Are You Training In The Correct Zone?

Are You Training In The Correct Zone?

Rowing Training Plans Available

My training plans have a structured progression on the ErgZone platform. Click the logo below to see my level 1, 2, and 3 training plans.


It is November already and that means that the Fall racing season is wrapping up and we are 2-3 months from indoor rowing competitions. Alternatively, there may be a few of you that might not be on the water rowers, but you use the rowing machine and compete in the indoor rowing/CrossFit circuit.

One of the most common questions that I am asked is: How do I prepare for this kind of competition?

There are some general training principles that are appropriate and the actual approach may depend on how many days a week you are going to train. I’m going to assume that you are able to dedicate five-six days on average to help train for your indoor rowing racing.

I’m going to simplify the training zones that you need to hit into one of three subdivisions. There may be further divisions for each of the three categories, however, I am going to give the general idea for each.

Steady State Training (3/4+ per week)

These workouts consist of long periods of training and provide the base for your high-performance efforts. I suggest three of four training sessions but it is generally best to make about 80% of your minutes each week this low-intensity UT1 and UT2 effort.

The ideal heart rate for these kinds of workouts falls in the 55% to 80% of max heart rate (or you can use the formula below which outputs a number higher than just (Max heart rate x 0.70, for 70% of max). It is also worth noting that where these zones begin and end are NOT hard lines. However, we use these zones so that the athlete has some kind of metric to watch to gauge how much effort they are putting for a given training piece.

I would recommend wearing a heart rate monitor to ensure that you are training in the correct zone. It is important that you hit these zones so that you don’t fall into the trap of overtraining. The actual target heart rate that you would need depends on your age. A formula you can use is below. There is a video included as well. However, research indicates that a maximum heart rate may vary from person to person depending on athletic experience.

220 – (Your Age In Years) = Max Heart Rate (note: if you are in good shape for your age, it is likely that your max heart rate is higher than 220 – your age. In my experience, this formula has limitations and is not accurate. For more information on figuring out your true max heart rate see this resource here.).

I also provide a YouTube video below by Dr. Steven Seiler. It’s a great discussion for two reasons. One, it cautions us on using 220 – age your age for calculating your heart rate AND it is a textbook example of a scientist explaining CLAIM, EVIDENCE, and REASONING when drawing a conclusion before making a claim or asserting that the evidences SUGGESTS a certain conclusion.


Working Heart Rate = Max Heart RateResting Heart Rate (heart rate in the morning)

Target Heart Rate = (Working Heart Rate x .%) + Resting Heart Rate

For example, let’s calculate a 75% heart rate for an athlete who is 30 years old and has a resting heart rate of 60.

Working Heart Rate = (220-30) – (60bpm) = 130 bpm

Target Heart Rate for 75% = (130bpm * 0.75) + 60 = 157 bpm

Therefore, 75% intensity for this athlete is 157 bpm +/-

When you are doing a steady-state workout, you should get your heart rate into the 55% to 80% of max and stay in that zone for 30-80 minutes. For example, If you are rowing a UT2 piece then your target heart rate should be in that zone and not go above the top limit (even if you feel like you can go harder). Building an aerobic base takes time and part of this approach allows a sustainable pace to a long term training place that goes a long way to avoiding burnout.

Long slow distance work can be tough to do completely on the ergometer. I would recommend that some work is done on the machine (at least one-two long rows per week). However, there are other options to complete this training. These could include the following:

  • Rowing In A Shell
  • Cycling
  • Swimming
  • Cross-Country Skiing

Another good tip is to break this time up into segments. This strategy allows you to get off the rowing machine, stretch out and hydrate. I would keep the breaks to a 90-120 second interval. Therefore, instead of doing 1 x 60-minute piece with no breaks, break the work into 4 x 15 mins or 3 x 20 minutes. You could also do 6 x 10 minutes if you see fit. I wouldn’t recommend rowing for less than 10 minutes in a stretch in this training zone because you won’t get the same training effect. Additionally, I wouldn’t recommend doing all of this work on the ergometer. This is especially true if you don’t have slides and you have a stationary Concept2 ergometer. A strain on the back and chronic injuries of the spine can occur with too much distance on the ergometer. Listen to your body and mix up the mode of exercise from time to time. This approach helps with both the physical and psychological aspects of training for a competitive event.

In the next section, I discuss the higher intensity training zones. The amount of minutes you should spend in these zones is about 20% of your overall time volume for the week of training. So for example, a week total volume training of 300 minutes (High and Low Intensity), should have 240 minutes of low-intensity work (UT1, UT2) and 60 minutes of high-intensity work (Anaerobic Threshold, Transportation and Anaerobic).

Anaerobic Threshold Training Zone (AT) and Transportation. (1-2 Days A Week)

These workouts are tougher in some ways than the steady-state workouts. The purpose of these training sessions is to train at intensities in the 80%-90% heart rate zone. Your effort should be just below a point where if you went any harder you would begin to accumulate too much lactic acid and have to stop. These are important workouts because they really help with oxygen transportation. These Anaerobic Threshold training sessions consist of pieces in the 6-15 (+/-)minute range. (1-2 Days A Week) with varying rest or light paddle between the intervals. Or, the training session could be a sustained effort right at the 80% heart rate training zone for a longer piece such as a tempo row of 5km to 12km (just as an example).

Transportation workouts are shorter interval training sessions and are usually intense efforts that consist of a varying number of intervals between 1 to 5 minutes. For example, you might choose to do 3 x 1000m starting each new piece every 12 minutes. Alternatively, it could be a series of 20 stroke bursts followed by 10 stroke light paddle segments that are changed together to last a certain period of time (e.g. 10 minutes just as an example).

In a 5-6 day training cycle, you might do 1 to 2 of these workouts depending on what you had done the day before. For example, you could follow a steady-state day with an AT day. Keep in mind that the volume of this work should be about 20% of your total volume for the week. Finally, it is can be more important to watch pace on this type of training rather than obsess over heart rate zones. If you are putting in the intensity you will likely be over 80%, so watch your output here to gauge progress.

The Anaerobic Zone (1-2 days A Week)

These workouts are typically very short but very intense periods of work. It has been shown that performing these kinds of workouts helps you lift the top of your performance pyramid. These workouts should be done in the 90% to 100% heart rate/effort range. In addition, given that these are short pieces it’s important to try to maintain a work level that is equal for each piece.

For example, if you choose to do 10 x 1′ on 1′ off, or 30 seconds max power followed by 15 seconds light paddle x 10. Try to be consistent as much as possible. It does you no good to do the first three pieces totally maxed out (if doing 10 x 1′ on, 1′ off), then recover for the next three (much less distance compared to the first three) and then bring it back up again on the last two. Always try to maintain the same pace throughout.

Another important note is to budget time to warm up and cool down effectively before and after these workouts. The warm-up is important because it allows you a chance to bring your body temperature up, get your nervous system ready, and prepare you for max effort. A cool-down 10-20 minutes of light paddling, cycling is also important because it allows you to flush the lactic acid from the system and that will help long-term recovery for the next day of training. Remember to include these minutes in your low intensity volume for the week!

I’m including a link to an article I wrote, explaining how I think through my programming for my clients if you need an application of all of the things I have discussed above.

I’m continuing to learn more as I progress with my coaching and understanding of physiological principles and exercise science. The above is a general guide, but there are always situations where you might need to be more specific in a training block depending on the event you are training for. For example, a 7 or 8 minute 2000m piece may need some modification for a specific phase of training while grounded in these principles that are different than training for a 1/2 marathon.

Rowing Training Plans Available

My training plans have a structured progression on the ErgZone platform. Click the logo below to see my level 1, 2, and 3 training plans.

A more detailed article containing specific programming for a sample week of training.




  1. Bablofil says:

    Thanks, great article.

    • Coach B says:

      Thank you for your feedback, I appreciate it. Is there anything you would like to see on the site? I’m always looking to serve my readers. Best, Neil.

  2. Susann Ezernack says:

    very good publish, i certainly love this web site, keep on it

    • Coach B says:

      Thank you very much for your feedback. I am working on more articles in this area. Is there anything that you would like to see on the site that would help you? Best, Neil.

  3. […] Here are my thoughts on structuring your training week to address all of your energy systems. […]

Leave a Reply

More Articles

Indoor Rowing Race Performance Tips
Race Preparation

11 Keys to Maximizing Your Performance at an Indoor Rowing Race

Here is a list of my top tips for performing well on race day at an indoor rowing competition. There are five general factors that you

rowing coach neil bergenroth technique mastering rowing bladework new
Rowing Coaching

Rowing Bladework: The Tip of the Spear – Insights from Coach John Bancheri

Download The Slides From This Presentation Rowing, a sport that demands precision, strength, and strategy, holds an allure for many. In this enlightening discussion with Coach

elite rowing coaching 2k success bergenroth 2
Client Testimonials

Client Testimonials

“When I approached Neil I was a complete beginner in the sport of rowing. Neil took me from holding my erg handle upside down on my

Privacy Policy Settings

%d bloggers like this: