Indoor Rowing: Preparing for a 2K Race

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Indoor Rowing: Preparing for a 2K Race
It’s February again, and that means it’s the season for indoor rowing. If your box is in a cold-weather location, it’s likely that the coaches are substituting rowing for running in the programming, and you may be part of a rowing club preparing to compete at an indoor rowing competition over the next few weeks.  The CRASH-B world indoor rowing championships are at the end of the month in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Given that rowing is usually not the primary skill of most CrossFitters, how do you prepare to face off with on-water rowers and indoor rowing specialists at a competition, or simply to race against yourself in pursuit of a PR?  There is surprisingly little structured information on 2K race prep available, and most of it is written from the perspective of an on-water rower.  Let’s attempt to step into the shoes of a CrossFitter who is not a rowing specialist and make a few simple recommendations on how to prepare for a race.

Train for the Distance

[R]owing is better classified as a power endurance sport – the force being applied each stroke in the race is a relatively high percentage of maximum possible force (>30%).
A 2K race is a 6 to 9 minute maximal, unbroken workout depending on your age, gender, and ability. There are very few standard CrossFit WODs that simulate this type of effort, aside from the 1-mile run. If you really think about it, even if 250 double unders or 200 wall balls were programmed in a WOD, it’s unlikely that most people would complete this unbroken. An AMRAP of similar duration still involves transitions between movements and seldom uses the exact same muscle groups in each movement, meaning that it’s unlikely you will develop the level of lactic acidosis in your legs that makes the 2K rowing test so uniquely painful.

You really need to train for the distance, both physically and mentally. Most CrossFitters almost never spend an hour on the C2 rower at fairly high power or do the long interval workouts from CrossFit Endurance, and these are the types of workouts that you need to get used to in order to do well in a 2K race. James Bailey, coach and manager of the very successful Q-Power indoor rowing team that competes internationally, offers the following advice:

“Unlike a 500m sprint, a 2k race is predominantly an aerobic event, with some 80-85% of the energy used coming from aerobic respiration. However rather than being viewed as a pure aerobic sport, rowing is better classified as a power endurance sport – the force being applied each stroke in the race is a relatively high percentage of maximum possible force (>30%). In the race your muscles will be asked to perform about 200 repetitions, producing the largest possible force that can be sustained over that period. The problem is that in attempting this feat, large amounts of lactic acid will be produced which will limit the ability of the muscle to perform.  A very substantial part of the training we do is designed to reduce the amount of lactic acid produced at a given power output, thereby allowing us to work harder.

To best prepare yourself over the long-term for a good 2K, the answer lies in long distance aerobic training throughout the year. High intensity interval work alone is not an effective way to train, since most of the benefits from it are achieved in about 8-12 weeks after which further improvement will be very limited.  Since most CrossFitters perform a lot of high intensity interval WODs, it’s important to add the aerobic training element on a regular basis if you expect to do well in the 2K format.

Medium-duration, high-power work is also important to help your muscles adapt to producing power with less lactic acid accumulation. One standard workout in this category is the “30r20,” or 30 minutes of full-power rowing capped at stroke rating 20. Capping the rating at 20 requires you to increase the power per stroke to compensate for the lower stroke rating. During a 30r20, you are producing much higher levels of force than during a normal distance row. The long duration stimulates your fast-twitch muscle fibers to become better “aerobic workers” and to produce less lactic acid. This means you can work harder in your 2K race because your muscle as a whole is now producing less lactic acid than it was for the same work output.”

The Q-Power Team in Action!

The Q-Power Team in Action!

Use Predictor Workouts to Find Your Pace

Medium-duration, high-power work is also important to help your muscles adapt to producing power with less lactic acid accumulation.
The act of doing a 2K piece is very draining on the body, and you will not be able to rehearse it weekly. This makes it difficult to determine what a realistic target pace and goal time should be, and to gauge your training progress. One of the best ways to predict your target pace without doing a full 2K is to use a short interval pace predictor workout. In this type of workout, you do a series of short intervals and average your split times over the series to predict what your 2K target pace may realistically be. The total distance rowed over the series should be 2-3 times the race distance (4K-6K), allowing the athlete to train at race pace or faster for an extended distance by breaking it up into short intervals.  Examples include:

  • 10 x 500m with 1:30 rest
  • 3 x 750m with 1:30 rest

These pace predictors can be quite accurate.  Mike Stanitski of Ever Green Boat Club recently won the Men’s 40-49 age division at the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre competition in New York, which is an official satellite regatta for the CRASH-B indoor rowing championships. He finished in a time of 6:19.1, which translates to a 1:34.7 average split per 500m. In the weeks leading up to the race, he did both of the workouts listed above, with average splits of 1:34.1 and 1:34.2, respectively, meaning that the predictor workouts were accurate to within 1 second of his actual time on race day. Mike commented:

One thing I like about such workouts is that they make it possible to rehearse specific parts of the race under physical conditions that simulate what that section of the race will be like on race day. In the 3x750M workout, for example, I’ve used the three intervals to try to simulate the beginning, middle, and end of the race, including a start sequence in the first interval and a closing sprint in the last one.”

Here is a link to a cheat sheet that will help you plan out your target pace and translate that into a “per 500m” split time on the Concept2 performance monitor.

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