One skill in rowing that is crucial to master is the ability to maintain a specific stroke rating (s/m) with consistency. The stroke rating refers to how fast you move back and forth on your slide per minute and is shown on the performance monitor in the corner as s/m (strokes per minute). When you hop on the erg, are you able to row at a certain stroke rate with consistency or does your number hop all over the place? Think about this…when you run, are you able to keep a nice consistent cadence or do you sprint, then jog, then walk for 3 steps, then sprint again? That’s what it’s like on the rower if you aren’t able to achieve some type of slide control and it makes your time on the rower less efficient.
What stroke rating should I row at?
There are a few factors that may affect your stroke rating. First, your s/m might be determined by the type of piece you are doing. Are you spending a long time on the erg for an endurance session? Chances are, you will be maintaining a low but steady stroke rating. Sprint intervals, on the other hand, might require a much faster rating. The damper setting might also affect how fast or slow you want to move on the erg. A lower damper makes the erg feel like a lighter boat and one is able to move quicker with a faster stroke rating if they want to. At a higher damper setting, the flywheel is wide open and the increased air coming into the housing gives the boat a heavier feel, requiring more muscular endurance and possibly a slower s/m. Whatever the case may be, it is important to be able to choose a rating and carry it out with proficiency.
First, you must know that your stroke rating will directly impact the recovery phase of the stroke. From the catch, you must drive hard with your legs, then body, and finally arms. If you are rowing slow (18-22 s/m, for example), you will be taking your time coming back into the catch, possibly with a drive to recovery ratio of 1:2 or 1:3. As you pick up the rating, your drive essentially stays the same (strong and leg powered) but your recovery starts to get shortened and as you approach race pace (s/m in the 30’s) you will feel like your drive to recovery ratio is about 1:1. Always keep your drive strong and powerful and adjust your recovery to accommodate the stroke rating you have chosen to keep.
Here’s an easy way to work on slide control. Next time you are warming up, take minute intervals on the erg and hold a specific s/m for each minute. Start at 22 s/m and notice your drive to recovery ratio. Are you able to keep the s/m at 22 without it hopping around? How many times in a row can you keep it at 22? Do this for a minute, paying attention to your rhythm and taking note of your pace. When the next minute comes up, increase your rating to 24. What happens to your recovery time? Are you able to hold this number. Continue to up your rating by 2 until you get to about 32 which would be 6 minutes of steady rowing. How different does 22 feel from 32? What did you notice about your pace as you increased your rating? You can also add “paddle” time in between intervals just to breathe and collect yourself so you can focus on the next minute and new s/m challenge.
Advanced technique: Once you are adept at maintaining a stroke rating, you can layer in intensity control. When we row at a slow rating, it is typical for the pace to be slower. On that same note, as we begin to move faster on the slide, our pace is usually faster. While pace and stroke rating are definitely related, they are also very separate entities. Ultimately, the amount of energy you put into the erg, no matter the stroke rating, is what will affect your pace the most.
*Try this: Choose a stroke rating that you wish to hold for a certain amount of time. Let’s say a 22 s/m for 2 minutes. For the first 30 seconds, row at 22 with light pressure (low intensity). Take note of your pace. At 30 seconds, HOLD your 22 s/m, but add more pressure into your foot boards and handle (high intensity) and see how low you can get your pace. At one minute, go back to light pressure and hold the 22. Can you keep the s/m steady and allow your pace to go slower. At 1:30, add in the intensity again while keeping your rating consistent at 22. Can you manipulate your pace while keeping your rating the same? Take a break and then do the same thing at 24 for 2 minutes, then 26. Continue manipulating intensity while maintaining stroke rating.
I’m sure you’re asking yourself, “what’s wrong with ‘flying and dying’ or ‘grabbing and going'”? The simple answer is, it lacks efficiency. You have no control. You won’t be able to realistically pace yourself, especially when a wod calls for rowing AND other work. Being able to know how fast you like to move or need to move to maintain a certain pace is huge in getting yourself through a tough wod that involves rowing. No one wants to lose power during a wod because they aren’t efficient. Once you can control your slide AND your intensity, you can be confident with any rowing piece thrown your way.