Winter Training: How to Tackle Your 2k

Lightweights racing at Crash-Bs in 2012 (Photo: B. Kitch)
The junior and collegiate indoor rowing season is just around the corner, and that means sooner or later you are going be testing yourself for 2,000 meters along with your teammates. Whether it's at your club's boathouse, a regional championship, or Crash-Bs, there are a few tips that can help you to achieve your goals this winter. There are as many ways to approach a 2k as there are people rowing, but given my experience the following, simple tricks can put you in the right place when the electronic starting official let's you know it's time to go.

1. Don't worry if you can't sleep. Being nervous is natural, and look at it from the positive standpoint of neurological and physiological preparation: your body and mind are ready to get after it. That's good. The best advice I ever heard regarding sleep was as simple as this: when your body needs sleep, it takes it (I believe this came from Matt Pinsent or Peter Reed). If you are completely unable to sleep, then you probably don't need it at that time. So, relax. Let your body take over the night before, after you have made sure to properly hydrate and nourish it.

2. If you are testing in the morning, it is beneficial to be awake for three hours prior to intense athletic activity. If there's no way you can manage that (say, if you are set to test at 6am), then give yourself a full hour at the least. The body takes time to fully awaken and it's important that you are running on all cylinders for your test.

3. The warm-up should begin roughly 45 minutes before your test, with a steady-state about ten minutes long. At the outset, you should be at something very easy, in the range of +35-40 on your goal split. As your body warms up a little, you can start to let it creep down to +25-30. This is simply to get your system up and running, and a good sweat going. You can follow this up with a little water, and five to ten minutes or so of ten stroke bursts at or below your race pace. A trick that often worked for me was to close my eyes for the last of these bursts—usually, you'll find that you are well below your goal. Following these short intervals, get up, stretch, and walk around a little. Breathe and relax. You know your goal.

4. Sit down on your test erg as soon as possible. Take full advantage of the five minutes you are usually given prior to the test (this is the procedure at Crash-Bs), and begin by doing a drill: two legs-only strokes, followed by one full stroke. One of the hardest things going into a test is staying relaxed enough in the upper body to keep from wasting energy. This drill will help to remind you to keep your shoulders, arms and hands relaxed as you initiate the drive.

5. Have a race plan, and commit to your goal split. Some people have elaborate plans that they tape to the base of the erg monitor, and some people are more free with their planning—but everyone needs to go into a test with an expectation of where they will be at a given point, as basic or complex as that expectation may be. Personally, I don't like to over think things. People often talk about "the third 500" in daunting terms, so my own, very simple plan eliminated it. I knew my goal, and I knew I'd done the work. I would say to myself, "get to 700m to go," and that was enough. I knew that I'd be able to hold my goal split through 1300m, and by the time I reached 700m to go I would be more than half way through the dreaded third 500. From there, it always comes down to grit and rage—probably the reason I started rowing in the first place.

6. Again, commit to your goal split. Everyone feels like Hercules when they take the first five strokes of a 2k test, and there is always a temptation to linger too far below your goal to be sustainable. This cannot happen. You are a robot, programmed to pull one number. Execute. 

7. Remember to keep the hands moving. The more tired you get, the more likely you are to leave the hands in the finish. Continue to draw all the way through to the body, but keep your swing and momentum by making the handle speed away from the finish a reflection of the drive. If you can manage this, you'll always be able to take up the rate when your vision is starting to blur and you're losing feeling in your extremities.

8. Do not fall on the ground. If you have the ability to go full pressure all the way through a test, then you have the ability to sit up and put the handle down. What flopping on the ground says is that you are not physiologically prepared to handle the distance, or that you've had a bad test. (Take a look at Henrik Stephansen after shattering the lightweight men's world record, if you'd like an example.) Sit up, and pat yourself on the back. Leave the test knowing that you executed your plan, and take satisfaction in that, whether it brings you a medal or not.



  1. All good advice!
    I've been working on breaking my 2K into pieces- the same pieces I do in my rate ladder workouts through the season. If I can do 18' ladders at 30-32-34-36 strokes per minute, then I can certainly break down a 2K the same way (so the thinking goes)

    I really like your advice to eliminate the 3rd 500. I break mine into 400m sections. But then like you say, with 700m to go I know I'm in the clear, because my finish starts with 600m to go and as hard as it is, I know I can do it.

    Last comment... I never used to believe in using a race plan, I just sort of "went for it" and hoped for the best. But, using a race plan has definitely helped. People like different plans, so we usually do a prep workout of 4x2K, about 10-15" slower than 2K pace. Each one is a different plan, and we have all of them written out and taped to the monitor... it's enough to give you an idea of what sort of racing you're strongest at (e.g., negative vs. positive split) I learned that I like a combination of plans, but once I figured it out I felt much less "afraid" going into my 2K.

  2. This is all really good advice. Well done!

  3. Wish I had read this back in 2003. I don't think I ever rally had a race plan. Oh well.

  4. Thanks for reminding me about the 'pain'!!!

    Here's a new e-book that we're selling about how to improve your 2k score.
    It's written by Walter Martindale and in it he explains how to prepare your body and your mind, what splits to aim for, how to practice your race plan and (importantly) what to do after the test.
    The part I like best are the example results in which he interprets race plans that go wrong such as going out too hard [Hercules] or starting to sprint too late.


  5. its all good advice except that i have blacked out in the middle of a 2k. I was being pushed by my pair partner in the boat and I was rowing 4 splits below my pr until 400 meters left which is where everything started to get fuzzy and then it went black and i fell off the erg.

  6. +1, rowing hard enough

  7. point 8 is a ridiculous over simplification. different athletes will respond in different ways to the 2k test. Pinsent could stand up and walk about within seconds, Cracknell could barely speak let alone move. Are you telling me that either of them got it wrong?

  8. This helped me get sub 12 on my 2k


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