Mental Struggles on the Indoor Rower and How to Work Through Them

Written by Concept2 NZ on May 22nd, 2018.

Have you ever started a 2000m erg test, race or challenging training session and had the notion part way through that the erg is ‘too hard’, or just wanted to stop is altogether? You are not alone! These negative feelings are typical of high intensity training and especially racing on the Concept2 Indoor Rower, and are experienced by athletes of all ages, experiences and abilities. Referring to the 2km erg in a 2016 interview with World Rowing, the great Eric Murray even admitted “At 300m gone I’m thinking ‘I’d really like to stop right now”. Wanting to stop when the going gets tough is a thought that can occur to even the most talented, capable and toughest athletes- there’s just no denying it, the 2km is hard! What sets the top athletes apart, is that they do not allow these thoughts to determine their performance outcome. How they do that can vary but having a focus and a plan are key factors that some of the best in the world point to as a way to ‘ignore’ negative thoughts under pressure and accomplish their best performances. 

AdobeStock 29768783-327Even the best athletes have to manage negative thoughts or self-doubt during a 2km

We all know how hard it can be simply to ignore something we would rather not focus on, even saying ‘don’t think about that’ often makes you think of it by association of not wanting to think about it! The same can be said of the pain and fatigue you experience on the erg and the damning thought ‘I’d like to stop’ or ‘this is too hard’. An important strategy used by some of the best endurance athletes in the world for handling these situations, is to actively focus on something else instead. Women’s marathon world record holder Paula Radcliffe famously made it through the toughest parts of the marathon by counting 300 strides over and over, as a way to distract her mind from focusing on the fatigue and discomfort of the race. While this particular strategy may not be right for you, having a plan for your race that allows you to focus on what you are doing in the moment (and not the pain) is a very good place to start to develop your own coping strategy.  

To help you find your strategy for pushing through the tough times in the 2km, we look at two different race plans that break down a 2km erg into a manageable process. Both plans center on a process of getting through the race and can be adapted to include personal positive focus points to help you manage negative feelings when they occur. These plans are not specific to any particular target time, but it is useful to know what split you are hoping to target, and a plan for stroke rate throughout the 2000m. It is also helpful to reflect on the races you have already done, to know when you are likely to need positive reinforcement the most. 

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Having a race plan with focus points for your race can help you stay focused and ignore negative thoughts.

Race Plan By Distance

The distance race plan breaks the 2000m up into smaller increments, allowing you to focus on the task at hand in a particular part of the race. In our plan, we have set focuses around rating and technique, which you can change to reflect the parts of the rowing stroke you find most helpful to focus on.

150m: Race start. All out for the first 150m focusing on moving the handle and getting the rating up.

150m- 350m: Settle into target split/rating

350m- 850m: Long strokes, light off the catch (or other) technical focus point

850m-1250m: Maintain stroke length, keep handle loose and quick. Over half-way!

1250-1500m: Take the rating up two points, focus on light, quick catch. 

1500m-1750m: Building through the strokes, take rating up another point

1750m-2000m: Winding down to the line, time to use whatever you have left!

Race Plan By Strokes

Some rowing athletes prefer to get through their 2000m races by counting strokes. With the Concept2 PM5 monitor providing live readings of stroke rate per minute, counting strokes can be an effective way of pacing your way through the 2000m relative to your target rate and split. 

20 strokes: Race start. All out for the first 20 strokes focusing on moving the handle and getting the rating up.

15 strokes: Transition into race rhythm/target stroke rate for middle 1000m (30 SPM)

30 strokes: @30 SPM, long strokes, keeping the handle moving at the finish. 

30 strokes: Stay @30SPM, focus on accelerating the drive, quick off the catch.

15 strokes: Moving the rating up to 32SPM, keeping the stroke long, accelerating the drive.

15 strokes: @32 SPM, focus on rhythm. Over half-way!

10 strokes: Accelerate for 10 strokes

10 strokes: Focus on rhythm, feeling light and quick at the catch.

10 strokes: Accelerate for 10 strokes. 

15 strokes: Starting to wind, bring the rating up.

15-20 strokes: Final strokes, all out to the finish line. 

- Stroke-count based plans will vary depending on speed, and stroke rate. Our stroke rate plan is based on an athlete finishing the 2000m in 6mins, yours may be a bit longer (or shorter) depending on your target split. To keep your race plan concise, you could combine the stroke count and distance approaches to include stroke count prompts at specific distance targets e.g. @1500m count 30 strokes @32SPM. 

These race plans are a great starting point to introducing an approach to the 2km that focuses on the process of getting through the race, and not on the outcome. By practicing with a race plan, you can identify the parts of the race that are the most challenging for you mentally and adapt that part of the race plan to include a specific focus that will help you work through. It could be counting strokes, or a focus on technique or rhythm, or even a stroke rate change- there is no right answer, just whatever works best for you. If, like our race plans, your race plan is quite specific, it is helpful to write it down and position it near your machine so you can check and refer to it should you need reminding of the next step. 

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How do you handle the mental challenge of a 2km erg? Let us know in the comments below!

To read the entire World Rowing Interview with Eric Murray, Click Here