Man looks at his split time after finishing a rowing workout

What Is Split Time in Rowing?

An expert breaks down what to know about this metric.

By Eric ArnoldMarch 25, 2024


Your first time on a rowing machine can feel daunting, particularly when it comes to the metrics. Fortunately, these numbers aren’t as complicated as they may seem. Among them is your split time, a measure of your ability to hit certain pace targets. 

What Is Split Time in Rowing? 

In theory, your split time is simple: It’s how long it takes you to row the equivalent of 500 meters. The lower your split time, the faster you’re rowing. But there are some nuances to keep in mind.

“Rowing is all about moving your boat through the water as efficiently as possible which, when you take it to the machine, breaks down to how well you can move your body up and down the slide and maintain a rhythm that keeps the flywheel moving,” explains Peloton instructor Alex Karwoski. “The more consistent you are (with form) and the fitter you are (physically), the more your split time will stay the same throughout a given effort level.”

He’s quick to point out that your output is just as important a metric, if not more so, because your split time is calculated by the machine based on your output. “The split time is a rough reflection of how effective you are at building and sustaining pressure throughout the entire stroke to keep the flywheel spinning,” Alex says. 

It’s important to note that different machines use different calculations from output to split time, Alex says. If you use different rowing machines or alternate between rowing on the water and on a machine, monitoring your wattage (your output) is a better metric to turn to when it comes to monitoring your performance. 

What Is Considered a “Good” Rowing Split Time?

In 2017, when Alex was gearing up for the World Rowing Championships, his eight-man trained in a tidal estuary near Oakland, California. They hit a 500-meter split time of just 57 seconds—and he’s never gone faster. On a machine, the fastest split time he’s clocked is 1 minute, 10 seconds.

Your split time is personal to you—and on a machine, you never have conditions like tidal flow nudging you along, as Alex did during that 2017 training exercise. It’s just you and your machine. But how you approach your workout will help determine what a “good” split time is for you. Here’s what to keep in mind:

1. Don’t Change Your Drag Factor

As tempting as it may be, your drag factor isn’t something you want to fiddle with. “That actually changes the speed at which the flywheel slows down between strokes,” Alex says. Changing your drag factor in the middle of your workout is like rowing on water for one portion, then through peanut butter for the next. “Don't change your drag factor,” Alex says. “People do this willy-nilly, and it is wrong.”

2. Check Your Pace Target

The other setting to consider is your pace target, which on the Peloton Row, you select on the start screen prior to beginning a workout. This number (which falls between one and 10) will determine your target split times for your easy, challenging, hard, and max efforts. If the split times seem too easy for one class, consider raising your pace target for the next class.

If you’re a complete beginner, definitely start at one. If you were one of Alex’s teammates who set that insane split time in 2017, you may want to set yourself at 10. Most of us, though, will be somewhere in between. Of course, how consistently you’re able to hit your targets will depend on the type of class you take or the workout you do. 

Factors That Impact Your Rowing Split Time

While your form and fitness level matter most, there are other factors at play when it comes to your split time.

“The shorter the distance, the more consistent we would like to see that split,” Alex says. However, he adds that during a 30-second all-out effort, it’s “harder to maintain super high outputs—and therefore split times—because you are working so hard.” By contrast, during endurance rows, when you’re cruising at a lower stroke rate for a few minutes, your split time will be lower—and that’s OK. 

“Depending on the length of [your] workout, it is totally normal for your split time to ebb and flow,” Alex says. Don’t get discouraged by changing numbers. Look at your split times and outputs over several weeks and months, not just a few classes.

And as with any type of workout, there will be days when your body just isn’t cooperating. If you’re not feeling 100 percent, lower your pace target. Doing the work is more important than hitting a certain speed. On the flip side, if you’re feeling in the zone, set the pace targets higher and challenge yourself.

3 Ways to Improve Your Rowing Split Time

As with any fitness-oriented goal, good sleep, healthy nutrition habits, diversifying your workouts to include strength training, and taking recovery days can all contribute to boosting your performance. Here are three specific goals that Alex recommends considering if you’re looking to improve your split time.

1. Focus on Moving the Handle and Seat Together Out of the Catch 

The catch is the start of your stroke—your legs are bent, you’re leaning slightly forward, and you’re about to push back. From here, you move into the drive portion of your stroke. In this movement, it’s important that your seat and handle move together, even if you aren’t yet pulling with your arms, which you shouldn’t be. “If your seat moves but your handle doesn't, you are missing connection time and limiting the force you can produce which, in turn, limits your wattage, leading to a slower split time,” Alex says. 

2. Drive Your Legs and Swing Your Body

During a Peloton Row class, you’ll hear instructors frequently say, “legs, body, arms, arms, body, legs” when cueing your stroke. Interpretation: Drive with your legs, lean your body back a bit, and then pull with your arms. This sequence should be a smooth, coordinated movement, Alex says. “Instead of just pushing your legs all the way and then swinging your body, try to start your body swing while you still have about half of your leg drive left. This will engage the hips more and allow you to be explosive—which will create more power.” 

3. Don't Forget About Your Arms 

“Overusing your arms during longer, lower strokes will lead to forearm and shoulder fatigue,” Alex says, “but when you are going for maximum power, your arms can have a lot to do with immediate connection [at the catch] and then the final, back-end 'whip' to the stroke.” Don’t forget about them in this movement. 

Rowing is like any other type of exercise: It’s a journey. There are plenty of benefits to rowing, all of which can help you build strength and stamina for other activities. Getting faster may be only one part of the overall experience—but it’s also one of the most rewarding when you see those 500-meter split times drop.


Get expert advice to row like a pro

Enter your email to get articles, instructor tips, and updates from Peloton sent to your inbox.

By providing your email address, you agree to receive marketing communications from Peloton.

For more about how we use your information, see our Privacy Policy.