Having been in this line of work for over 25 years, sometimes I think we’ve heard every question out there.  But now and then we get a really good question that we’ve never had to think about before, and it’s really a treat for us to ponder something new.  This one came in via email this week:


I bought a Concept2 (model D) rowing machine just before Christmas to get myself in shape while the Melonseed is under construction. Concept2 suggests a target rowing rate of 22 to 28 strokes per minute and a fan setting of 3 to reflect the drag (I suppose that is what it is for) of a standard shell. The instruction booklet also remarks that a higher fan setting is appropriate for larger boats, but doesn’t suggest a setting for any particular size of boat.

If you are familiar with the Concept2 machine, can you recommend a fan setting that reflects the characteristics of the Melonseed? I’m presently using level 5 and able to go 1500 meters at a stroke rate of 18-19, but it is quite demanding (I have done 700 meters at 22 and 5, and that is REALLY demanding, puff, puff, puff). I’d kind of like to know what fan setting I should be using rather than using an uninformed guess for very much longer.

Hoping you have a suggestion.


Pete S.

Hi Pete,

Great question…. And you get the prize for asking a question we have never been asked before!

I work out on a Concept II erg a couple of times a week so can relate to your workout levels and thoughts about how that relates to real world rowing. Let’s dig in…

First, consider the difference between a Rowing Shell  and Melonseed. Perhaps the best way to think about this is by analogy; the Shell is a sports car and the Melonseed is an SUV. The Shell, like a sports car, is lightly loaded and  designed for one purpose; get there fast – usually in controlled, flat water conditions. The Melonseed, akin to a well designed SUV can go fast but prefers to enjoy the voyage rather than just the destination. Most Melonseed owners go for long rows in open water so endurance is more important than just speed.

Now let’s look at the difference between said sports car and SUV engines. Without going too much into minutiae, there are two forms of power produced – horsepower and torque. Horsepower is a product of RPM. The more RPM, the more horsepower produced. Torque is the initial power produced from rotation and is primarily produced at lower RPMS. A sports car engine is designed to turn high RPM’s … it needs to get really cranking to get to speed. Once at speed it needs to keep those high RPMs to keep from falling behind. An SUV engine, conversely, produces it’s torque at lower RPMS.

How does this relate to the settings on a rowing machine? If I was training to row a Shell would use a light fan (#3) setting and high stroke rate, just Concept II suggests. Shells have little momentum so if you stop rowing, the boat stops too. But when I row my Melonseed (or train in the gym) I use more resistance ( setting 7 – 8) with lower stroke rate. I can maintain close to hull speed in the Melonseed with a stroke rate as low as 8 to 12 strokes per minute. Take a stroke, then the Melonseed’s  momentum lets the boat glide for several boat lengths before the next stroke. Once you learn to turn off your brain and just zen out on the movement of your body and the water you can go for miles without tiring. Then if you want aerobics you can just do intervals of high reps and drop back to the base stroke level to recover.

Hope this helps!