We hear this question frequently from new Hydrow users who are also new to rowing as a sport.
Some other closely related questions are:
- How do I feel it more in my legs?
- How do I increase my calorie burn?
- How can I generate more power while rowing?
- How do I row more meters in the same amount of time?
- How do I lower my split?
The answer to all of these is deceptively simple: Push yourself a bit harder while rowing.
Don't worry, though! We're going to unpack that answer over the course of this article and make some actual suggestions for you. But, it is really important to establish this central fact at the beginning:
With rowing, you determine how much energy you expend on each stroke and in each workout. That means that you are fully in control of how difficult the workout ends up being.
If you want to work harder on Hydrow, then the most important number on your screen will be your 500/m split. This functions as the most direct measure of how much work you are doing at any given time. The lower your split is, the harder your body is pushing.
(Pro Tip: If you prefer to see this number expressed as "watts" output instead, you can simply tap on it during a workout to switch metrics.)
What does the split really mean to my workout?
Your split is a calculation of how much power you put in each stroke, combined with your rhythm (strokes per minute). This means that rowing at a higher rhythm number will artificially bring your split down. However, a skilled rower can pull awesome split times even at slower rhythms by increasing the power output from their body.
Quick reference points for split times:
- Elite rowers can almost always maintain a sprint split below 2:00/500m.
- The current world record on an indoor rower is a split of 1:23.9/500m over a 2,000 meter sprint (by Australia's Josh Dunkley-Smith in 2018)!
- The average split among people on the Hydrow staff (not including our Athletes) is generally between 2:20 and 3:00.
- Split varies based on many individual factors, including fitness, weight, and experience. The most important thing to measure is how this value improves over time. As you get better at rowing, you should be able to use less effort to pull the same split. It will get easier and easier to pull a 2:30 as you improve, for example.
So, if low split times are the key to a good workout, then the next obvious question is . . . .
How do I lower my split?
Congratulations! You have arrived at the largest and most challenging question which sits at the center of rowing as a sport! How do we optimize our rowing to gain maximum power from every stroke? We've provided a few basic and concrete suggestions below to help you get started:
- Focus on good rowing form and improving your fundamentals. Developing good, consistent habits is key when getting started. Make sure to either complete or revisit the “Getting Started/ Learn to Row” video content by scrolling to the bottom of your home screen.
- Adjust Hydrow’s foot stretchers up or down to put your feet in a position of power for maximum leverage. The straps should cross over the ball of your foot. At the catch, shins should be perpendicular to the floor with knees stacked over the ankles. It is fine if your heels are up or down, this just reflects individual flexibility!
- Legs, legs, legs! Focusing on really using your lower body during the drive is the first thing to work on. Leg strength comprises about 60% of the power in the rowing stroke.
- Some people think about the drive like lifting: If you are going to pick up something heavy (like a refrigerator), you need to generate the majority of your strength from the legs to protect the rest of your body. Same thing with rowing!
- Others find it more useful to visualize movement through the catch and the drive like completing a jump squat: You compress as you come up to the catch, as if you are lowering to the ground and getting ready to jump. Then, you push off for the drive of the stroke, as if you are trying to jump as high as you can from the ground.
- Either way, the force of the drive should start in the ball of your foot and travel down to your heel where you finish the rest of the push-off.
- The core is the essential “Link in the Chain” between the legs and the handle.
- Right before you push with your legs in the drive, try bracing your core. (Just tighten up those muscles as if preparing for an impact to your midsection.)
- A strongly-braced core allows all of the power in the legs to transfer efficiently to the handle, which can lower your split even further!
- This recovery phase should take noticeably longer than the work phase during the drive.
- Think about it as recovery and preparation for the next drive: You want to use that time between jumps to rest up and get ready to work really hard again!
Pro Tip: If you're not following the rowing lingo used in some of these steps, have a look at our Hydrow Rowing Glossary.
Can't I just turn up the drag on my Hydrow?
We would actually advise against turning the drag-factor way up on your workouts as a method for lowering your split. While doing this might bring your split down slightly, it also has the potential to impede your form and interfere with the efficiency of your stroke motion. This has minimal gains and could potentially get in the way of your learning and improvement. At worst, it could lead to bad habits or injury.
Drag is not intended as a "difficulty setting" for Hydrow. Unlike resistance settings on other types of fitness equipment (especially exercise bikes), increasing drag will not necessarily lead directly to a harder workout. Like we said at the beginning: Hydrow’s “difficulty” is determined by how hard you push. It will push back equally to what you put in. You need to create your difficulty by really using your legs and engaging your core!
You might ask: “So... what is the point of adjustable drag then?”
Hydrow’s drag is generally something that you should dial in to a level that fits your body best and then leave alone. Think about it this way: If you were in a boat on the water, you would be unable to control the resistance. You can't increase the current in the river or the wind dynamically. Resistance to your stroke might vary based on the size of boat you are in or other factors, but it would generally stay pretty consistent across several rowing sessions in your training.
You can also think of making drag adjustments on Hydrow as personalization. Most bodies have an ideal resistance level that may or may not be on par with the default 104 setting. Once you have a good feel for rowing on Hydrow, experiment with adjusting drag up or down slightly for comfort. This is sort of like adjusting your seat and mirrors before you drive a car. Once they're optimized for you, you don't need to reconfigure them for more intense driving.
More Drills for Improvement.
Looking to go a bit deeper into improving your stroke? Here are some great drills to help you learn and optimize. Our athletes will often include these type of drills as part of both Warm-up and Cool-down workouts, so make sure you are book-ending those onto your workout, too!
- Legs only - Isolate the leg section of the drive by rowing without using your core or arms. Focus on how best to mechanically generate power from this section alone. Remember this should be 60% of your total power.
- Choose a rhythm number and vary your split - See the highest split you can pull at a rhythm of 20 S/M. See the lowest split you can pull at that same 20 S/M. How does time on the recovery change?
- Choose a split number and vary your rhythm - Decide on a split number and see if you can keep the same split at different stroke rates. How does it feel to pull a 2:20 split at 24s/m, 28s/m, or 34s/m? (This experiment works best on one of our Journey rows!)
- Consistency Drill - Pick a split and see how many strokes can you pull with the same exact split in a row? Try starting with 10 strokes! Restart your count when you pull a different split.
- Feet out - This one is tricky so be careful! Try rowing a few strokes with your feet unstrapped from Hydrow’s footbeds and feel the changes this forces you to make to your form. Good form means that you should not be using these straps to pull you forward on the recovery or to keep you from flying off the back. Please be very mindful of your safety while using Hydrow this way and start out very slowly.
- Maximum meters per stroke - Hop on a Journey row and experiment! What is the maximum amount of meters you can travel per stroke? What changes in your technique help you travel further? Shorter?
Again, don't hesitate to consult the Rowing Glossary if some of the terms above don't make sense.
Thanks for reading!
We hope all of the above will help guide you towards better workouts, lower splits, and a general feeling of well-being around your rowing! These are some of the same topics, questions, and ideas that athletes and coaches deal with out on the water. If you go searching, there are numerous resources available both in the Hydrow online community and in the more general rowing community to help you continue your journey.
See you on the water soon!