Step 1: How to read the monitor (stroke rate and split times)
Step 2: Understand what an easy, medium and race pace speed is for you over various distances—500-meters, 1,000-meters, 2,000-meters and 5,000-meters
Step 3: Learn how to row a consistent pace throughout each distance (fluctuating more than + or - 2 splits off your target split during any given piece means you're not putting forth a consistent effort).
At least you don't have to figure out how to row in time with 7 others...
Once you have the above three steps figured out, you'll be in a good position to decide how fast to approach various rowing distances over multiple rounds during multi-modal CrossFit workouts. Let’s look at 3 different known CrossFit workouts with rowing:
Jackie—1,000 meter row, 50 thrusters, 30 pull-ups:
Knowing more time can be made up on the thrusters and pull-ups than the row, the priority here is to be able to get on the barbell the moment you dismount the rowing machine.
Option 1 recommendation: If you don’t know your race pace (meaning your best ever 1,000-meter row time), row at your established medium 1,000-meter pace.
Option 2: If you know your 1,000-meter race pace, row at 8 to 10 splits higher than that. Meaning, if my best 1,000-meter row is a 3:30—a 1:45 split average—then I would aim to hold somewhere between 1:53 to 1:55 for Jackie. Why? If I go much faster than that, I will probably slow down considerably on the thrusters and pull-ups.
Option 3: If you know your 2-km row score, row at approximately 3-5 splits above that. So if my best 2-km is 7:28—a 1:52 average—I would hold a 1:55 to 1:57 pace on Jackie. For a good CrossFit athlete, Jackie falls in a similar time domain as their 2-km row race time, so you might think it's safe to hold your 2-km row average split during Jackie. But the reason I recommend sitting a little slower than your 2-km row split is because much more time can be made up on the thrusters and pull-ups just by going a few seconds slower on the row. Remember, 5 seconds slower is a world of difference when it comes to the effort required. Check out this CrossFit Journal story for a detailed explanation why.
Prioritize getting RIGHT ON that barbell
Christine—3 rounds of 500-meter row, 12 bodyweight deadlift, 21 box jumps
Christine is probably a 8 to 12 minute workout for a decent CrossFit athlete. It’s tempting to hit the first row hard as it’s relatively short, but you’re better off holding a consistent pace between all three 500-meter pieces.
Option 1: Row at your medium 500-meter row pace if you don’t know your 500-meter race pace.
Option 2: Row about 12-15 seconds slower than your best 500-meter piece. If my best piece is 1:40, then I’d aim to hold around 1:52 to 1:55 for all three pieces.
Option 3: If you know your 2-km test time, row at approximately 2 splits above that. For example, if I can row a 7:40 2-km time—a 1:55 average split—then I’d aim to hold a 1:57 in each 500-meter pieces during Christine.
2012 Regionals workout: 2 km row, 50 pistols, 30 Hang Cleans (225/135 lb.)
I competed at those Regionals. Let me tell you, that workout was NOT about the row. So much more time could be made up on the pistols and the cleans. If the cleans are heavy for you and you need to be as fresh as possible when you get to them, then I would slow the row down even more than the recommendation below.
Option 1: Row at your medium 2-km row pace (If you know the cleans will slow you down, slow it down to an easy speed to make sure you’re completely fresh when you get off the machine).
Option 2: Row at your 5-km race pace split. If your 5 km time is 20:00—a 2:00 average split—split, then hold that for this 2-km piece.
Option 3: Row 7-8 splits above your 2-km race time. So if your best 2 km is 7:00—a 1:45 average split—then aim for a 1:52 to 1:53 split average.
Of course, the options for multi-modal CrossFit workouts that include rowing are limitless, so as a general rule, I recommend the following guideline:
Consider the time domain of the workout: Figure out how long approximately the entire workout will take you. From there, choose a pace that you could row at (medium pace) without absolutely killing yourself for that entire time domain. For example, if the workout is going to take around 15 minutes, then row each row during the workout at a pace that you could row at a steady state if you rowed for 15 minutes without stopping.
If the workout is in calories, then that's a whole other story! But I'll save that for the next piece: Calorie Rowing!