3 Weeks To A Faster 2K Row

I like to row. Okay, that’s a lie. Let’s try that again.

I’m kinda good at rowing so I like it when it shows up in WODs because I know I’ll do well!

When I took up CrossFit many years ago, I found that I was decent at rowing. I’m tall, I’m heavy, so therefore I’m good at rowing! It’s been about 5 years since we opened CrossFit South, and I was still in college my first year running the gym. One day on campus, I saw they were having a little demonstration for the UGA club crew team. Someone with the team asked if I wanted to try out their little test, and the winner gets a free gift card to Jimmy John’s! Sure, why not, I said. They asked if I need help, if I knew what I was doing. It was a short sprint, only 250m. I got the fastest time, and they invited me to tryouts in a few weeks. At the tryout, we had to row a 2000m time trial, and it ended up being the first time I got a sub-7:00 2K with a final time of 6:57!

That was the only time we tested our 2K that semester because crew teams do 5K races in the Fall, and 2K races in the Spring. The gym and school took precedent, so I was only able to make it to half the races, and only got out on the water once or twice a week.

I kept rowing, but I didn’t really try to improve my numbers. Once I got a sub-7:00 2K I was satisfied. Once I got a sub-1:30 500m I was fine. I could always repeat those results, but I didn’t care about going faster.

UNTIL NOW!

For the past year CrossFit South has been home to the UGA Crew team. They’re here four days a week putting in a crap ton of work. Everyone is in so much better shape than when I was on the team five years ago. It would’ve been nice to have some of this competition to push me back then. Watching the team retest their 2K time trials before summer break made me want to see if I could set a new personal best in a short amount of time.

Without training for it, I decided to do a 2K time trial to set a baseline. I pulled a 6:53, a one-second PR from the year before! Good, but not great. I wanted to get under a 6:40 in less than a month and under a 6:30 before the end of the year.

THE PLAN

 
I’ve seen estimates that a 2000m time trial is 75% aerobic and 25% anaerobic. I’d say it’s 100% suck! A 2K time trial is in that horrible middle ground between a sprint and an endurance piece for a normal crossfitter. It’s a really long sprint. If you don’t want to give up 700m in, you’re obviously not going hard enough!

I wanted to see how much faster I could get, but a one person study doesn’t say much. So I asked some members if they were crazy enough to try it with me! I got about a dozen to join me for some fun rowing workouts outside of class!

I put together a short 3-week program with the specific goal of increasing our 2K times. For most people, spending any amount of time on an erg for 3 weeks is going to make them a better rower, but I needed something structured with purpose.

If this was a crew team, the program would be different. But we’re crossfitters, and most of our members are super busy with school, work, and a lot more. People do crossfit because it’s structured, short, and sweet. They don’t want to put in 50K meters on the erg each week. So I tried to keep each workout under 30 minutes…most of the workouts were shorter, some were longer.

Since we get plenty of strength work in our regular classes, we only needed to work on our endurance. To do that, we focused on intervals! Each week had 5 different rowing workouts, each focusing on different goals to train all the energy pathways.

1) Short intervals – under 1000m for each interval, and about 4-5K total for the workout. The goal pace was always sub-2K. What that means was you had to row the intervals at a pace faster than your 2K. If you have an 8 minute 2K, that is a 2:00/500m split. So a 2K split -5 is a 1:55/500m split.

2) Long intervals: the shortest intervals were 1500m, the longest were 3000m. Each long interval day was a total of 6000m. Our pacing goals were always supra-2K split times.

3) Long steady state for distance – 5K row, not for time, at a pace that allowed for conversation. A lot of times I see rowers go too hard on their steady state pieces. I see these workouts as a time to train our aerobic pathways. We shouldn’t slow down or get exhausted by the end. Since we didn’t focus on going fast, we would focus on stroke rate and technique. Having access to slides for the erg made this a lot easier.

4) Super short powerful pieces with long recovery – these workouts were 6:1 rest to work. We would focus on super short 10-second bursts before resting for a minute. I designed these for our people to practice their sprint starts.

5) Long steady state for time – 20 minutes. A second aerobic workout. Just like the other steady state wod, we weren’t concerned with going fast. Just sitting on the erg for 20 minutes to work on our aerobic capacity.

The first 3 workouts were “required” and the last 2 workouts were “optional but encouraged”. But as long as they got in 2 or 3 workouts each week I believed we would see results.

2K STRATEGY

There are many different ways to attack a 2K Time Trial, but I’ll talk about what works for me. I’ll also make a video in the future about time trial and wod strategies where I’ll go more in depth on details.

PRE-RACE: carb up a few hours before! Clear your head. It’s a 2K race, it’s going to suck. But you know what? You’re going to survive, and you’re going to do great.

WARMING UP: I start off by doing a normal warm up. Short jog, little stretching and foam rolling, focusing on areas that feel tight. Then on to the erg! I then go through “The Sevens” warm up drill. I like this warm up a lot better because it puts focus on the hips and lower body vs the upper body pick drill.

I finish my warm up with a quick 10-stroke burst at my 2K pace goal to raise my heart rate before the wod. The last thing you want to have happen is for your HR to spike for the first time 15 seconds into an 8 minute sprint!

SETTING UP THE ERG: make sure the foot plate is set to a comfortable position. Make changes to the flywheel to adjust your drag factor. I’ll make another article shortly about drag factor, but most male crossfitters will be comfortable with about 135-140 and females at 120-125. I also like to set my monitor all the way up, as it forces me to sit more upright while I row.

THE START: for the beginning of the race, you’re on edge, you’re nervous. So let’s use some of that energy and put it into the start of the 2K. One of the energy pathways (creatine phosphate) powers the first 15 seconds of activity. It’s going to be used up regardless, so use it to its maximum potential to start the race with a bang. We don’t want to go all out, but we want to get the erg moving as fast as possible as quickly as possible. The way that the erg measures time to 2K is by your average pace. Instead of taking full strokes, use shorter strokes with your back and arms to get the flywheel moving before moving on to full strokes. It should take about 3 or 4 pulls before you settle into full stroke. For the next 10 pulls we’re maintaining that fast pace. It depends on the person. I wanted to finish with a 1:40 split, so for my sprint start I was hovering around 1:30. After my first 20 pulls I immediately slow down and settle into race pace.

RACE PACE: you need to have a goal in mind. My goal of a 6:40 finish gives a 1:40/500m split. So after my sprint start, I wanted to settle into a 1:40 pace or there about. Since I sprint the beginning, I was able to lower the average pace. At the end of my first 500m I was at an average 1:35/500m pace. So I could go slower than a 1:40/500m pace and still finish under 6:40. If I saw a 1:41 or 1:42, that’s ok! Just dial it back down eventually.

I made a crappy graph in excel and MS paint to illustrate what I’m talking about. The dotted line in the picture is our average goal pace, in this case a 1:45 split. We don’t have to hold a 1:45 the whole time to finish with a 1:45! Start strong, build up some extra headroom when you’re rowing faster than your race pace. That way you can slow down in the middle, sprint the very end, and still have a 1:45 average!


(note: chart not drawn to scale)

IT’S ALL MENTAL: from about 300m until 1300m you probably want to stop. The lactic acid is starting to build. You’re sweating. It sucks. But it’s ok. It’s not going to get any worse. Tell your brain to shut up and stop playing mind games. You got this shit! However, don’t be arrogant. If you’re feeling good, you still need to stick with your plan. This middle piece we’re going one or two splits above our goal. Don’t try to go faster than your race pace! Sit tall, focus on your stroke, focus on your breathing.

YOU’RE ALMOST THERE: with about 700m to go, it’s time to get serious. Don’t let your pace go slower. Dial it back in. Don’t deviate from race pace.

FINAL 500 METERS: Don’t sprint just yet. We still want to keep it at race pace. Focusing on long arms and long legs.

SPRINT FOR THE FINISH: For the final 300m we want to start going faster. Our stroke rate might increase by one or two. Try to get under your race pace by one split. With 200m to go, try to get under your race pace by two splits. At 150m, everything you’ve got!

YOU’RE DONE: don’t collapse on the floor just yet! Try to keep your composure. Stay on the erg and slide back and forth for a minute. Try to flush out some lactic acid.

DID IT WORK?

YES! Everyone that participated in my experiment improved their 2K time. As predicted, those that did more of the plan improved their times the most. For the three mandatory workouts, we probably had close to a 70% compliance rate. Everyone did at least one rowing workout a week. Maybe 20% of participating athletes did one or more of the optional workouts each week. I think I did the power workout once and the steady state workout once.

At the end of 3 weeks, I improved my 2K time by 11 seconds. I went from a 6:53 to a time of 6:42. Not too shabby in such a short time! I missed my goal of a 1:40/500m pace by half a second! I wasn’t there mentally, and dropped the ball on the final 500m. Part of me blames it on the fact that I got distracted by someone screaming next to me as he was struggling through his time trial. When I looked back at my screen I had dipped down to a 1:58/500m pace, shit! Maybe I started off too hard. Maybe I didn’t eat enough that morning. Maybe I waited too late to speed up and sprint the finish. Who knows! Regardless, I think I could’ve gone faster, but I really didn’t want to redo it! I was so close though…two seconds from my goal…

So how did everyone else fare?

Keras: 6:53 to 6:42
Mike: 7:57 to 7:34
Zach: 6:59 to 6:56
Jonesy: 7:55 to 7:33
Scott: 7:33 to 7:29
Tom: 7:57 to 7:48
Deijon: 9:22 to 8:20
Jeff: 7:49 to 7:35
Justin: 7:30 to 7:23
Bianca:: 7:59 to 7:50
Maggie: 8:00 to 7:57
Jessie: 8:07 to 8:01
Krista: 8:29 to 8:14
Devin: 8:43 to 8:37
Natalie: 8:21 to 8:13

And that’s just for those that did the 3-week test/retest! Nearly everyone else PR’d from the last time we did a 2K late last year, too!!!

THE WORKOUTS

Each week involves a shorter workout at a sub-2K pace, a longer workout at a supra-2K pace, and a steady state aerobic workout. In addition to those three wods, there are two optional but encouraged workouts: one involves power output, and the other is a second steady state workout. Depending on your weaknesses, you should probably do one of these. Awesome at sprints but struggle with the longer workouts? Do the additional steady state row.

MONDAY, speed
  • 8x500m
  • Pace: 2K split -3
  • Rest: twice the time it took to row
TUESDAY, power (optional)
  • Set unit to watts: Pull hard for 10 seconds and take 90% of your average
  • Row 10 seconds, Rest 60 seconds
  • Continue for 20 sets
  • If unable to hit your 90% goal, rest for 120 seconds before continuing
WEDNESDAY, endurance
  • 4x1500m
  • Pace: 2K split +6
  • Rest: 5 minutes
THURSDAY, steady (optional)
  • 20 minutes @ <25spm
  • Pace: 2K +20
  • Focusing on breathing, focusing on technique, focusing on a steady pace
  • Use slides or a dynamic erg if possible, makes it easier to rate low and focus on the recovery
FRIDAY, distance
  • 5000m @ >25 spm
  • Pace: 2K +15
  • Just like Thursdays, we will do a steady state WOD to train the aerobic pathway. You should be able to hold a conversation, don’t go hard.
MONDAY, speed
  • 250m x 2 @ MAX
  • 500m x 2 @ 2K -3
  • 750m x 2 @ 2K – 2
  • 1000m x 2 @ 2K – 1
  • Rest = work x 2
TUESDAY, power (optional)
  • Set unit to watts: Pull hard for 10 seconds and take 90% of your average
  • Row 10 seconds, Rest 60 seconds
  • Continue for 20 sets
  • If unable to hit your 90% goal, rest for 120 seconds before continuing
WEDNESDAY, endurance
  • 3x2000m
  • Pace: 2K split +8
  • Rest = work
THURSDAY, steady (optional)
  • 20 minutes @ <25spm
  • Pace: 2K +20
  • Focusing on breathing, focusing on technique, focusing on a steady pace
  • Use slides or a dynamic erg if possible, makes it easier to rate low and focus on the recovery
FRIDAY, distance
  • 5000m @ >25 spm
  • Pace: 2K +15
  • Just like Thursdays, we will do a steady state WOD to train the aerobic pathway. You should be able to hold a conversation, don’t go hard.
MONDAY, speed
  • 4x1000m
  • Pace: 2K goal
  • Rest: 5 minutes
TUESDAY, power (optional)
  • Set unit to watts: Pull hard for 10 seconds and take 90% of your average
  • Row 10 seconds, Rest 60 seconds
  • Continue for 20 sets
  • If unable to hit your 90% goal, rest for 120 seconds before continuing
WEDNESDAY, endurance
  • 2x3000m
  • Pace: 2K split +8
  • Rest = work
THURSDAY, steady (optional)
  • 20 minutes @ <25spm
  • Pace: 2K +20
  • Focusing on breathing, focusing on technique, focusing on a steady pace
  • Use slides or a dynamic erg if possible, makes it easier to rate low and focus on the recovery
FRIDAY, distance
  • 5000m @ >25 spm
  • Pace: 2K +15
  • Just like Thursdays, we will do a steady state WOD to train the aerobic pathway. You should be able to hold a conversation, don’t go hard.