How to Lower Your 500m Race Time

Total Row Fitness Class

How to Lower Your 500m Race Time

by | May 21, 2018

For anyone that’s taken a class at Total Row, you know that we finish each session with one of our 3 races: 1) 500m for time, 2) 1:30 for distance, or 3) Tabata for distance. We believe this provides a great trackable metric, and a fun way to test against yourself and peers!

A common question we get is, “I’ve been rowing for a few classes/weeks/months now, and I’m hitting a ceiling; how do I improve my race performance?

While improving your fitness is obviously goal number 1 to see faster times, races also require a plan of attack. Today, we are going to provide a complete beginner’s guide to race strategy for the 500m race. Note: This strategy can be adopted to essentially any distance!

Why a Race Strategy Matters

Would you start driving on a family vacation without knowing the directions? How about building that new piece of furniture without glancing over the instructions? While some of you may have answered “yes,” many of us would take the time to derive a plan in an effort to make the project more efficient and accurate.

No matter how good of a driver you are, or how handy you’ve become, taking a few minutes to understand your goals and progress points can be a huge difference maker!

Races (rowing, running, triathlons, and many others) are no different. A plan will help you lay out a strategy with progress points along the way. All you have to do is executive!

Understand Your Goal

In a race, it is usually to your benefit to understand the end goal before starting. While adapting on the fly is important (and something we will discuss later), your plan is more attainable by knowing the final goal upfront.

Some good examples:
1. I’ve never done a 500m race, but my 500m split has fallen to 2:00 in class. I think I can do better than that, so I’ll go for 1:55!
2. I’m working on an 8 minute 2k. I should be able to do atleast 2:00 per 500m on a longer race, so I’ll aim for 1:45 in the shorter race!
3. My last race PR (personal record) was 2:00. My goal today is 1:59!

These are all wonderful goals, and provide a base with which we can form the rest of our plan. They are both actionable and make sense within the context of your current fitness.

Some bad examples:

1. I’m going to start all out and see what happens!
2. I’ll see where I am at the half way point, and try to double it!
3. The guy/girl next to me has been rowing at 1:30; I’ll just start there!

These are bad goals because they are thrown together without any rhyme or reason, with number 1 having no trackable success metric. Number 3 is based on someone else’s split time, which is not applicable to your current fitness level. In short, these type of goals will set you up for failure and never-ending plateaus.

So, let’s switch to an actionable goal of 2:00 (assuming this is attainable at your fitness level), and look at how we would create a Total Row race plan!

A 2:00 500m

OK. We have our goal of 500m in 2 minutes, and we want to make sure that if we put in our best effort, we will hit that goal! To do this, we need to create a race strategy built from the ground up using micro-goals. (Note: This is an amazing strategy that can be used for anything you are undertaking).

Our micro-goals are as follows: 1) First 20 seconds, 2) First 250m, 3) Second 250m, and 4) Final 50m!

First 20 Seconds

You are feeling fresh, amped up, and ready to roll! While you don’t want to end your race in the first 20 seconds, it is usually better to not fight this energy – use it to your advantage! In this first 20 seconds of the race, we will take our goal split time (2:00 per 500m), reduce it by 10 seconds, and hammer the start! This will help you pick up speed early, give you a little bit of a headstart, and get you into race mode.

Total Row Pro Tip: Don’t go crazy at the beginning! Remember that 10 seconds below that ideal split time is where you need to be. Many a rower has ruined their race in the first leg. You have a long way to go – this is just meant to be an initial burst.

First 250 Meters

After that 20 sec burst, it’s time to settle in to our race pace. We are aiming for a 2:00/500m split time. Since our split time is based on 500m, your reading should be in the 1:58-2:00 time frame for this portion.

Total Row Pro Tip: Try to keep your split time at 2:00, while rowing at the lowest possible stroke rate. If you can hold that 2:00 pace down at 24-26 strokes per minute, you have a cushion to increase your strokes as you tire. As soon as you see that split time go above 2:00 for more than 3 strokes, take the stroke rate up until you get back under 2:00!

Second 250 Meters (Up to 50 Meters Left)

The pacing here remains the same, but you will begin to “feel it.” CONCENTRATE ON YOUR FORM, POWER, AND STROKE TIMING. It is easy to fall apart in the back half of the race, when really all you need to do is hang on at the exact same pace!

Total Row Pro Tip: Throw in a set of Big 5s, 7s, or 10s at the halfway point (250m). These Big strokes are done as hard as you can, and are meant to give you a shot of speed. You are halfway through, and these will keep you below your split time goal and your mind in the boat!

Final 50 Meters!

Well, there’s not much to say here. This is when you dig down, remember your reason for being there in the first place, and punish that erg! Keep driving through your legs, and give everything you have left! Know that if you’ve executed to this point, you are on your way to setting a new PR!

Total Row Pro Tip: It’s going to hurt at this point, and there’s not much you can do about it. Remember how hard you’ve worked up until this point, and never give up! You WILL finish eventually… The pain WILL go away… You WILL feel AWESOME when you get your PR!

Final Thoughts: It Doesn’t Always Go As Planned

As they saying goes, even the best laid plans of mice and men often go awry. So here are a few final thoughts to keep in mind:

1) Always evaluate where you are at the halfway point. Have you been consistently above 2:00 minutes? Are you feeling a little sick? Maybe you just crushed the first half, and are ready to roll? Whatever is happening, don’t let that well laid plan be your downfall. We all have ups and downs, and be ready to change your plan as you move through the race. The key is to make small adjustments, rather than completely throwing in the towel.
2) Big Strokes are your friend. Never be after to throw in a set of Big 5s, 7s, or 10s at different points. Use these as motivation and a confidence buildier. After ripping through 10 monster strokes, your pace is going to feel much more doable (and you just gave yourself and extra boost!).
3) Never, ever, ever, be afraid to fail. Set big goals and go after them! If you don’t, well, you may never know what you are fully capable of. You will always miss 100% of the shots you don’t take!

Ready to Try For Yourself? Grab Your Free Week at Total Row!

If you are in the Atlanta-area, stop by for a class at Total Row! Remember, your first week is free, and our training staff is prepared to help rowers from day 1 to 1,000. Every class ends in a fun race, so be prepared to get after it!

Have a specific question for us? Drop us a line at We’d love to hear from you!