How to find your Maximum Heart Rate for Rowing


How do I get my RP3 monitor to pick up a HR from my Garmin HR monitor reading? I can get the RP3 monitor display for HR, but no pulse! How do I synchronize the devices? Thank you!

Seems you need a Polar Bluetooth to sync with Android tablet.  I have tried two different Polar models, one Garmin and a Suunto product.  It seems to us that the Polar Bluetooth will do the trick.  

Now, let’s talk about how to USE your HR data – Read this article about how low rate, steady state rowing makes you fast.

When you row at low rates like 18 and 20 strokes a minute you can perform for 30 to 40 minutes non-stop with a higher work output than you do on your Max 2km race.

Knowing your training zones based on heart rate data will help you ensure you are training effectively.

Your Maximum Heart Rate for Rowing

Knowing your maximum heart rate is the starting point for doing heart rate based training.  Even if you you are not following a formal HR based plan, it can be useful to track HR statistics so you can keep track of training loads or to bore your spouse.

OK, the best place to start is by debunking this formula.

MaxHR = 220 – Age Don’t use this to figure out your maximum heart rate!

It’s wrong.  A study looking at it in 2001 showed that even as a generalization, it’s wrong.  The first problem is that the formula does not even fit the slope of the data.  The study provided a handy revision which is, frankly, equally useless.

MaxHR = 208 – 0.7 x Age Don’t use this either!

Why is it useless?  Because it has essentially no predictive value.

Different HR for different sports

One interesting factoid is that your maximum heart rate can be different for different sports because of body position, muscles used and other factors.  So, doing this test on a treadmill is a good way to tell what your maximum heart rate is for race walking.  We care about rowing, we care way too much about rowing, so it is better to measure your maximum heart rate on the rowing machine.

Creating a protocol for to use on an indoor rower very easy.  So easy that the Australian Institute of Sport has done it for you in

 This Article link.

Heart Rate Step Test on Rowing Machine

The test is very simple.  Based on your most recent 2K pace (or an estimate of it), you do seven 4 minute steps starting at a low power (slow pace) and increasing by a set number of watts for each step.  You start recording your heart rate and you do the first 6 steps without a break and the sixth step is about 5 seconds slower than your 2k pace.  After 24 minutes of rowing, that pace will feel pretty hard and your heart rate will be reasonably high.

At the end of the 6th step, you take a 1 minute rest and get ready for the fun part.  At the end of the one minute rest, you do a racing start and row as fast as you can for four minutes.  This step should be at or faster than your 2k pace.  At the end of that step, you review your HR data for the highest value sustained for 5 seconds.  Use that as your maximum heart rate.

Your maximum heart rate will not change much with training.  If you do a ton of endurance training for long periods of time, your maximum heart rate may drop a couple of beats because the stroke volume of your heart gets much larger, but it won’t change much.  What you might see, however, is that you discover that this initial measurement of your maximum heart rate is too low.  It certainly was the case for me.  As you do hard workouts, especially when you do a long time trials like a 6K, 30 minutes or 10K, you might see heart rates higher than what you measured in this test.  If this happens, update your MaxHR with the new number.

This article comes from the Rowing Data Analysis blog on Rowsandall.  Read the rest of the article including advice on

  • What to do with your MaxHR and RestHR
  • How to set training zones for yourself

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This Post Has 5 Comments

  1. Andrea

    Hi , I’ve bought a rowing machine but I don’t know how much my heart rate should be . I’m 39 years old , 1.71 height and 60 kg . I want to push myself but also want to be safe

    1. Rebecca Caroe

      Andrea – do not start off by doing maximal effort rowing! You are best set to build up gradually from 10 minutes continuous rowing. Try to judge your exertion by your rate of breathing – you should be able to row continuously while working up a light sweat and breathing should be hard but NOT gasping for breath at the end. If you can say a sentence to someone rowing next to you once every 5 minutes, you are probably OK. Can you get a personal trainer to visit you?

  2. Henk

    Hi do you know which garmin smartwatch can best be used for outdoor rowing?

    1. Tom Wall

      Dear Henk,
      thank you for your question. We hope our audience will read your comment and answer your question.

  3. Mark

    Vivoactive 3 or 4!

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