Thursday, 8 January 2015

Mind over Matter: planning your 2K ergo test

by Sara Bird

Tackling a 2km, or any other, ergo test is as much about your mental preparation as your physical prowess. So here are some suggestions for how to ensure you’re prepared for the challenge, and some tools to help tackle the common issues of ergo tests. 

This post is more from my personal experience of ergo tests (and indoor champs) over the last decade or so, so please do use the comments below to add your suggestions and help your fellow ergers with your tips.
Let’s start with perhaps the most important one...

The Digestive System

My most common issue during ergo tests is a desperate desire to jump off the machine mid-sprint and run to the bathroom... The adrenaline hits, blood heads to your limbs, and your digestive tract resorts to fight or flight and decides now’s the time to evacuate. 

So eat a good, bland meal well ahead, 2 hours-ish - avoid anything that could upset your stomach or cause nasty eruptions from either end. Fill the gap with a bland snack if you need it (and we’re hungry rowers so of course we’ll need it). And, before you start rowing, go to loo: empty the system.

Ensure you are well hydrated - but coffee or another caffeine source can help too. Studies show that a little bit of caffeine can boost performance, but as caffeinated drinks can also dehydrate and create an urge to poop, you need to ensure you’ve planned ahead. 

Clothing, hair and sundries

You’re on course for the best 2K ever, you’re 300m from the end…and your top/shorts catch in the rollers. Even being distracted by a floppy fringe, a migrating headphone or sweaty mascara can slow your time so make sure you're happy with what you’re wearing - no hair in eyes, shoelaces that stay tied, a top that doesn't ride up, shorts that don’t work their way down your bum...

Setting the machine up

Next, ensure the ergometer is set up to give you the best chance to perform, and provides a time that reflects your true ability. Check the feet are the right height for you, that you have the right screen setting, and set the drag factor. About 125 for women, 130 for men. Also check your environment - that the room is not too hot, you’re not in a blinding sunbeam, that you’re able to focus - and that your head isn’t centimetres away from a wall or railing at backstops.

The Warm Up

I prefer a longer warm up than usual for ergo tests: at least 2500m over two bursts on the ergo. I start with the usual technique-building warm up of about 1000m with bursts of higher power. I then stretch, to open up the hip joint, get ankle mobility, shoulder mobility and posture. Then I get back on the ergo but focus more high rate, high power bursts that seriously tax the muscles and get me out of breath. Online, serious ergers recommend at least 15 minutes warm up and even up to 30 minutes. This gets the blood flowing, your body ready to handle lactic acid, your muscles prepared for hard work, and your technique all set. Skipping on the warm up is one of the most common 2K mistakes. 

The Plan

In BGC we rarely use detailed plans for races, let alone ergos: but they help. Plans provide a focus when all you might think about is pain, and take decision-making out of moments when your brain is getting very little blood. For me, 2K is almost exactly 200 strokes, and before I start I know what I will do with every single one: and I've often used a post-it (and large writing) on the monitor to remind me.

I start with a racing start of around 20 strokes to get the erg spinning, lengthening over 10 from short powerful strokes to long, fast strokes, then holding it for 10, reaching my fastest split of the test. Just as the lactic acid starts to bite I...

...dramatically slow the rate to my race pace and breathe deeply: this is my most powerful sustainable rate for the majority of the test. Over time this has gone up from rate 24 to 26/27/28 but it will vary for everyone. During this stage I change my focus every 10 strokes, from quick catches on my toes, to using my glutes, to sitting up tall, to a powerful hip opening, to back/finishes (working from my toes up my body). Repeat that cycle 3 times and we’re ready for the finish...

…at about 300m left to go, I dig deep and go for it. Often focusing on 10 on the legs, 10 on sitting tall/ opening the hips/using my shoulders and then 10 all out, with a last few strokes if needed, building power with every one. And then I sit there wheezing and wondering if I’m going to throw up. 

Every person will have a different plan, a different number of strokes, a different length of start or finish - but knowing what’s coming helps deal with the pain and scrutiny, and brings out your best rowing. Plans develop over time, so try one out, see how it goes, improve it next time. 


Take the time to cool down on the ergo and shift that lactic acid. Ignore people comparing times. Be proud of improvements. Don’t beat yourself up if it didn’t go to plan, learn lessons and use them next time. Stretch. Stretch again. 

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