What is the Difference?

During interval rowing we can separate recovery into 2 different kinds. One is passive recovery, also known as complete REST, where you completely stop rowing, put the handle down, and you can even take your feet out of the footrest and get off the rower. The other is active recovery also known as EASY, which means easy rowing while maintaining good technique with minimum pressure, and slowing down the movement.

What are the Benefits?

As you can see in the picture below, we have 2 workouts that are pretty similar to each other (thanks to the Dark Horse Rowing 1000m cycle) to give us a clear comparison. Our heart rate (HR) was monitored by a Polar Global H7 HR monitor through the Polar Beat app. The workout was 3 x 1000m with a 4 minute REST recovery programmed with sprint start in the first workout and 3 x 1000m with a 4 minute EASY recovery programmed in the second workout.

Passive recovery aka REST can be beneficial for sprint workouts. A static start makes the interval a little tougher and offers a chance to practice settling into race pace in a way that more closely simulates racing. Sprint start practice is also crucial to improve rowing workout scores significantly so practice it where it is suitable.

Active recovery aka EASY after high-intensity work promotes faster and more complete recovery and minimizes fatigue by increasing circulation and promoting the removal of metabolic waste products. This is critical when attempting to maintain high-performance during high-intensity training. Make it very gentle. though, and take the opportunity to keep drinking water. During EASY rowing we suggest 16-20 S/M on the stroke rate and focusing on technique.

Additional Findings

Monitoring both REST and EASY recovery during basically the same workout shows us several interesting things. First, your heart rate drops in the EASY recovery close to the exact same speed as it does with a complete REST. However, during complete REST the heart rate keeps dropping and the speed of the recovery process slows way down.

Note: If in case the rest period is not set, you can choose between REST or EASY. However, it is important that recovery periods are consistent from workout to workout to avoid artificially improving your times by extending your recovery periods.

When complete recovery is applied such as a complete REST, the opportunity for intensity and maximizing the training stimulus will allow for adaptation to the workout to be more trained. Still, make sure that recovery intervals are practical and not too excessive. Too much recovery is counterproductive from the standpoint that you can cool down too much, and actually, make you slower. So it’s a matter of finding the right balance.

Alternative Options

In the case you choose to use heart rate as a measurement and base for intensity, which can easily be followed by a heart rate monitor connected to the Concept2 performance monitor or suitable activity tracker, the rest duration typically isn’t set in advance. Instead, you typically go again when your HR has returned to some predetermined level.

In a typical HR based program, the ‘standard’ rest is, however, long it takes your HR to return to 2 x your resting BPM. It also can be adjusted to emphasize endurance over speed and you can choose some higher set value. For instance, 75% at 2 x resting BPM will lean towards improving lactate tolerance.


Our Advice is simple. Focus on recovery, listen to your body, and if you can, follow a preset plan. Most of the DHR workouts have rest written into the programming with the intention of maintaining your ability to perform the workout at the planned intensity.

We suggest active recovery rather than passive recovery to more completely facilitate the process unless it is suggesting complete rest. Even if it is a complete rest we suggest rowing for about 10 strokes before putting back the handle and getting your foot out of the footrest and starting walking around.

In the case, there is no rest programmed it is better to rest more than less. Some people imagine that by shortening the recovery interval you will benefit by more completely by simulating competition conditions when you will be tired. But don’t forget, this is training. The goal is to improve your ability to compete well, not to practice mental or physical failure, pain, or God forbid Injure yourself.

Workouts can produce very different physiological adaptions depending on how many intervals you perform, the length of the interval, the length of the recovery, the intensity of the interval, the type and amount of recovery (REST vs. EASY), etc. The list goes on.

Recovery can be as important as determining adaptions and how efficiently they are produced. This all goes to say that any training plan without any stipulation on how much and what kind of rest is to be taken between workouts (let alone between intervals in a single workout) is less effective than the ones that do.


The Wolverine Plan

Training Plan of the University of Michigan Women’s Rowing Team

Prepared August 2001; Tables Revised/Expanded June 2002


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