How to get a faster 2k erg

Speed up your 2k without improving your fitness

Using data to go faster isn’t rocket science, but it requires three things to be effective: (1) start with a question, (2) make a decision based on your analysis, and (3) move on. In this post we look at the question…

Can I get a faster 2k without improving my fitness?

Yes, you really can get faster with the right reflection. Photo by S Migaj on Unsplash

Fitness is obviously a HUGE part of your 2K time, but if your mindset or your pacing strategy need work, then you still have other ways to get faster. The challenge is recognizing that you need work in these areas. Fortunately, it’s pretty easy to figure this out with a graph of your splits, so follow along with us…

For this post, you’ll need a graph of your latest 2K splits — with split on the y-axis and distance on the x-axis.

Many apps capture this information. If you’re looking for one, I’d recommend you start recording your pieces with RowHero and look for the graph for your next 2K. You will need RowHero for Principle #3.

Principle #1: If you can keep rowing faster than your average split at the end of the piece, you didn’t empty the tank.

You empty the tank when you have nothing left to give. While you may feel that way after every 2K test, you can quickly check whether this is really the case by looking at your piece. Check out this one below:

What do you see? The blue line shows that this rower paced the piece very conservatively. She brought the split down at the 1500m mark and finished the piece with strokes a full 5 seconds below the piece average!

If she really couldn’t sprint one more stroke below a 2:00.2, then she’d empty the tank, but this graph tells a different story. Next time, she could (1) hold a more aggressive pace during the body of the piece, (2) sprint earlier, or (3) sprint faster. If your piece looks like hers, whichever strategy (or combination of strategies) you choose, the goal is to have your sprint finish just below the average split at the end of the piece.

Principle #2: Row hard through the finish line.

It seems simple, right? Keep pushing hard until you finish the piece. Unfortunately, it’s not always what you ask for:

This graph of a real 2K shows an athlete who just couldn’t come through in those last 3 strokes. The impact on your overall erg split may be small, but it doesn’t reflect well on your ability to move a boat, especially since races are lost by hundredths of a second.

Coaches, pay attention to this — average split is no longer a sufficient tool for evaluation.

Principle #3: Off-strokes represent an opportunity to build mental toughness.

Off-strokes are RowHero’s way to highlight the lack of consistency in a piece. An off-stroke is any stroke that is 2+ splits slower than the strokes around it. RowHero calls these out specially because the rower always recovers back to base pace after taking them. These slowdowns are usually mental, not physical.

In the graph above, the orange bars represent off-strokes. The higher the bar, the slower the stroke was relative to the strokes around it.

The impact is real. If this athlete didn’t pull any off-strokes, they could’ve been almost 4 seconds faster and would’ve broken the 7:40 barrier. Building a champion mindset is beyond the scope of this post, but this is where you can concretely see returns on how important it is!

Principle #4: The optimal pacing strategy is based on factors personal to you, so you must experiment to find what works best.

The pieces presented so far are relatively obvious to see how to improve, but this last one is not so simple.

This seems like a well-paced piece, and that’s because it is. This rower had a strong start (perhaps slightly too strong?), a decent sprint, and was very close to the average throughout the entire piece. Sure, there are a few off-strokes to work on around the 1100–1200m mark, but we’re talking fractions of a second that she could gain.

Instead, I turn your attention to her pacing. It’s U-shaped, as opposed to J-shaped (negative split), or reverse-J-shaped (fly and die).

We know that pacing is as much physiological as it is psychological, so while on average rowers tend to be U-shaped, it’s entirely possible this athlete could go faster by trying a different strategy.

She won’t know until she tries.

Recovery and Warm-up

I would be remiss if I didn’t include one of the easiest pieces of data to collect: your personal journal. Taking notes on the following questions can help you pinpoint patterns that lead to your best workouts:

Recovery: The goal of these questions is to find correlations between your behaviors and how prepared you feel to tackle the day when you get up.

  • How well did you sleep last night?
  • How physically strong and recovered do you feel?
  • How mentally alert and energetic do you feel?
  • How sore and/or painful are your muscles?
  • What did you do in the last 24–48 hours which contributed to any of the following: poor sleep quality, physical fatigue, mental fatigue, or muscle soreness?
  • What did you do in the last 24–48 hours which contributed to any of the following: great sleep quality, great mood, mental alertness, or physical readiness to work out?

Warm-up: The goal of these questions is to find the warm-up routine that makes you feel most prepared both physically and mentally.

  • [Before workout] How ready do you feel to work out?
  • What was your warm-up?
  • [After workout] Did you feel warmed up enough?

With enough diligence, you’ll uncover things you do that make you feel prepared and things that make you feel not so prepared. Figure out what you have control over; strive to eliminate the bad, and embrace more of the good.


Good data gives you the power to unlock your potential, but it requires patience and commitment to see it through. Just like you can’t PR every piece, not every change you make will make you faster. However, the more you learn about yourself by reflecting on your performances, the more chances you create for yourself to reach your goals.

Coaches and athletes: if you’d like an app that helps you reflect on your or your team’s progress using some of the techniques in this post, check out RowHero.

Share on facebook
Facebook
Share on twitter
Twitter
Share on linkedin
LinkedIn

More to explore

life preserver

Culture of Safety

  Speakers Toni Martinez – Safety Committee, USRowing Catharine Labine – Safety Committee, USRowing; Girls High Performance, Maritime Rowing Club Matt Logue

Young woman sitting on a bench looking at the sunset across mountains

Functional Imagery Training

  Speakers Jon Rhodes – Applied Psychologist, Imagery Coaching Karol Nedza – Researcher, Imagery Coaching Joanna Grover – CEO, Imagery Coaching @ImageryCoaching

USRowing Annual Meeting

  Speakers Amanda Kraus – CEO, USRowing The 3-Sentence Summary In Amanda Kraus’s first year as CEO in 2021, USRowing had ambitious

David DeWinter

David DeWinter

David is the founder of RowHero, the athlete-centered erg data app for teams, focused on continuous improvement and creating time for coaches.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

ready to be a rowhero?

Fill out the form below, and we'll be in touch within 24 hours on getting your team setup!