Man looks at his strokes per minute on a rowing machine

New to Rowing? Here's How to Understand Strokes Per Minute

Don't let those metrics overwhelm you.

By Colleen TraversJanuary 19, 2024


We see you obsessing over your metrics. (Yes, you.) Whether you’re a complete beginner or seasoned rower, numbers can help you push yourself and shine a light on the progress you’re making. 

Metrics, such as personal pace (split/500m), output (watts), and distance (meters) help regulate your effort during a workout, says Alex Karwoski, a Peloton instructor. Another key metric in rowing is your strokes per minute (SPM) or stroke rate. As a reminder, your stroke in rowing consists of four parts: the catch, drive, finish, and recovery. 

Here’s a look at what SPM means and why it’s important to your rowing workout. 

What Does Strokes Per Minute Mean?

“SPM is how many times you complete the stroke cycle every 60 seconds,” Alex says. The four parts of your rowing stroke include:

  • Catch: The beginning of the stroke, when you are at the front of the rower. Your knees should be bent in this position. 

  • Drive: The second portion of the stroke, when you extend your legs, core, and arms as you push to the back of the rower.

  • Finish: The back portion of the stroke, when your body is fully extended. 

  • Recovery: A slow reverse drive to recover as you return to the catch position.

When you complete all four parts, you’ve done one stroke. The SPM you see on the Row touchscreen is an indicator of how many strokes you’ll take in a full minute if you keep up your current rhythm, Alex says. If you don't have access to a Row, you can still view your stroke rate, along with other metrics, from Peloton classes in the Peloton App by pairing it with a third-party rower using Bluetooth (as long as you're an App+ Member).

Why Is Your Stroke Rate Important?

While SPM measures the strokes you take in any given minute, what it's really doing is measuring the movement of the rowing machine’s internal flywheel, which is driven by the force generated from each stroke, Alex says. 

“The higher the SPM, the less time you are allowing the flywheel to slow down between strokes,” he says. If the flywheel is moving quickly, you may feel less connected at the catch portion of your stroke, spurring you to use less force. Conversely, if the flywheel is moving slowly, you may feel more connected at the catch, leading you to push harder, he adds. It’s the combination of those two factors—your SPM and the power of your drive—that determines the metrics that really matter: your output and distance.

Should You Aim for a Higher SPM? 

Not necessarily. In some cases, reaching a high SPM can help you maintain a high target output. By keeping the flywheel spinning faster, you need less activation energy at the catch and start of the drive in your stroke, Alex says. But a high SPM doesn’t guarantee you’re going to go further than you would with a low SPM. 

Instead of focusing on how to improve your SPM (i.e., get faster with your stroke), concentrate on finding an efficient stroke rhythm. “The main way to become more efficient with your stroke is to have a target output or pace that you try to hit,” Alex says. 

The key is how hard your drive is during your stroke. However, by pulling hard and fast, you’ll boost your SPM, and more critical metrics, such as your distance and output, along with it. 

Off of the rowing machine, what can you do to improve your stroke efficiency? Two words: Strength training. Targeted exercises will not only help your muscular endurance, they’ll also give you the stamina you need for explosive power on the drive. If you’re looking to combine your cardio workouts with those strength-building sessions, consider trying a Peloton Row Bootcamp class. 

Typical Stroke Rates

Now that you’ve got a grasp on the connection between SPM and other metrics, it’s time to make a concerted effort toward an efficient, powerful stroke. Here’s what to keep in mind when it comes to your stroke rate. 

When Should You Have a Slower Stroke Rate?

When you’re new to rowing, it’s important to put your focus toward your form, rather than cranking out a high SPM. A good starting point is around 18 SPM. However, even more experienced rowers may also want to shoot for a lower SPM at times. “In general, lower stroke rates are used for longer duration rows (think: endurance, steady state, slower interval work) or for power-based [efforts]” Alex says. On the Peloton Row, you may have a lower SPM during endurance classes.

When Should You Have a Faster Stroke Rate? 

“As we bring the rate up, we move into different work zones, depending on the workout,” Alex says. “At the collegiate level, most crews will base their race rating for a 2000-meter race above 35 SPM. Achieving this rate on a rowing machine requires a very coordinated stroke pattern.”

If you’re an advanced rower, you may try to push past 30 SPM in certain workouts. However, be mindful that it may not be possible to hold this pace for the entire session. If your form starts to suffer, it’s time to slow it down.

Are Your SPM and Split Time Connected?

There’s no link between your SPM and split time. However, there’s a correlation between your output, pace (or split), and distance. These are all metrics derived from the power you generate in each stroke, Alex says. 

“Stroke rate is used as a way to improve your body’s movement and rhythm in an effort to maximize [your] output,” Alex says. An efficient stroke will set off a domino effect, increasing the other metrics during your workout. 

By understanding how your SPM can affect your performance, you can work with target ranges to get different results. “Sometimes we will intentionally keep the stroke rate low to ‘force' the body to adapt to a slower, heavier, more power-based rhythm,” Alex says. “Conversely, [we can] push the stroke rate higher to encourage the faster firing muscles in the body to work.”


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