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500m Row Time and How to Improve It

 Written by 

Julien Raby

 Last updated on 

As individuals that live an active lifestyle, we are constantly looking to improve our records to be bigger, stronger, and faster than our previous accomplishments.

A faster 5k run, heavier deadlifts, and an increase in the number of reps in a set-you get the point. Whether on the water or using a rowing machine, the 500m row is just another one of the significant accomplishments to test and train for the quickest times. 

People improving their 500m row time on ergometers
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There are many steps to training for a 500m row, and just as it is equally important to incorporate strength training, it’s also a mental challenge you will fight before, during, and after your testing. Luckily, we have everything you need to train and exceed your goals for your fastest rowing time yet.

What do rowing abilities and times mean for an individual?

According to Rowing Level, there are five rowing abilities: Beginning, novice, intermediate, advanced, and elite.

Beginner rowers are faster than 5% of rowers, having at least been rowing consecutively for a month.

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Novice rowers are faster than 20% of rowers, having been training for a minimum of six months.

Intermediate rowers are faster than 50% of others, having rowed regularly for at least two years.

Advanced rowers are faster than 80% of rowers (training for at least five years).

The highest level and best is the Elite rowers: faster than 95% and have been training for more than five years.

Keep tracking your 500m rowing performance with an ergometer

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An ergometer is, without a doubt, the best tool to calculate your performance of a 500m row. It shows your speed and the amount of force you apply with each stroke during your row. Regarding your time, the ergometer monitor shows a split time, which is the amount of time it takes you to perform a 500m row. 

So if your split time is two minutes, it takes you two minutes to complete a 500m row. Overall, the harder you work, the faster you row. And the faster you row, the lower your row time will be.

Male versus Female Rowing Times

The fastest time for a male 500m row is 1:10.5, and their average time is 1:33.2.

For a female, the best recorded 500m row time is 1:24.5, and the average time is 1:58.0.

A good (average) unisex rowing time for all ages is 1:40.5, with the fastest time at 1:10.5.

Factors impacting your 500m rowing time

All of these times are a set average for all ages and levels, but several factors can play a role in determining your rowing time:

  • Age: kids and elderly adults have longer rowing times due to less muscle
  • Gender: Men tend to have more muscle than women, generally making time for females longer
  • Health: An individual with an active lifestyle, including a healthy diet, is much more likely to have a better rowing time than an individual with the opposite lifestyle.

We may not be able to control all of these factors, but we can manage our health (both nutritionally and physically), thus significantly improving our rowing times.

How can I train and decrease my overall rowing time?

There are three primary keys that play a role in an improved 500m row time: proper training, a healthy, nutritious diet, and mental preparation.

A better recovery for a faster 500 row time

One of the first and most important things to remember before you begin training is that completing the row test is only one of many goals at the end of the examination. Additionally, it’s important to train your body to recover from the session and learn how quickly it takes your body to recover so that your next training session will be successful.

Build upper body strength

Rowing uses both aerobic and anaerobic energy during performance. Aerobic exercise (which requires oxygen) improves cardio-respiratory endurance, which can reduce body fat and helps you become more efficient at using the oxygen you have. On the other hand, Anaerobic exercise doesn’t require oxygen but can help to increase strength, power, and overall muscle mass. Building upper body strength is a vital necessity to incorporate during your training. Each of these parts plays a role during a row session, working simultaneously.

First 500m row test

Before you begin training, a pre-test is needed to see where you stand at a fitness level, and doing a back-to-back 500m row test with your ergometer will show this. Start by completing a 500m row once, taking a 90-second break in between, and then repeat the same test again. This repeated test aims to attempt similar times for both the first and second rounds. 

Once you complete the initial examination, you can use your results to create a row training plan, tweaking it based on your personal needs.

Define your program

You should have at least one to three training sessions per week for approximately six weeks of training to improve your strength, stamina, and overall performance. At the beginning of each session, you will have a short burst of time to push 100% effort into your row. After that, you’ll perform at your baseline pace (a steady pace) for the rest of the distance. In each session, you’ll train to increase your initial burst time while simultaneously decreasing the number of rounds you perform. Although you have bursts of 100% effort, it’s essential not to throw all your energy away at the beginning of the workout because you still need to get through the remaining distance of your 500m row.

Mental Strength

Achieving maximal effort during these repetitions is key to improving your row time. Because your body can only hold a maximal effort for so long, these tests take an unbelievable amount of mental strength. During a 500m row, your body will start to slow down between the 40-second and one-minute mark. 

For most people, this is only about halfway through the row, and to keep up, you will also need to train your mind to keep pushing through and make it to the end of the 500m. If not, not only will your mind give in, but your body will give up, and it will be extremely challenging to improve your rowing time.

What does science say?

When you put full force into rowing, the mind sends signals to the body to slow down due to the excessive amount of lactate produced. When this happens, lactate is made faster than the circulatory system can have it removed from the blood and taken to the liver, telling your body to slow down. While it’s needed for your blood to remove the lactate and deliver oxygen to your muscles to continue, if there’s too much lactate in your system, it can, in turn, cause you to vomit, sending signals to your brain telling you that you’re being poisoned. 

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A training program will increase your body’s ability to remove lactate and keep up with your brain, but it also relies on your mental strength to slow your body down and to successfully complete an entire 500m row.

Nutritional Diet

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Part of preparing for a successful row means being well-fueled beforehand.

A few hours before a row, you will want to ensure you fuel up with protein and carbs, as they will be the two primary sources of energy that your muscles need. Consuming energy-dense foods will be the most helpful and can include a variety of options, including:

  • Energy/protein bars
  • Healthy cereals
  • Toast with nut butter or jams
  • Low-fat yogurt
  • Sports drinks, including protein waters or protein shakes
  • Fruits that are higher in carbs, such as bananas Image Credit: Nature_Zen

Individuals who exercise often tend to shy away from carbs as they believe it’s a fattening, empty caloric food, but it’s actually a great source of energy when performing workouts. So whether it’s toast or pasta, we must consume these carbs to get through workouts (especially those that burn a lot of calories-like rowing often can).

Remember to stay hydrated!

Fueling isn’t just about getting adequate carbs and protein but staying hydrated, too. Hydration is one of the most important things we can do in our day, and it’s even more crucial for individuals that work out regularly. Whether at one of your rowing sessions at the gym or a rowing competition on the water, hydration is vital and will affect your performance during your row

Rowing (as all exercises do) causes the body to sweat, meaning the loss of fluids, and we need to continue to replenish fluids, ensuring that we don’t become dehydrated. Suppose you are participating in longer training sessions (or a competition-especially in hot weather). In these cases, it’s a good idea to have a sports drink or electrolyte replenishment with you to rehydrate and replace fluids. The sugar and carbohydrates will help keep you fueled throughout your workout.

Improving your 500m row time is achievable

Training to improve your 500m row record time is achievable with the right tools and training in our physical, mental, and nutritional abilities. The only way to improve our body’s skillset is to test them and challenge ourselves. Each of these steps to decrease your row time are crucial as it takes a team of key players. 

Still, it can be done over the course of several weeks, and not only will you achieve a better 500m row time, but you will see the difference in your body strength and overcome even more formidable abilities you may never thought were possible.

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