PT on the Net Research

Heart Rate and Rowing


I am training some recreational windsurfers. To improve their endurance, I have incorporated some interval training on the rower. To start, I have set five intervals with two minutes on and two minutes off. I wanted to know what HR a client should be rowing at during the two minutes on. I have taken their age and resting HR and applied it to the Karvonen formula. Is 80 to 90 percent VO2 max correct for endurance training? I take it this is a 1:1 ratio (i.e., two minutes on, two minutes off). If I wanted speed/power, would it be a 1:3 ratio (i.e., one minute on, three off)? Also, what about recovery HR? What HR should the client come down to in the “off” phase? And when should you look to increase the amount of intervals, reduce rest period, etc. to elicit a training response?


Thank you for the question. I’d like to cut it up into parts and portion out the answers:

  1. Interval training with a 2:2 ratio. The answer is there is very little research on this, just rules of experience for what has worked for coaches. If the windsurfers are using that muscle group (rowing) in their windsurfing, then they are probably accustomed to the specificity of the movement, and this ratio is appropriate. If they are not very fit, then most coaches start at a ratio of 1:2 and then progress to 2:2 and then to 2:1. The length of time of the interval is dependent on the specific needs of windsurfing. I’d suggest putting a downloadable heart rate monitor on them and have them train normally and then do this during a competition and “gather data” (which is step 1 of any training protocol).
  2. Don’t use the Karvonen formula for anything. This formula uses an age predicted max for part of the formula and then a dynamic resting heart rate, so you have to recalculate and re-set zones frequently. Plus, formulas don’t work for anchoring heart rate zones. VO2 doesn’t work either because you have to use a metabolic cart to measure it, and there are few available.
  3. Power is key. If connected to heart rate measuring power output is the rich data. You want power to go up with training and heart rate to stay steady or decrease. Absolute power is valuable because you can compare rower-to-rower, but if you are trying to compare the same rower to themselves, then the two numbers are linked.
  4. Recovery heart rate is valuable. I always recommend that folks measure it. It’s a good indicator of overtraining, and I’d use it for that purpose only.

Good luck.