Ahhh, the mystical and ever elusive calorie. I can’t tell you how many times people ask me how they should row calories versus meters on the rowing machine. Perhaps this constant search is due to how maddeningly long it takes to row a freaking calorie. We get so used to watching meters tick by that when calories decidedly do not tick we think we should be doing something different. Disclaimer: this will not be a satisfying answer if you’re searching for something magical.
How do you row for calories: You row well.
That’s it. Row well. Don’t drastically change your ratio. Don’t row upside down. Don’t change your damper. The same rules apply as they do when rowing for meters. Your snatch technique doesn’t change when you start using kilos instead of pounds. You’ve simply changed the units, not the movement.
Calories on the rowing machine are calculated according to a 175 lbs man. Thus, the harder said theoretical 175 lbs man is pulling, the more theoretical calories he is burning. That basic equation of work output is going to be the same regardless of whether or not you are a 175 lbs man or a 135 lbs woman: the harder you pull, the faster you will bust through calories. It’s that simple.
But hold up. I’m not saying that you should pull as hard as possible every time you’re rowing for calories, nor am I saying that you should row every calorie workout the same, or rather at the same split and same stroke rating. No way. Be an adaptable rower, but be an efficient one. Some WODs are going to call for you to take nice, long strokes at a 26 and some are going to demand that you turn it around a little quicker and lighter at a 32 – it all depends on the WOD.
As an example, we had 15 calorie rows stuck into an AMRAP the other day at CF Verve. I decided that this was an opportune time for a little calorie experiment. I rowed some of the calories at a super low and long 26 spm (AKA: freaking hauled it on my drive and then took a super relaxed recovery.) In said scenario I was pulling about 1 cal per stroke and it took me 43 seconds. Then I rowed the same 15 calories at a 30, still trying to keep my drive long and connected, but turning it around a little lighter and quicker. In said light & quick scenario it took 1 – 2 – 1 – 2 pulls per calorie. It took me 43 seconds to row 15 calories.
When deciding how to row a particular piece the questions of both efficiency & practicality come up in creating a game plan. Are you efficient at a 26, at a 30, at a 34? It doesn’t matter what crazy technique you use to row calories if you aren’t being efficient in the first place.
Hence the original advice: row well.
Practicality comes to play in regards to how does the row fits into the rest of the WOD? Do you have the leg strength to support a low and long rating? Do you have the lung capacity for a fast and lungy high rating? These are the questions that need to be asked when rowing for calories.
I tend to say this a lot when coaching, but it’s usually spot on: Do Less. Don’t try and make something complicated that is not. Just row. And know that calories feel like an ETERNITY pretty much always. So is life.