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“We Don’t Just Talk About Rowing – We Actually Row!”

2000 Meter Row Time: Tips to Enhance Your Speed from an Expert Rower

Tips for 2000 meter row times

The 2,000 meter row time is the gold standard for comparing your level of physical prowess on the rowing machine. When you meet new rowers, one of the very first things they tend to ask is, “What’s your 2k time?”

As far as I’m concerned, there’s no such thing as a ‘bad’ 2k time – simply performing a 2k and having the mental fortitude to complete the distance is always worthy of respect.

That said, however, the 2,000-meter row is truly the ultimate fitness test. So if you want a improve your performance on one of the hardest of fitness tests, read on and I’ll give you all the tips that you need!

2k Erg Times

In general, when discussing the 2,000-meter row, most people will be referring to the time set on the Concept 2 rowing machine. This isn’t to say that you can’t do a 2,000-meter row on another form of rowing machine.

A CONCEPT 2 ROWER with a row of treadmills nearby

It’s just that, for one reason or another, the broader rowing community has decided that the Concept 2 is the machine that everyone can compare themselves against.

This only really matters for the ultra-competitive rowers, as they’ll be looking to compare their results to others. For anyone else, all that matters is that your rowing machine produces a consistent output so that you can compete against yourself (and against the clock!).

What’s a Good Time for 2k Row?

If you are looking to compete, here’s some target times for you to consider:

Competition Levels   Heavy Weight Category  
Males Females
 National Level <6:00 <6:50
 High Level ‘Club’ Athlete 6:01 – 6:20 7:01 – 7:15
Competitive ‘Club’ Athlete 6:21 – 6:40 >7:16 – 7:40
Club Athlete 6:40 – 6:59 >7:41 – 7:59
Common Novice/Beginner 7:00 8:00

Take note that these are very, very general numbers and are just there to give you a broad idea of what is a good rowing pace.

As I’ve said before, unless you’re a professional athlete, you shouldn’t be comparing your time to anyone else but yourself!

The rowing machine is all about you vs you – trying to become the best version of yourself and hitting your personal desired results!

A decent pace is the pace that gives you the time you’re looking for!

There’s lots of things that should be taken into account when considering these benchmark times.

For example, age – athletes tend to peak in rowing at about 30. This doesn’t mean that you can’t improve if you’re over 30. It’s just that the above times are based on 30-year-olds.

Beginners also shouldn’t worry too much about these times. Instead, you should focus on learning good rowing form first (making sure you’re using your legs as well as your upper body strength!)

Novice rowers will find that from improving their technique, they’ll take huge chunks of time from their scores. Good form really does play a massive role.

I should also make a note here for shorter people. Without a doubt, rowing is a sport built for tall people. This absolutely doesn’t mean that shorter people can’t be just as fast.

In the words of Olympian Damir Martin, “Rowing is a game of square inches, what you lack in height you must make up for in width.”

Thus, lighter people and smaller rowers should focus on building muscle, as well as fitness, in order to match those who are blessed with the ‘perfect’ rowing genetics!

How Do I Start Training for a 2K?

Max Secunda working out on a Concept 2 rower wearing a heart rate monitor

Max Secunda Sweating It Out to Improve His 2k Erg Time

2k races are a difficult thing to train for. From novice rowers to advanced rowers, everyone finds them difficult!

The thing that makes the 2,000-meter row so difficult is that it’s too long a distance to be an all-out sprint but too short for it to be fully working your aerobic system.

The 2k is often described as having you sit on your anaerobic threshold.

What this actually means is that you’re working at a level just under where lactate rapidly begins accumulating. Ultimately, you will cross the line to where it does rapidly accumulate, but we’ll get to that later on (see Race Plan below).

The level you end up staying at is where you’re in the rather uncomfortable position of lactic acid slowly building and then rapidly building before the end! It’s not called the ultimate fitness test for no reason!

Improve Speed with My Ultimate 2k Test Training Plan

Thankfully, it’s not quite the pure torture that it sounds! I’ve written a 2-week 2k erg test training plan and also 2k workouts for rowers that you can keep cycling through to help you handle the 2k test better and better.

Of course, with maximal efforts on the rowing machine, you’re always going to come off absolutely drained, but you’ll be getting through them with increasingly faster times.

Lift Weights and Build Strength

Max Secunda lifting weights to build strength

Max Secunda Lifting Weights

Lifting weights and building strength is also something I’d advise doing, especially if you think that it’s power that you’re lacking! Building strength is going to help you push past physical barriers that might be in your way at the moment.

Training on the rowing machine activates approximately 85% of the body’s musculature – so being strong in all your muscles is really important!

Remember, if you’re new to the gym, focus on rep quality before putting weight on the bar. Always be careful to learn proper form before worrying about what weight you’re moving.

When you are doing your resistance training, don’t forget the importance of core strength.

Develop Good Technique

Solid rowing technique is hugely important in rowing. It doesn’t matter how much power you have, your age, whether you’re a heavyweight or a lightweight – if your technique isn’t up to scratch, you’re going to get beaten!

To improve your technique, or learn how to take the rowing stroke properly, take a look at the Rowing Crazy YouTube Channel!

Make sure you practice good technique in all of your regular rowing workouts. It’s especially good to practice in the long steady state sessions – it’ll help to break up the continuous exercise.

Race Plan – Tips & Tricks to Mastering a 2k

If you want to perform the test correctly, starting a 2,000-meter row with a proper plan of how you’re going to break down the distance is hugely important.

Mastering a 2k Race Tips and Tricks - an infographic showing 4 approaches

Firstly, it’ll mentally break down the fitness test into much more manageable chunks – this will help to ward off the mental demons.

It’s also going to keep you in good shape through the majority of the test and stop you from stepping into a zone where the lactic anaerobic system kicks in and you start producing lactate faster.

If you do this too soon, no matter your overall fitness level, you’re going to blow up and consequentially underperform. From bitter personal experience, it feels like it takes far longer as until the number mercilessly hits zero.

Negative Splitting

The trick to mastering a 2k test is to negatively split your pacing. This means that you start out with lower split times and get faster as the 2k develops. Say, you have the goal of an 8:00 minute 2k, meaning that you will need to average split times of 2:00 across the 2000m. I’d pace the row as follows:

Negative Splitting for 8 minute 2K  (2:00 average split times)
  • 0-250m – 1:58 (use the excitement and adrenaline to initially get the fan spinning and get your split time slightly below the target)
  • 250-500m – 2:02 (giving you an average of 2:00 as you cross the 500m mark)
  • 500-1000m – 2:01
  • 1000-1500m – 2:00
  • 1500 – 1750m – 1:59
  • 1750m – 1500m – below 1:59 – (this is the all-out sprint part!)

This should give you an average split of 1:59.x (the x depends on how much you have left in the tank for the intense bouts of strokes in the final wind!)

Negative splitting is a really good way of pacing any rowing test because it prevents you from blowing up and exploding early on in the test (and therefore underperforming).

One downside is that you do have to dig deep and be disciplined to make the changes in the splits. You’ll have done the training so you just have to trust your legs, body and endurance, and embrace the challenge!

Throughout the entire race, keep the stroke rate high but the stroke length long. It’s tempting to try and ‘cheat’ by cutting the stroke shorter to get a higher rate. This does indeed provide a small gain in the very final depths of the sprint.

For the majority of the race, however, it’s important to be efficient. Use the strong drive from the legs and the big swing of the hips. Doing too much work in the upper body will leave athletes struggling to make steps towards the end.

Don’t Fly and Die

There are a few other approaches, including the infamous ‘Fly and Die’ approach. The nature of this approach is directly reflected in the name, and I think that everyone who’s ever tried rowing, even those world-class athletes have been guilty of suffering this technique before.

With Fly and Die, you row hard for the first part of the 2k – often feeling amazing in the first 500. Your heart will pump blood comfortably around the body. However, if you’re above your limit, no matter how good your endurance and training, it’s going to catch up with you.

You suddenly feel like you’re being hit by a brick wall, your body starts to cramp up, and no matter how much endurance work you’ve done, you start to fail. Your split slowly fades away from you.

You might be able to dig in for a few intense bursts, but there’s only one thing ‘Fly and Die’ is good for. It gives you an opportunity to explore the distant corners in the dark place your mind wanders to when you’re pushing your limits this way!

So unless you want to spend time getting to explore dark places – make sure you’re not using the ‘Fly and Die’ approach!!

Race Approach

Max Secunda and other rowers during a 2k erg row training session at a gym

Max Secunda During a 2k Erg Row Training Session

The race approach is similar to fly and die but much more disciplined. It combines the nature of negative splitting with fly and die. In the race approach, you treat the 2k as if you were in a side-to-side race in a boat against some other powerful athletes.

Thus, you start hard – very hard! On the water, you do this to try and get ahead of any other crews. Rowing is the only sport in the world where being in the lead allows you to see your opponents – it offers a huge advantage!

After the opening section, you then settle into your race rhythm, strong pull after strong pull! Not as hard as the first 500m or so but certainly strong (remember, you’re competing against other boats!)

Following this opening, you then switch back to the negative split approach, and take a few seconds off your average pace every 500m.

There’s no doubt that this approach works, but I prefer to reserve this for on-the-water racing. The rowing machine plays a role far more efficient than the boat.

In a rowing boat – certainly in heavy rowing boats (coxed fours and eights) – it takes a lot of energy and time to get it up to top speed. On a rowing machine, it only takes a few strokes, thus I tend to look for an approach with more of a smooth nature.

Flat Lining

The flat line approach is often favoured in Crossfit rowing and certainly favoured more by the endurance types amongst us since it requires mental toughness!

With this approach, you start as you mean to go on. So you sit on your goal split throughout the test, maybe adding a little sprint at the end.

Those who use the flat lining approach tend to think of themselves as displaying the real fitness as compared to negative splitting. It’s for sure the harder approach, but it often allows a slightly faster final time – as it’s simply more efficient!

Typically, it’s just a notch faster, but every little thing counts in rowing 2k times!

Final Thoughts on 2000 Meter Rowing Times

men and women working out on rowing machines at a gym

In conclusion, there are many other fitness tests out there, but there’s a reason that the 2,000 meter row is so dreaded in the sport of rowing!

It takes your body to the very limits of your endurance, regardless of your gender or size and whether you’re into Crossfit or straight rowing.

A 2k test will take you right to the very limits of your physical abilities and push you to test the limits of your own mental fortitude.

Hopefully, the above advice on pacing and training are going to lead you down the track to a much faster (and more pleasant) experience of these dreaded rowing machine tests!