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

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

Workouts for Rowers to Improve Your 2K Times by a Concept 2 Record Holder!

workouts for rowers to improve Your 2k Times

The 2K erg test is the gold standard of measuring rowing performance and usually performed on the Concept 2 indoor rowing machine. Times across the world are regularly compared by rowers and rowing coaches alike.

Keeping an eye on your 2,000 m erg times are a fantastic way of comparing your current level of fitness to everyone else. This, of course, has its pros and cons, but if you’re an indoor rower, there’s no way to escape from it!

What Is a Good Time for a 2K Erg Test on a Rowing Machine?

In whatever sport you’re doing, it’s always good to have a benchmark, so for your reference, here are some 2k ‘standards’ expressed in minutes : seconds.

Good Time for 2K on a Rowing Machine -

Men (Heavy Weight)

  • <6:00 – National Level
  • 6:01 – 6:20 – High Level ‘Club’ Athlete
  • 6:21 – 6:40 – Competitive ‘Club’ Athlete
  • 6:40 – 6:59 – Club Athlete
  • 7:00 – Common Novice/Beginner Target

Women (Heavy Weight)

  • <6:50 – National Level
  • 7:01 – 7:15 – High Level ‘Club’ Athlete
  • 7:16 – 7:40- Competitive ‘Club’ Athlete
  • 7:41 – 7:59 – Club Athlete
  • 8:00 – Common Novice/Beginner Target

2K Erg Test Strategy

With a 2k test, you want to be sitting as close to your lactate threshold as you mentally and physically can. Consequentially, 2K tests hurt – a lot!

This means that when you’re approaching your rowing workout and rowing strength training, you need to go in with the mindset that these are likely to sting a bit, but with every rowing stroke you take, you gain major benefits come the day of your 2k test!  FYI: Read my other article Rowers Training Program to Improve Your 5K Times here or my other article on improving your 2000 meter row time.

So how do you prepare for a 2K test?

Finally, with reference to going into a 2K, ensure that you have a plan on how you’re going to tackle the test. I’d recommend ‘negative splitting’. This means that your first 500m is going to be the slowest, and you push slightly harder and go faster with each 500m that passes. Do this until the last 500m where you can take the stroke rate right up, start your sprint, and power through the finish line.

How Do I Improve My 2K Row Time?

Before we dive straight into discussing how we can improve our rowing performance in the 2k erg test (check out our 2k Test Training Plan ) – I first want to cover some of the basics that we need to get right away from our workouts.

Max Secunda Using a Concept 2 Rower to train for a 2K test -

Preparing for a 2k Erg Using a Concept 2 Rower

All the basics that I will be discussing will help you recover easier from the training sessions and, consequentially, keep pushing on and increasing performance in your rowing training.

The Basics in Preparing for the 2K Test


What you eat is hugely important to recovering from hard exercise – especially when we discuss building strength in the weight room.

When we’re rowing and performing strength and conditioning exercise, we need to ensure that we’re giving our bodies enough of the right foods to recover. Ultimately, this means eating enough protein and carbs.

Nutrition for Weight Training Rowing

The exact amount of protein you need varies from person to person and the sort of training you’re doing. In general, I just try to eat ‘a lot’. Aim to consume a good source of protein with every meal you eat, and then consider what you’re snacking on. Could your snacks be switched out for a high protein alternative – say, nuts, a boiled egg, or protein shake?

Also ensure that you’re eating plenty of carbs. Carbs are what fuels us through our rowing workouts, and also provide us with the fuel to recover and gain muscle mass as we’re doing our weight training.


There’s no two ways around it – 2K’s are stressful! They are one of the hardest workouts you perform as a rower and can easily push your heart rate up to its maximum, not to mention flood your legs with lactic acid.

As a consequence, if you want to be rowing stronger, you need to give yourself time to recover in between workouts.

Rower Resting After Hard Workout

I always give myself at least one easy day between hard erg workouts, but there’s absolutely nothing wrong with taking two to three days of ‘easier’ workouts (I’d recommend steady state) after a very hard rowing session.


Recovery is the overwhelming theme of both food intake and fatigue. If you want to be smashing out PBs, you need to be giving yourself the absolute best chance of recovering that you can. This means eating right (healthily!), allowing yourself easier workouts in between the hard ones, and getting enough sleep!

Warm up

The warm up is hugely important not only for injury prevention but also maximising performance in all workouts that you do – be it strength and conditioning as part of your strength training program, or a rowing workout.

So, please ensure that you take the time at the start of your session to work through a warm up routine.

Max Secunda Warming Up for a 2k Erg Test

Here I Am Warming Up for 2k Erg Workout

I’ve noticed that people are often scared of going too hard in a warming up period, especially before a hard workout. From my experience – as long as you’re not doing anything ridiculous – you can’t go too hard in a warm up.

I’d recommend spending 10 minutes at the very start just sitting at a low rate, low-intensity steady state.

Take the time to practice good technique. If you have a mirror, maybe consider looking at your posture. Ensure you’re engaging your core and glutes efficiently through the stroke and look for any minor improvement you can do as you go.

After 10 minutes, take a short break and have a drink – just a few minutes. Then spend another 10 minutes going through some high effort, high intensity bursts (at high rate) – I’d recommend 15-20 strokes.

In between the bursts, continue at a firm paddle. This might be a little challenging to start with, but you’ll soon get used to it, and it’ll really help reduce the lactic pain when it comes to starting the workout!

After 3-4 bursts, take another drink and a few minutes rest – you should now be ready to start the workout.

Rowing Workouts to Take Chunks Off Your 2K Split

40s on 20s Off

40s On 20s Off
  • 10 rounds of 40 seconds on (as hard as you can row) – 20 seconds rest
  • 5 minutes rest
  • 10 rounds of 40 seconds on (as hard as you can row) – 20 seconds rest


This is a workout that can be progressed week on week by either increasing the number of rounds (week 2 do 11, week 3 do 12, etc.) or by adding in additional sets.

I know rowers who sit down and do a full hour of 40/20s! This isn’t something I’d recommend for a beginner as you will most likely lose track of technique which will put you at risk to all the common rowing injuries.

What I recommend is slowly building up to doing 3-4 sets of this with proper form and maintaining the movement quality, which would have huge benefits for your aerobic endurance.

8x500m 1:30 Rest

88 x 500m 1.30 Rest
  • 500m – at target 2K pace
  • Rest 1 min 30 seconds
  • Repeat for 8 sets


This is an absolute classic of any rowing program – offering so many benefits to get you developing strength for 2K’s. This workout is great for learning about your limits and understanding what you can hold for 2K.

Typically, I find that the pace I can hold for 8 repetitions of the 500m is about 1 split slower than my final 2K pace. Of course, this varies across athletes and is something that you grow to understand with age and experience on the rowing machine.

Just a warning – the last 3 sets is where the pain will begin. So make sure you’re not going off too hard, and try to strike the balance between the first half and the second half of the workout!

The Ramp

Ramp Workout
  • 1 minute at rate 18 – aim to go as far as you can in 1 minute
  • Rest 1 minute
  • 1 min at rate 20
  • Rest 1 min
  • 1 min at rate 22
  • Rest 1 min
  • 1 min at rate 24
  • Rest 1 min
  • 1 min at rate 26
  • Rest 1 min
  • 1 min at rate 28
  • Rest 1 min
  • 1 min at rate 30
  • Rest 1 min
  • 1 min at rate 32
  • Rest 1 min
  • 1 min at rate 34
  • Rest 1 min
SET 10
  • 1 min at rate 36


This is a really tough bit of high intensity interval training. For beginners, it might be hard to hit some of the super-high rates towards the end on the rowing machine, but just aim to hold the rate as high as you possibly can for those sets. Your fitness level will build and develop after doing this for a few sessions.

The important thing when doing ‘The Ramp’ is that you maintain good technique throughout the duration of the workout.

As the stroke rate increases, technique typically drops off – especially in beginners. If you lose technique, you hit a higher risk of developing injuries.

It is important to ensure that you’re maintaining good posture, core engagement, and driving the rowing stroke through the appropriate muscles (not all in the arms!). Keep doing this, and you’ll be smashing those PBs in no time!

Strength Training Exercises

In order to really smash a 2K PB, you’ll need to be rowing stronger than ever before. Although a huge amount of this can be done on the rowing machine, rowing delivers huge strength gains to many beginners and intermediates.

This is me doing squats as part of my weight training

This is me doing squats as part of my weight training

For most, there does come a point to keep building strength, and your training program will need to take you into the realms of direct strength work.

I’ve written many times before about strength training for rowing, so check out that article for a more detailed description. Here, I will briefly describe some of the best exercises for building strength, particularly for the rowing muscles.

As always, you should ensure that you are using proper form for all these exercises and slowly increasing the weight over time. This will allow you to progress gradually and significantly reduce risk of developing injuries.

Pull Ups

Pull ups are a great starting point for developing rowing performance, as this exercise works the latissimus dorsi (the large back muscles also known as lats), along with your core muscles and middle trapezius, which are heavily used at the catch in the rowing stroke.

Young Man Training Pull Ups in a Gym

A pull-up bar is also a relatively cheap purchase, so this great exercise can be done by almost anyone! Consider using a weighted vest to make the exercise harder.

Barbell Deadlift

For me, the barbell deadlift is the king of all lifts for rowing as it helps develop a leg drive into a hip hinge, which is the principle of a strong rowing movement. As a consequence of this, building strength in the deadlift will also benefit your rowing performance.

As always, add weight to the bar slowly – master the proper form first before trying to lift heavy!

Romanian Deadlift

As an alternative to the normal deadlift, there is also the Romanian deadlift – which does not only work on the hip hinge technique but is also great for building the hamstrings. So much so that I perform the Romanian deadlift as the main way to gain and keep strength in my hamstrings.

It’s important to have healthy and strong hamstrings to reduce the risk of developing back pain.

Hamstrings are a muscle that aren’t hugely stressed in day to day life but are very heavily used in the rowing stroke – so keep them strong through lifts like the Romanian deadlift. They also have a big impact on the strength and health of your knees.

Pushups and Bench Press

Rowing athletes will often practice pulling movements to a far greater extent than they ever train pushing movements. It’s very important to maintain balance in the torso and shoulder to avoid developing rib stress injuries and other injuries in and around the rib cage.

Consequentially, I’d recommend doing pushups and/or bench press regularly as a foundation of a good rowing program. Consider using a resistance band with pushups to make the exercise harder.

Core Workouts

I can’t end this article without touching on core workouts, just as I’d almost written an article referencing rowing injuries and injury prevention without writing about core training and general stability exercises.

Since I’ve regularly written about this in previous articles which you can read here, I shall just add a list of some good exercises for developing a balanced and strong torso (which the back and glute muscles are part of!) below:

Good Core Strength Exercises For Rowing -

  • Sit up
  • Russian twists (using a medicine/stability ball)
  • Plank
  • Side plank (left and right)
  • V-sit ups
  • V-sit holds
  • Mountain Climbers
  • Super Mans
  • Scullers
  • Bird Dog
  • Thread the needle
  • Weighted sit-ups
  • Hanging leg raises
  • Leg raises
  • Ab crunches
  • Swimmers legs
  • Figures of eight
  • Dead bug
  • One arm plank
  • Kettlebell swings

Concluding Thoughts: How to Do Well on a 2k Erg Test

Smashing a 2K requires a mix of getting stronger muscles through strength training and some lactic heavy rowing machine workouts (see our rowing machine workout plan for beginners ). Keep consistent with both of these, and the progress in your rowing performance will soon start flooding in.

For reference, it typically takes a minimum of three weeks of hard lactic threshold training before you really hit your groove with it. So if you’re struggling to start with, be patient and give it time! No one has ever said that 2K’s are easy!