 m and you can keep the cadence at 25 strokes per minute.

Scenario 2: You are conservative in your approach and hold yourself pretty steady at 2:10/ 500m pace for the first 2-3 minutes at a moderate effort, and keep a steady 30 strokes per minute cadence throughout. Then in the last minute you realize you are not exactly exhausted and can punch the final minute in intensity and start to pull at closer to 1:40/500m rate and slow your cadence down for a more powerful and longer stroke. You may come out of the test mostly pain free, but you will likely be well under your true potential and will know you have something more to give.

These are just a couple of examples of how folks may execute in their rowing tests. Each individual is able to decide for themselves how they want to approach this test. If your goals align with going about workouts in the best possible strategy to get as much out of your training as you can tolerate, there is a key strategy your coaches will likely encourage you to aim for. It calls for a bit of preparation and some thought of your execution.

Take your previous distance achieved in the 4:00 test and multiply that number by 1.02 to 1.05 (This is a safe and sound strategic goal to strive for each month 2-5% improvement). Go to, and use the pace calculator to find your sweet spot pace. Put your calculated goal distance in and 4:00 for time. You will see a time per 500 m split number to use as a reference point to guide you to a steady state effort throughout your next test. You will also see a power value in the watts metric. This is an objective unit of measure telling you how much mechanical work you are creating while rowing. You can use this as a secondary data field on your screen to help you find the ideal stroke rate and rowing split pace to finish with a new Personal Record! Then when you get to doing your test, hold as steady of a cadence and pulling force as needed to keep that split number and watts at your specific targets to ensure you stay as close to that sweet spot and keep a steady cadence throughout your test to prevent unneeded fatigue early on.

Go ahead and calculate your goal split for next month, and practice holding steady efforts for 500 m before classes occasionally. You will likely notice how nice it is to find a rhythm and keep a strong pace going which will lead to improving your confidence in gaining that extra 50 meters next time you test.

I use a similar approach to helping runners learn to pace themselves for longer races and work on being more efficient so running is less work, and more enjoyable. There are great advantages to talking with someone who has years of experience with learning how to improve mechanics and adopt smarter pacing strategies to work around fatigue and keeping better focus. A great to look at training is that you will likely find your limits in work ethic pretty quickly if you push yourself enough. However, if you focus carefully on how you move and are mindful of how you go about execution, you can easily find ways to improve without needing more time. If these concepts of pacing are difficult to visualize while you are reading, please feel free to talk to me in person or email me questions so I may better help you understand what you can do.  Please like or share or comment if you feel this stuff is helpful or interesting. Thanks for reading!

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