The Mental Game Before the 2k

One of my favorite rowing jokes is “To find out who the rowers are in the room, scream 2k and see who wets themselves.”

To start off with some mind-blowing facts, physiologists have calculated that a 2k takes the same physiological toll as playing two basketball games back-to-back. That toll only takes about six minutes[1]. And, pound for pound, Olympic oarsmen can take in and process as much oxygen as a thoroughbred racehorse[2].

The 2k is highly competitive and can be a rower’s worst nightmare. It’s hard not to think of the painful buildup of lactic acid, the burning lungs and the mental fatigue that could make any intense athlete wince. Yet there are ways to beat the voice in your head that says you can’t accomplish your goal.

Make a race plan. If you have a coxswain, or are going it solo, make sure that you create a plan for your 2k. This race plan should include power 10’s, goal splits and mental motivation/calls. If you have a plan before getting on the erg, you will be much calmer.

Visualize the 2k. A technique that is being used by many teams is to visualize the warm-up and 2k in real time. Sit next to your erg in a comfortable position and close your eyes. Visualize yourself taking 10’s in the warm up. Then get on the erg and take your start five and lengthen 20. Think about how you will be feeling at certain points and have motivation ready to counter negative thoughts. By completing the 2k in your mind, there will be no surprises when it comes to the actual test, and you can challenge any mental obstacles before they occur that might inhibit a personal best.

Trust your training. Leading up to a 2k, rowers complete trying workouts such as 8x500m and 3x6x1 minute on one, one minute off, in addition to hours of steady state. Physically, sprint workouts are usually much more demanding than a 2k, yet the mental pressure often gets to the rower. If you have trained properly, your body can take a lot more than you think it can. You must trust at the start that you have prepared all you can to accomplish your goal split.

Take care of your body. Two nights before a 2k is the most important time to get a decent sleep. It will ensure that your body is rested, even if adrenaline keeps you awake the night before your awaited piece. Remember to hydrate (at least 3 bottles a day), and eat some form of carbs (preferably pasta or bread… yum J). Stretching and heating will also prepare your muscles for the workout. This will prevent any injuries from occurring.

Lastly, believe in yourself and know you’re not alone. It’s true that you are completing this erg test alone, but chances are you will be next to your teammates, who are working just as hard you. Every piece you complete will make you stronger for the season, and stronger for the boat. Unless you’re in a single, you have to pull for your fellow oarsmen. Envision your teammates around you and believe in the boat.


Photo Courtesy of Coach Libby Boghossian

[1] Robinson, Dean. 1372705990. “An Oarsman Is a Verb Meaning ‘to Row.’” The 6th Floor Blog.

[2] Ibid

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