View Full Version : Heart rate: rowing vs. cycling

01-24-2004, 09:54 PM
I've noticed an interesting difference in my heart rate when I'm cycling vs. when I'm rowing. When I cycle I can comfortably maintain a heart rate of 160-163 bpm for an extended period of time. I figure that my lactate threshold is about 170. When I row on my rowing machine it is much more difficult to maintain 160-163 bpm. I find that a comfortable and sustainable rowing heart rate is in the low 150s.

Does anyone else notice a difference like this? If so, what explains the difference?

01-25-2004, 12:10 AM
I can't keep my heart rate up nearly as much when I row either. Rowing wears me out. I think that's because rowing is a more strenuous exercise invloving more muscle groups. Or maybe I have sloppy rowing technique. ha ha

01-25-2004, 06:47 AM
I have read that everyone has a different maximum heart rate and a different lactate threshold depending on the activity you are participating in. As a general rule, the rates tend to be higher for activities that require you to bare more of your own weight. For example, your various rates will be higher for running than for cycling. If this is true, then I would think that rowing would have lower rates than cycling. Take a look at the Cycling Performance website, they do a much better job of explaining the situation. I have posted the link below.



Dr. Doofus
01-25-2004, 08:08 AM
The good doctor says:

Its not weight-bearing, its total number of motor units/muscle fibers engaged. Cross country skiing is the killer, because of the sheer number of muscle groups/fibers you have to beat the crud out of to do that well...the heart has to keep blood moving to such a large number of groups that it gets sick high.... The low HR in rowing, however, also has to do with the fact that its not your primary activity, therefore you can't push the engine as hard because you haven't trained it to do that....

As for the "benefits" of cross-training with higher motor unit/muscle group activities...well...that's a load. The heart itself is almost impossible for an athlete to detrain, unless you take a year off and plug down beer like the jerk. Cross training helps keep some general adaptation in the cycling muscles and central nervous system, but it doesn't stimulate specifc development to the cardiovascular and neuromuscular pathways that you use while cycling. That's why you don't see Classics riders cross-training in December...two weeks of that in November and then they're back on the bike, for the most part. Because of the later peak, Tour riders can cross-training a *little* bit in December (the first foundation cycle), but after that its bike bike bike bike bike.


who cross trains becuase he ain't racing no more, and because they number of attractive women aged 18-45 is much much greater at the Y than on the roads. On the roads of my sweet South Carolina, most of the women spit out plugs of Red Man while slapping the third kid back into the rear of the '83 F 150, all while changing lanes at 85.

01-25-2004, 02:56 PM
I have read a few studies/articles on respiration and the conclusions drawn were that for most aerobic sports, respiration was not a limiting factor; however, due to the anatomical position a rower is in while inhaling, respiration is taxed a great deal more. If respiration is compromised, it may limit the amount of oxygen that can be picked up by the blood and thus cause you to "peter out" at lower heartrates??

Really just a guess on my part, I'm sure that Dr. Doofus's explanation is more likely, more significant, or both. I did find it interesting that the typical respiration rate was nearly double in rowers compared to other endurance athletes in competition.

01-26-2004, 05:07 AM
The answer based on use of muscle groups makes sense to me. I used to be a very serious rower before I ever straddled a road bike.

Rowing is simply much more intense than cycling. My abiding memory of rowing ergometer training is knowing that if you haven't been sick or almost sick by the end of your (racing speed) session then you haven't worked hard enough. Like cycling good rythm and technique permits more output at lower heart rate but to row effectively you have to engage upper body muscles that are doing very little on a bike.

If I haven't already made the point it's worth remmebering that the longest rowing races (leaving aside a few endurance events) are 20-30 minutes and those are rarely attempted at high stroke rates even by top crews. Most summer rowing races are six to seven minutes.

Dr. Doofus
01-26-2004, 07:18 AM
The Good Doctor says:

The physics of any sport affect the energy dynamics of the body's response to that sport.

Take running for example -- an hour of plodding along at the doc's usual 6:45 will burn in the vacinty of 1000 calories. As a unit of energy burned, a calories is, allegedly, a calorie. However, the recovery cost of a 9 mile run is, IMHDO, greater than that of a solid 2 hour ride. Why? The additional eccentric loads, the impact (even with the doc's sexy, supple, smooth stride that makes the Kenyans...well...york up their cassava), and the dynamics of having to use your muscular power to overcome the resistance of gravity (running is essentialy a series of bounds/jumps...its a plyometric activity, which is why you 20-something distance runners should do a base of plyometric work..very good Finnish study on the benefits of bounding, skips, single-leg hops, hurdle jums, etc., for 5000 meter runners...the increased stretch reflex from the plyometrics increased stride length, and created 10-15% time drops with no improvement in LT...the doc tried this with his runners a few years ago, and based on stride counts per 400m, it worked...and sorry cyclists, plyos won't do anything for your performance, because its a closed cycle motion that doesn't act against gravity....) mean that your body makes less efficient use of its energy while jogging along, and the cellular damage from the impact (all those eccentric contractions...and not just your legs) needs quite a bit of fuel post-training...that's why you'll find that a 1000 calories of training effort while running produces greater short term scarf-o-rama effects than 1000 calories of cycling effort...at least we look cool in the lycra, though....

As for rowing, a rower has to use a rather primitive tool to scull against the water, overcoming the static (or dynamic, if there is a current) resistance of that painfully solid mass, in order to maintain the forward momentum of the boat. Now, in Rob-O-Physics terms, that mass got mo mass than yo ass, which means that humans just don't have enough muscle , or the right set of levers, and certainly a combination of both, to overcome Old Man River for longer than a few minutes, without chucking up mum's biscuits....

As for cycling, it:

1) looks cool

2) enable us to jerk off (not to be confused with the jerk) about materials. anyone knows you should just ride lugged steel.

3) looks cool

4) allows one to eat these:banana: and drink these:beer: , although the doc is still sensitive about his body fat, so he's pretty stingy about both...anyway, beer gives me the farts something horrid,so if I do the TDFL, and somebody lets me have a frothy froth froth the night before the ride, just let me ride off the front and chase me down at your peril...else you'll be hacking up thick, black, putrid goo out of your lungs more stubborn than anything belched out of the tailpipe of a Lada that hasn't seen an oil change since Ol' Eyebrows was doing it in the Kremlin, and doing this :crap: more than when you read the tortured indulgences that pass for my prose....

01-26-2004, 11:28 AM
I've found that over 30-45 minutes I can maintain at least 15 bpm higher on average rowing (C2 rower) than I can cycling. I've always attributed this to the fact that I'm using more muscle groups rowing than cycling. I think I'd die if I tried to maintain 180 bpm on the bike over any extended period, but I can do 165 on the rower for over 30 minutes. However, my peak bpm has been recorded cycling a killer hill. Go figure...


01-26-2004, 11:55 AM
Dr. D,
You are an aerobic animal. 6:45 pace for an hour. I just started running and well, it sucks. The biomechanical learning curve is steep! Were you a competitive runner and what is your cycling skill level.

I've done a fair bit of research on rowing/running and cycling. All have advantages/disadvantages and so I do all of them. I rowed a 7:11 2000 meter piece which equalled a 5:55 mile. This corresponds fairly accurately to a 9 min 1.5 mile run I did when I was in the Navy (with about 3 miles of lifetime running experience). A 6 minute mile is supposedly equal to 24-25 mph. To me, the cycling aspect is the easiest. I can certainly go over my LT alot longer in cycling compared to running/rowing. Thoughts?

01-26-2004, 11:59 AM
Oh man! I couldn't begin to even approach a 7:11 split rowing. And I can't run worth s#*t and don't really like it anyway. I love cycling.

01-26-2004, 11:15 PM
Interesting, I was biking a bit ago with a very good marathoner who is in much better shape than I but who is conditioned to use different muscles--and he struggled to keep up with even my modest pace.

We got to talking about the biking equivalent of a marathon, and we agreed that it shouldn't be measured in calories. As Dr. Doofus seems to suggest, we thought it needed to be measured in recovery: what distance biking requires the same recovery as running a marathon? My friend couldn't imagine doing back-to-back marathons, while I could certainly imagine (though haven't done it yet) back-to-back double centuries. So running must be quite a pounding.

01-27-2004, 10:39 AM
Running intervals are very hard on the legs. It takes me a couple of days to recover, however there is often some latent soreness. My bike/row intervals stress the cardiovascular system but do not appear to cause as much muscular damage. I can only run 3x/week because of the stress to my legs. I can ride/row 6x/week rather easily. Running is efficient but an injury is only a matter of time. I'll stick w/my cross-training, thank you very much.

01-27-2004, 10:50 AM
2000 meter times depend on the type of machine you are using. When I was a serious rower the top crew had to have a 2500 meter time (in vogue at the time) sub 8 minutes on a Concept II. I was down to the high 7.40s then my disc popped and the effective end of my rowing career.

01-27-2004, 11:39 AM
Balf - do you know if there are significant time differences for the different Concept II models? I have a model B and I often wonder if I could do better times on a model C.

Regardless of the make or model, the high 7:40s for 2500 meters is fantastic and certainly beyond my abilities.

01-27-2004, 11:41 AM
not sure

I think that time was on a model b or whatever was around in 1992 when I last tested. I was gunning for international selection at the time and was pretty much training full time as a student hence the time.

I tried a waterrower a few years back which is a much more pleasant machine to pull.

01-27-2004, 11:45 AM

I don't think there are any differences between the models as far as recording time/dist. goes. I'm sure the computers on the different models are calibrated to record ecercise info. the same. I bought my Model C the month it came out and Concept2 didn't mention any differences netween it and the model B.

You could always call Concept2 and ask.

01-27-2004, 03:29 PM
I did my 2000m on the CII (I think it is the B model--it is 2 years old). The Lifecycle rower is a joke. Rowing certainly favors the big guys/gals. My 5'9" 150# frame is small compared to some of those dudes posted on the CII website.A 2500 piece at 7"40 is about a 6:08 2000m--awesome!

01-27-2004, 04:03 PM
BigDaddy Smooth,

I can't believe the times of the some of the guys on the C2 website. Your time ain't shabby by any stretch. I'm not sure I can even pull a 7:11 time at all.


Dr. Doofus
01-27-2004, 05:28 PM
The doc and I used to date this rower in college. She would hold us up against the boathouse wall and say sweet things like

"Put an erg on the water and it sinks"

God the doc made me love that woman.


01-28-2004, 03:01 AM
I was in very good shape at the time and I'm 6'4" and 200 lbs. However I was also a contemporary of three times gold medallist Matthew Pinsent so I never felt very fast (his ergs were in the 4.20s for 2500).

I agree with the Doc's friend. It was the erg that did my back in. Actual rowing is far more interesting and very little beats sitting in an eight that is moving fast in perfect harmony - the only form of intense exercise that makes me giggle with delight at peak output.