In our previous blog (Measuring training load) we outlined the methods and benefits of quantifying training. It’s clear that the optimal way for measuring training on a routine basis would be to have power output for every modality and session you do but that technology is just not currently affordable. The other methods we can use for measuring training can be perception based such as RPE (Rating of Perceived Exertion) or heart rate (HR). The measures of HR are simple, there is plenty of low-cost units around and ROWE.RS accepts HR and GPS data from popular sites such as Garmin, Suunto, and Polar.

If we decide to use HR as the simplest data stream to aid us in quantifying training load for rowers the next part we need to do is to determine the training zones that are specific to each rower. To be honest HR training zones are actually specific both to the individual AND the training modality so to if we were to be as accurate as possible when using HR training zones we would specifically measure them for all the endurance training modalities that are used for rowing training. This would include rowing, cycling, running and swimming. The biggest reason for being this specific would be that the training efficiency of each individual while undertaking all these modalities will be different and as such the training zones will also be different. However after years and years of working with rowers I can save you a little time and tell you that the training zones you determine from a rowing ergometer test can be transferred across to the majority of endurance training that you undertake and will be very accurate given all the other factors that affect HR before, during and after exercise.

When we test elite rowers in the laboratory we always make sure that they are fully rested in order to give their Personal Best effort during the test. The performance aspects of the test are paramount to the elite rower and the HR data we measure during the test is a secondary outcome. When properly rested a rowers HR is more often than not slightly higher for any given workload than it is when they are under normal training stress. There are specific reasons for why this is the case which will need more time and space to explain that this specific BLOG can go into right now. I will save this topic for a later BLOG as it is very interesting to understand why HR can be suppressed during normal to heavy training blocks.

So understanding that the HR response to similar workloads can be different depending on whether the rower is under normal training stress or is very rested and fresh makes it very important to take into account when performing an HR Zone test session. Rowing tests are very specific to the outcome in mind and often there is one outcome that is most important. If your main outcome is to measure your rowing performance then you should be well rested and super motivated to give an all-out effort for whatever duration or distance you are undertaking. If however, you are determining your HR training zones then in this specific instance your performance is less of a concern and so you should undertake the test under normal training fatigue with 24 hours rest from your last sessions. The HR training zone test can form part of your next days training and you can easily go out and do more training if you so wish after the test is complete.

There are a few ways in which you can determine HR training zones including an incremental step test with blood lactate as the primary measure, a 30 min all-out test with distance as the primary measure or a Mean Aerobic Power (MAP) test with test duration as the primary measure. Given that only a few athletes will have access to lactate testing I won’t explain the incremental step test in this BLOG and will instead focus solely on the 30 min all-out test. The data from 30 min test is very accurate and reliable and is also a great measure of your current training status as well as the changes that have occurred since your last test. The 30 min test is a tough test and you must be motivated to undertake this test in order to get the most out of it. Regardless of the performance outcome of this test (distance covered in 30 min) the HR data that is obtained is reliable regardless of whether this test is a 100% effort or not. However, if you are keen to measure the effectiveness of your current training cycle then you need to be motivated and pace this test well in order to accurately measure the change in your training status.

Information | 30 min all-out test

The 30 min test is an accurate way to measure the Anaerobic Threshold (AT) or what we will refer to as Functional Threshold Power (FTP). When measured correctly FTP is a critical determinant of endurance training and is by far the most important training measure related to on-water rowing performance. When your FTP increases your on-water, and other performances for that matter, will also improve and vice versa for when FTP decreases. The 30 min test can take a few times to get the pacing right but after a few attempts you will know your limit and the results will be highly reproducible and accurate.

The 30 min test is an open rate test undertaken on either a sliding or stationary ergometer (benchmarks provided are specific to Concept 2 stationary ergometer only and are from National level rowers). It should be completed under normal training load/fatigue and the aim of the test is to cover the greatest distance in the 30 min time period as possible. More specific instructions are written in the protocol document which can be found here: https://goo.gl/PJv1rG

Once you have completed the test and determined your FTP HR and the subsequent Zones 1-5 your personal profile on the ROWERS website and use the sliders to set your training zones correctly. Every time you undertake this test you should update your training zones but it is likely that you will find these may only shift 1-3 beats/min even if your FTP power changes more than this. Once again another great topic for a later BLOG.


The Endurance Training Score (ETS) measure in ROWERS will now use this information to determine your ETS for each session you complete (based on the time in each HR zone and the modality you undertake) and this information will accumulate over time to predict your change in fitness and fatigue measures. This is the topic of our next BLOG. Until then keep your training consistency high and your training intensity under control.