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Rowing for Newbs: Strokes Per Minute

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Coach says, “1000m!” Class proceeds to eye roll.

“500m row THEN 30 thrusters? Are you kidding me?!”

“I HATE cal row.”

Any of these sound like you? At some point, most likely.  Here’s the deal though, rowing can actually become tolerable and enjoyable if you treat the technique like you would a dead lift or clean.  It’s more than pulling random strokes and uncontrollable speeds.  And there’s actually a way to row efficiently and still have energy for other movements in the workout.  ::GASPS::  Part of your rowing efficiency comes down to strokes per minute.

  1.  What are strokes per minute and where do I find them?  Strokes per minute (spm) relate to your stroke rate, or how many strokes you take per minute.  A stoke consists of pulling the handle to the finish (when your legs are extended and the handle is at your chest), the recovery (when you start to bring the handle close to the opposite end of the rower where the monitor is) and the catch (arms extended, knees are bent, handle is all the way in).  You can find your spm by looking at the monitor.  It’s typically found in a lower or upper corner with a number varying from 24-34 and a little s/m next to it.
  2. Why do my spm change? Spm changes depending on the speed it takes you to get the handle from the finish to the catch.  If you’re a speed demon and are rushing up and down the rower, your spm might shoot up to 38.  Here’s some perspective; a normal spm for our wods should be anywhere from 24-30, with 30 on the higher end for super short distances.
  3. How can I control my spm? You can control your spm by slowing down or speeding up the time in takes the handle to go from the finish to the catch and back again.  Think about a count: you pull on that handle and count “one.”  On the recovery (bringing the handle back towards the monitor), count “one, two.” Pull again, count “one.”

While you’re doing this, watch your monitor for feedback.  If you see those s/m start climbing, reduce the speed while maintaining a strong drive. This will help get you into a smooth, consistent rhythm with your speed and breathing, as well as get you through the row with efficiency.