Refresh Your Erg Workouts

By January, many of us are tired of the same old erg workouts. Here are a few that may be new to you. They should give you enough variety and challenge to help you through the next few weeks before you start prepping for spring and summer racing seasons.

Because it’s important to understand the goal of each workout, I’m including a quick overview of the three types of workouts. This will help you to train at the proper heart rate and intensity.

Steady State

In your steady state pieces, you are building oxygen pathways to your muscles. I find that rowers often train too hard in their steady state workouts. You should be able to carry on a conversation. Another guideline for steady state is to erg at a pace that’s 21 seconds slower than your 2k average split. I recommend you do a steady state workout twice a week. 

Anaerobic Threshold (AT)

These pieces build specific endurance. Do them once a week, at your usual 2k split time; you should not be able to carry on a conversation.


Anaerobic workouts train your fast twitch muscles. Anaerobic training consists of all-out pieces that last 20 seconds to 2 minutes. You should do anaerobic work (short interval) once a week at 2-5 seconds faster than your average 2k splits.

Remember, all workouts should include a 10-minute warm-up and conclude with a 10-minute cool-down followed by some stretching.

While doing your erg workouts, row with technique in mind. If you develop bad habits on the erg, they’ll stay with you when you get back on the water and they will be extremely difficult to undo.

Here are the workouts.

2 X 20 minutes with 2-3 minutes rest; done 21 seconds slower than your 2k split:
 5 minutes at 16 strokes per minute
 5 minutes at 18 SPM
 5 minutes at 20 SPM
 5 minutes at 16 SPM
The focus is on consistency in your splits, stroke to stroke. Work the rate.

2 X 20 minutes of 20 strokes on/ 5 strokes off, with 7 minutes rest; done at your 2k split:
Rating changes 20/22/24/26/24/22/20, repeating this pattern for 20 minutes.
The focus is on varying the stroke rate while keeping the intensity level the same.

10-12 X 250 meters on, with 90 seconds rest; done 2-5 seconds faster than 2k split:
Stroke rate should be 26-28 for each piece.
Your focus should be to sit solidly at the catch with a strong back and going hard. Take a “technique 10” (10 strokes focusing on some part of technique) if your splits slow down.

 Mayrene T. Earle, M.Ed., is founder of MastersCoaching. She conducts camps and clinics for masters rowers around the world. She also provides coaching for coaches.