Is It Better to Row Fast or Slow?

In this article, we will delve into the depths of this debate, examining the pros and cons of both fast and slow rowing. Whether you’re a seasoned rower looking to refine your strategy or a novice just getting started, this comprehensive exploration will provide you with valuable insights to enhance your rowing experience.

In the world of rowing, a question that often surfaces is: Is it better to row fast or slow? This seemingly simple query opens up a complex discussion about not only the mechanics and physiology involved in rowing but also the personal goals and fitness levels of each individual rower. Some argue that a high-speed approach maximizes calorie burn and muscle engagement, while others advocate for a slower pace that focuses on technique and endurance. 

What Does It Mean to Row Faster or Slower

row fast
Photo by Kyle Kranz on Unsplash

Rowing, whether it’s on the water or a machine, is all about rhythm and technique. When we talk about rowing faster or slower, we’re referring to the stroke rate – the number of rowing strokes taken per minute. Interestingly, slowing down the stroke can actually help you row faster over time. This is because a slower pace allows for better muscle memory of the correct technique, which can then be maintained even when the stroke rate increases. The power in rowing is delivered during the “catch” phase when the oar hits the water and the body is compact and ready to explode with controlled power.

The speed at which you row also depends on your goals. For instance, if you’re aiming for an aerobic workout, you might opt for a longer, slower rowing session to build endurance. On the other hand, if you’re seeking an intense interval training session, you may go for a shorter, faster approach. It’s also important to note that to row fast doesn’t necessarily mean just moving quickly. It involves applying more power in less time, requiring not just physical fitness but also proper technique. To truly master the art of rowing, it’s essential to understand how to link great strokes together, which often involves slowing down to focus on each element of the stroke.

Benefits of Fast Rowing

Fast rowing is an excellent way to increase cardio intensity. When you increase the pace of your strokes, your heart rate also rises. This increased heart rate leads to a higher level of cardiovascular activity, which can help improve your overall heart health. It also helps in burning more calories and improving your body’s capacity to utilize oxygen more efficiently. High-intensity rowing sessions can be a great way to incorporate high-intensity interval training (HIIT) into your fitness routine, which has been shown to offer significant benefits for cardiovascular health.

In addition to its cardiovascular benefits, fast rowing is also a powerful tool for strength and power development. The rapid movement involved in fast rowing engages multiple muscle groups simultaneously, providing a full-body workout. Every stroke requires a strong push with the legs, a pull with the arms, and a coordinated effort from the core muscles to maintain balance and posture. Over time, this can lead to improved muscle tone and strength across the body. Moreover, the explosive nature of fast rowing helps develop power, which is the ability to exert maximum force in as short a time as possible. This can be particularly beneficial for athletes in sports where power output is crucial.

Benefits of Slow Rowing 

Slow rowing offers a unique set of benefits, one of which is promoting greater cognitive focus. By slowing down the pace, you allow yourself more time to concentrate on each phase of the stroke – the catch, the drive, the finish, and the recovery. This mindful approach can enhance your understanding of the rowing technique, improve motor learning, and boost your overall performance over time. It’s a form of active meditation where you’re not just exercising your body, but also training your mind to stay focused and present.

In terms of physical benefits, slow rowing facilitates more balanced muscular development. While fast rowing often emphasizes major muscle groups like the legs and back, slow rowing allows for a more evenly distributed effort across all engaged muscles. It encourages the use of smaller stabilizing muscles that may be overlooked during high-speed sessions. In slow rowing, there’s more time to ensure proper form and complete range of motion, reducing the risk of injury and promoting more comprehensive muscular strength and endurance. It’s particularly beneficial for those seeking a low-impact, full-body workout or those in the process of rehabilitation from injury.

How to Know When You Should Change Up Your Speed

Knowing when to change up your speed in rowing can be guided by a few key indicators. Firstly, listen to your body. If you find that your workouts are becoming too easy and you’re no longer feeling challenged, it might be time to increase the speed or intensity. Alternatively, if you’re feeling excessively fatigued, experiencing pain or discomfort during or after workouts, or not recovering well, these could be signs that you’re pushing too hard and may need to slow down.

Finding balance in your workout routine is crucial for sustainable progress. Mixing up the speed and intensity of your rowing sessions can help achieve this balance. For instance, you could alternate between days of fast, high-intensity rowing and slower, more controlled sessions. This approach not only prevents workout boredom but also allows for varied physiological adaptations, promoting both cardiovascular fitness and muscular strength. Regularly assessing your progress and adjusting your workouts accordingly is essential. Remember, the goal is not just about how fast or how long you can row, but rather improving your overall fitness, technique, and enjoyment of the activity.

Deciding Which Method is Best for You

When deciding on the best training program for rowing, it’s important to consider your individual goals, fitness level, and personal preferences. High-intensity programs, such as those featuring fast rowing, are typically aimed at improving cardiovascular fitness, burning calories, and developing power. These programs can be highly effective but may also be physically demanding. They might not be suitable for beginners or those with certain health conditions. On the other hand, these programs can be exhilarating and rewarding for athletes looking to push their limits and achieve peak performance.

On the contrary, low-intensity programs, often involving slow rowing, are more focused on technique, cognitive focus, and balanced muscular development. These programs are generally more accessible and can be a good fit for those new to rowing, recovering from injury, or seeking a more meditative workout experience. However, they might not deliver results as quickly in terms of cardiovascular fitness or calorie burn. Ultimately, the most effective training program is likely to incorporate elements of both high and low-intensity rowing. This helps ensure a well-rounded approach to fitness that fosters strength, endurance, technical skill, and mental focus. Remember, the best program for you is one that you enjoy and can stick with in the long run.

Tips for Getting the Most Out of Each Stroke

To get the most out of each rowing stroke, it is crucial to master the proper form and technique. The stroke begins with the ‘catch’, where you lean slightly forward maintaining muscle engagement through the back for good posture, and your arms extended. Push with your legs first, keep your arms straight, then guide the handle with your arms into your chest. This sequence ensures that you’re using the larger, more powerful muscles of your legs before your upper body, maximizing efficiency and power in your stroke.

Experimenting with speed and rhythm is another way to enhance your rowing efficiency. Adjusting the duration of the recovery phase, the part of the stroke where you return to the starting position can alter your strokes per minute and overall rhythm. Try taking a 5-second stroke: push hard and quick through the drive for one second, then practice the recovery pattern. Remember, consistency is key. You should aim for a smooth, continuous motion, where the drive phase is explosive and the recovery is controlled and relaxed. This balance will ensure you’re getting the most out of your workout, increasing your endurance, and avoiding unnecessary fatigue.

To improve your rowing performance, it’s essential to understand when and how to adjust your speed and know the benefits of each style. Fast rowing gives you an intense workout that can build strength and power, while slower rowing has more of a cognitive focus and helps improve balanced muscular development. Deciding which method works best for you requires testing different training programs and evaluating their pros and cons.

Whatever you choose, make sure you are maximizing efficiency with proper form and technique so you can get the most out of each stroke. With practice, your skill level will progress and transform from where it is now into better performance in the future. So get out there on the water and start making waves!


Q: What are the benefits of fast rowing versus slow rowing?

A: Fast rowing provides an intense workout that improves cardiovascular fitness, burns calories, and develops power. Slow rowing, on the other hand, focuses more on technique, cognitive focus, and balanced muscular development. It’s particularly beneficial for those seeking a low-impact, full-body workout or those recovering from injury.

Q: How do I know when to change my rowing speed?

A: Listening to your body is key. If your workouts are becoming too easy or you’re no longer feeling challenged, it might be time to increase the speed or intensity. Conversely, if you’re feeling excessively fatigued, experiencing pain, or not recovering well, these could be signs that you’re pushing too hard and need to slow down.

Q: How can I maximize the efficiency of each rowing stroke?

A: Mastering the proper form and technique is crucial. The stroke begins with the ‘catch’, where you lean slightly forward maintaining muscle engagement through the back for good posture, and your arms extended. Push with your legs first, keep your arms straight, then guide the handle with your arms into your chest. Experimenting with speed and rhythm, as well as adjusting the duration of the recovery phase of your stroke, can also enhance your rowing efficiency.