Rowing 2000m is easy. On the other hand, rowing a 2000m test is a completely different monster. Why is the Erg suddenly a torture machine that creates fear after this mysterious distance at maximum effort? Big words like biochemistry, energy systems, power, endurance, breathing or performance percentages can be thrown around but don’t make you a better rower. To make you better, we’re here to help.

The Erg is just a tool. You need to be able to understand the machine and how to interact with it, but the work is done by you. You are the engine and the 2k test will challenge you and your engine both mentally and physically.

Know Your Numbers

Drag Factor/Damper Setting

If you haven’t already found your ideal drag factor, watch this video with the Dark Horse drag factor workout to help you understand what drag factor makes the most sense for you. 

Knowing this number saves you energy, frustration, and time. Do yourself a favor and know what you’re getting into before you even start your 2k test.

Experience and Previous Tests

It helps to know your markers for different distances because once you have a baseline, you know where you can improve and how you can improve. At a minimum, you want to know your 500m, 2k, 5k, and 10k tests. Once you’ve established these, you can base any future workouts or tests off these markers and you’re understanding of how to perform will increase significantly.


Duration 15-20 min

Warm up for a 2k test should be fairly involved. You want to start the test feeling hot and sweaty by priming your body ahead of time to work. Going into a 2k cold will leave you quite surprised when you’re 750m into the test and the work you’re asking of your body finally hits you.

Instead, you should work through 2 – 3 drills that will prime your system for good movement, increase blood flow, increase oxygen intake, and give you a feeling of the pacing you’re going to use for the test, making the body ready for a serious effort.


Start with the 10 Minute Build. It’s a favorite of ours in the Dark Horse Program:

To begin, start with the damper set to 1 with a S/M of 16 for the first minute. Holding 16 for every stroke. Every minute after, go up one beat in the stroke rate…17, 18, 19 etc. At the 5 minute mark, go up one beat in stroke rate every 30 seconds. In the final 30 seconds, your stroke rate will be a 30.

Take a short rest and then…

Row for 6 minutes at a light and easy pace. At 3 points within the 6 minutes, take 20 strokes that build to your goal pace for the day. At the end of each one, back off down to an easy pace.

Take another short rest and then…

Practice 5 – 7 sprint starts that start easy and then build to full pressure on the last one.

Take a 3 – 5-minute break and then start the test.

2k rowing strategy

Prepare a Strategy and Visualize

Set Realistic Goals

Always set targets. Your goals will come from your experience on the machine. As mentioned earlier, you should test as many variable distances as possible. When it comes to a 2k, you should know how hard you can push and for how long.

A realistic goal is a pace that you can hold consistently, not a “How long can I go at this pace before I crumble,” approach. So set a pace in mind, and if you feel like you left too much in the tank, work even harder for the final 500m and really see what you can do.

Learn the goals inside out because once you mentally break down you won’t have the energy to think – write it down.

You need to have your strategy mentally worked through and committed to memory if you have any hope of executing it during the test. Write it down, memorize it and visualize how it’s going to play out. You need to know what you’re going to do because when fatigue sets in, if you’re not committed to a strategy then everything falls away and the mind allows you to quit. Adrenaline can be a great strength for a rower as long as you know you can harness it.

The Strategy

The First 500m

The only part of the 2000m test that people love. I would break it down into 3 phases.

If you have a sprint start, use it. At Dark Horse Rowing we teach a 15 stroke Sprint start. It shouldn’t take you more than 15-20 seconds. The stroke rate can easily exceed 50s/m and this is where you will have the fastest split throughout the test.

On average you should shoot for 15 seconds below your target split. Focus on the right execution rather than split and stroke rate. If you have a sprint start you should practice it for a few weeks in your training leading up to the actual test day.

After the sprint start, you need to transition into your first “cruise phase”. It’s crucial to settle immediately after the sprint start is done or your whole workout can be in jeopardy because you’re pushing the bounds of your energy systems.

Gradually increasing in speed, all cruising paces will be above your target split. From the end of the sprint start through the first 500 meters your pace is 4 seconds slower than your goal pace. Here you should also settle into your most efficient stroke rate.

The Middle 1000m

This is where your money is made. 500m into the test your legs start to fatigue and the mind games start. You need to focus and stick to the goals you set.

The second cruise phase from 500m-1000m is 1 second faster than the first cruise phase but it’s still 3 seconds slower than the end target split. Your stroke rate shouldn’t change much with this transition. You should make the 1-second shift by pushing more through the legs to get your speed.

The third cruise phase from 1000m-1500m is where the mind games start. Here you’re still 2 seconds from your target pace, but due to the fatigue in your legs, your brain is sending messages to slow you down. Here come’s the positive thinking and the flawless execution of the envisioned strategy.

You can start raising your stroke rate a little but focus on maintaining proper technique and not cutting your strokes too short. It’s a liberating thought to see only 3 digits on the monitor. Enjoy small victories like this and eliminate any distracting thoughts you may face during this important period and start focusing on breathing.

Every 500m strengthen your mental attitude with a power 10, meaning 10 powerful strokes. These few hard pushes solidify your plan and recharge you mentally to keep going. Also, who wouldn’t like to cut 100m of any segment just by focusing on counting to 10?

The Last 500m

By this time your legs feel heavy and your heart rate is at or near a maximum. The pushing force is decreasing so you need to increase the stroke rate to make it more comfortable. For another 200m you are still going to be 1 second over the end target pace, but despite your hearing starting to fade and your vision going foggy, you need to stick to the plan.

The last 300m is the sprint finish. You need to give all you have left and push your pace below your end target pace. The best way to achieve this is with cutting the lay-back (or hip swing) and increasing the stroke rate. By now you can see the end of the test so put everything on the line. Our primitive mechanisms instruct us to either fight or flight, choose to fight.

Alternative Strategies

What we dissected was an advanced strategy. For novice rowers, we suggest something a little different. If you don’t have a sprint start or have little to no experience on the erg, you can look at the 2k test as 4x500m pieces. For the 1st, 2nd, & 3rd intervals start with 20 power/hard strokes at the 500m intervals and settle into a manageable pace afterward.

In the last 500m, you need to give everything you have. This strategy is easy to remember and execute even for someone sitting on the rower for the first time. Remember, sticking to the plan is the most important thing.

You PR’d Your 2k, Now What?how to row 2k

Your monitor says 0m and you reached your goal. You were barely able to unstrap your feet and you collapse next to the rower (kind of like this) in a puddle of sweat and rolling around. Your goal is to get back on the rower as soon as possible to flush your legs and cool down with a recovery row. This is just as important as the warm-up so don’t forget it.

Due to the nature of the 2k test, there aren’t many other workouts in fitness that will require both full exhaustion and challenge your mind. Going through anxiety and pain is never easy, but if you believe that something will be extremely hard it usually will be, If you can approach something systematically instead of with fear, more often than not, it’s not nearly as difficult as you believed.

At the end of the day no matter what results you achieve, you learn something about yourself and your fitness. Make sure you utilize what you learned in other parts of your training and as well as your life.

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