Erg Test Success: All About Preparation

Training for MidAtlantic Erg Sprints 2014
Training for MidAtlantic Erg Sprints 2014

Rowers of all experience levels fight mental demons on the erg. And the voices are even louder on erg test day.

You’ll ask yourself: Why aren’t I faster? Can I maintain this split? Will I PR? What’s the point of this again?!

Assuming you’ve put in the work by training consistently for at least two months, the week before the test is not a time cram. Be confident in the work you’ve done leading up to the event and spend the final week tapering your work load, resting up and treating your body right with proper nutrition.


Most coaches and erg sprint directors allow rowers to listen to music during their 2k. Pick a couple of songs that together run the length of your 2000m time – wether that’s 6:00 or 9:00. Uptempo with great electronic, dance, or percussion beats can be really motivational and have been proven to help athletes push themselves harder and faster through tough work. Check out this incredibly diverse playlist from the 2012 USA Women’s National Team. Or browse through the dozens of playlists that the Ready All, Row blog has compiled.


The week leading up to the test, pamper yourself by getting to bed earlier, or at a time that will allow you about eight hours of sleep each night. The 2k is such a demanding event, rest is imperative for recovery and peak performance.

If your event is in the morning, it is beneficial to be awake for three hours before this sort of intense activity. If that’s not possible, aim for being awake at least an hour beforehand. The body needs time to get fully awake and firing on all cylinders.


The last few days days before your test shouldn’t be an experiment in nutrition. You don’t want to starve your body or decide that this is the perfect time to get on that new fad diet. But you do want to treat your body well and feed it with healthy fuel. Eat on a regular schedule (never skip breakfast, and eat healthy snacks between main meals) and eat foods that give you the energy you need. We often eat after workouts because we’re hungry, but be sure to consume foods that will help fuel muscle recovery – carbs and protein like you’ll find in fruit, health bars (ie. Luna, Clif, Odwalla), and fresh smoothies are are a good option.

Stay hydrated and don’t drink alcohol.

The night before your event, resist the temptation to carbo load. A 2k is a relatively short event, so you don’t need to stock up on carbs like a runner prepping for a half of full marathon. Eat a normal dinner – lean protein, veggies, and simple carbs – and your muscles will have the energy in store for race day.

Race day nutrition is different for everyone. If you have plenty of time before a morning or afternoon event, eat a breakfast with easily digestible carbs and protein like peanut butter. For years, my go-to pre-race nutrition has been a peanut butter and jelly sandwich on wheat bread.


Your warm-up should begin about 45 minutes before your event. Here’s a basic warm-up plan:

10 minutes of steady state, long and low. Start at +35-40 sec. off your goal split. As you warm up, let your split drop to +25-30.

5-10 minutes dedicated to speed and power. Work through a couple of start sequences, and a couple of 10-stroke power and speed bursts, returning to long and low in between.

Hydrate with just a little water, you don’t want to fill your bladder.

Stretch, walk around and focus on controlled breathing.

15 minutes before a test, I like to have a caffeinated GU energy gel and water. (Don’t try GU or similar products for the first time on race day. You might find it doesn’t sit well in your stomach, or you might not like the caffeine.)


Take advantage of the time the officials allow you before the test. Rowers usually have about five minutes to get situated. Strap in and do a few cycles of two legs-only strokes followed by a full stroke. This acts as a reminder to keep the shoulders and upper body relaxed (being tense drains energy!). Take several deep breaths to tamp down your adrenaline.


If you have a coach, work with him or her to develop a plan. It’s common for erg test plans to be similar to those that work for on-the-water racing and would include a set or sequence of strokes to get the fan moving. There are several strategies to racing and testing, but a good plan includes specific points in the piece to check your technique, take stock of power, focus and/or increase ratings and drop 500m splits. Some people will write their plan on a piece of paper and tape it the erg below the monitor. No matter what, you have to go into your 2k with an expectation of what you can do, and where you will be at various points.

Commit to your goal split. The first 20 strokes of a 2k always feel amazing because you’re fresh and amped up. Settle to your base pace and stick to your splits. Some people will settle at too high of a rate (or too low of a split) and this inevitably leads to burnout before the end of the piece (often around the end of the third 500). Commit to consistency, and/or negative splits every 500m, and don’t stray from your race plan. Execute!

Keep hands and legs moving. As you work through the 2k, it’s pretty likely that you’ll start to really hang on to your finish and be slow getting the hands and body out of bow. Take a focus 10 for quick hands away. It can be tempting to think “big and heavy” to get power, but consider quick turnover of your legs at the catch to keep the fan moving. Tick the rating up a beat to bring your split down a second.

Work hard! Have fun! Good luck!