How to row a fast 500m

Rowing is a firm favourite as part of both functional fitness and as a standalone sport. The 2020 CrossFit games had a 1000m time trial as a standalone event and the 2020 British Rowing indoor championships (BRIC) had record numbers by being run virtually.

The full body nature of rowing and the full range of time domains that can be competed in makes the erg a great choice for conditioning that's joint friendly while providing a huge metabolic workout.

The 500m is the standard for sprinting on the indoor rowing machine, it requires strength, power and power endurance to achieve peak speed and manage fatigue.

The set up

Have a play around with the damper setting to see what feels best at a higher rate: Traditionally, a damper setting of 4 - 6 is used for most distances with a slight increase for sprinting. Don't just whack it up to 10. Invest some time in finding what damper setting and stroke rate allows you to produce the most power with the least fatigue.

The game plan: Fly and die or pick your pace:

There are two ways to row a 500m

  • Go all out at full send to get the average /500m as low as possible before the fatigue (pain) kicks in. The aim is to bank as much time in the first 350 - 400m and the hang on over the final 100- 150 knowing fatigue it's going to kick in hard and are going to slow down. The aim at this point is to keep fighting to limit the enviable fade.
  • Even pacing: If you have a target time in mind, simply holding that pace though out with minimal fade in power output at the end.

Which approach is best is ultimately down to the physical and psychological characteristics of the athlete, how powerful they are, what percentage of top end power then can sustain and how they mentally deal with pain and discomfort when it kicks in.

The start:

View this as the first 100m, focus on making the first 3 - 5 strokes count, the aim is to see your target /500 split pace on the screen by stroke 5: Focus on a strong push with the legs before pulling with the arms: . Don't do the old school CrossFit approach of tiny short strokes to "get the flywheel moving" : it's a sure fire way of slowing you down. If the start is your weakness, increasing your maximal strength and supplementing with creatine have significantly improve the initial 100m.

The middle:

This is from 100m to 400m, the aim here is to hold steady and settle into a efficient stroke rate and rhythm: Typically between 40 - 50 strokes per minute at target 500m pace.

The end:

When the fatigue kicks in over the final 100m, reduce your slide to 75% (ie only slide down ¾ of the rail on each stroke), this allows you to keep your rate high and power up. If you fade badly over the final 100m, using xendurance can help manage the decline of power that occurs from metabolic fatigue.

So next time you see a 500m in your programming, give some of these tips and try and take your performance to the next level.

About the author: Paul Johnson holds a MSc in Exercise and Nutrition Science and is a certified Performance Nutritionist via the International Society of Sports Nutrition (CISSN) , he works with indoor rower and functional fitness athletes on all things performance related. He himself holds 3 British indoor rowing records (500m, 1000m, 1 minute maximum distance).

Instagram: @lreg_fitness_and_nutrition

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