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2000m Rowing Times and How to Improve it

 Written by 

Steve Hoyles

 Last updated on 

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In rowing circles, your 2000m time is the standard by which you are judged. It’s the official Olympic distance. You see those guys hauling ass on the water in the Olympics? They’re doing 2000m. The main event of the World Indoor Rowing Championships (WRICH)… is the 2000m. 

In short, 2000m is your bench mark of rowing performance. 

people training their 2000m rowing times
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It’s also one of the most deceptive fitness events there is… it feels like it’s not very long, but if you give it your all it’ll rob you of your soul.

Here we’re going to share training strategies to help you reduce your 2000m rowing times. 

2000m Rowing Times – the Olympic Distance

What do elite 2000m rowing times look like? If you know this, you can bench mark yourself against the very best rowers in the world.

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To level the playing field, the world records are defined by categories…

Age, sex and weight category (lightweight and heavyweight). Take a look and see how far away you are from the literal best in the world…

You can see the full list of men’s and women’s 2000m world records here. 

Elite Men 2000m rowing times

It’s accepted that being able to hit a sub 6.15 2000m rowing time would mark you out as a pretty elite male rower. As an everyday CrossFitter or ‘normal’ rower, a 6.30 2000m rowing time is within your grasp.

Elite Women 2000m rowing times

For women, if you can hit a sub 7.00 2000m rowing time, you’d be marked out as special rower. That’s up there with the best rowing times across the globe. As an everyday CrossFitter or ‘normal’ rower, a 7.15 2000m rowing time is within your grasp.

How to improve your 2000m rowing technique

If you want to achieve a elite rowing performance, you can’t just rely on a high fitness level. You’ve got to marry fitness will great technique. An inefficient rowing stroke will drain your energy over time and prevent you from maintaining a decent pace over the full 2,000 meter row.   

Breaking down the rowing stroke

To build a solid rowing technique, we need to break it down into two phases – drive and recovery. Get these two right and you’ll see your 2,000 meter row time drop very quickly. Each stroke will be cleaner and more efficient. 

The biggest difference between novice rowers and advanced rowers is their technique. Anyone can get fit, but learning to row with a smooth nature is the key point.

Drive phase technique

  • The drive phase is initiated with a big leg drive. Your arms are straight and the torso is leaning forward.
  • As the legs reach half their extension, you start to pull back with the torso (arms are still straight at this point).
  • Once the legs are fully extended and the back is vertical, the arms begin a smooth pull of the handle towards your torso. Make sure you commit to a strong pull – just make sure it’s smooth!
  • The handle finishes when it reaches your abdomen. slightly below your breast bone. 

Recovery phase technique

  • The drive phase finishes with the legs and back straight. From here, the recovery begins by straightening the arms.
  • When the arms are straight, the knees bend and the hips come forward.
  • Keep bending the knees until your shins are flexed vertically. This is the start of the next drive phase. 

To see a whole breakdown of the rowing machine technique, here’s a video from double olympic rowing champion, Alex Gregory…

Using the Lydiard approach to building rowing endurance

A 2,000 meter row test is a tricky distance to navigate… It’s too short to be serious endurance, but it’s too long to rely on the ATP-PC system and Lactate energy system. It means you’ve got to develop the mental fortitude to work hard for 6-7 minutes.

It’ll take every ounce of effort to maintain the intensity for the whole 2,000 meter rowing workout at race pace.

In order to build the fitness to maintain a good rowing pace for 2000 meters, you’ll have to work on endurance AND strength. Both of them are important for achieving fast 2000m rowing times.

Base endurance first – speed second

The Lydiard approach to aerobic training is the model many coaches still use to this day. It trains the different energy systems through a process called periodization. Although it was developed for runners. it’s applicable to all endurance athletes.

You start with longer, slow and low intensity training designed to work on your base endurance. The idea here is for the work to be tough enough to improve your fitness, but easy enough to be able to recover from easily.

In this case it could be a 20 minute rowing workout, several times per week to build base endurance. As the training program progresses, you’d add more speed endurance work. In the final phase, you’d include high intensity work. These bursts of exercise at a high speed help to build the outright pace. 

This is the sort of training program competitive rowers would follow year round. 

Don’t train for too long – focus on quality not quantity

The key to training for fast 2000m rowing times is to maximize the quality of training, not the quantity. If you look at rowing workout plans for elite athletes, they train at specific intensities for set periods of time. 

  • You’ll row hard at 20 strokes per minute (SPM) for 2 minutes
  • 22 SPM x 2 minutes
  • 24 SPM x 2 minutes
  • 26 SPM x 2 minutes

You may then rest at a very low intensity pace for 4 minutes, then head into another intense bout…

  • 24 SPM x 2 minutes
  • 26 SPM x 2 minutes
  • 28 SPM x 2 minutes
  • 30 SPM x 2 minutes

The workout took 20 minutes, but the intensity was high and it encourages you to focus on a consistent speed. This maximizes your efficiency, whilst still developing cardio capability through continuous exercise. 

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Over the course of 12 weeks, build up your intensity. The first 4 weeks are about establishing great cardio. The next 4 are where you add in speed endurance work. The final 4 is where you focus on maintaining race pace for the whole 2000m.

This is then supplemented with strength training, which is incredibly important for rowers.

How to strength train for rowing

Rowers need to be powerful athletes – it’s not just about being able to row for a long time. Look around an indoor rowing event and you’ll see some huge guys! 

If you want to improve your level of rowing performance, you’ll have to do more than rely on rowing machine workouts. You’ll have to work on your upper body strength, your leg strength and your core strength too. Rowing abilities improve when strength, endurance and technique are maximized

Here’s how you should approach resistance training to complement your regular rowing workouts…

image 1 e1669854331123
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Training legs for rowing

The drive phase is initiated with the legs. To do this well, you’ll need to be able to powerfully drive from a static platform. 

The way to train this ability is by using medium weight, high-rep squats (to build strength endurance). Do these alongside plyometric barbell jump squats to build power. 

These mimic the movement pattern and the requirements of rowing. If all you did was very heavy weights, you’d build strength but no power or endurance. Research shows excellent strength endurance in the legs is vital to improving speed of rowing. Even more so than upper body strength.

Hit the following exercises for 5 sets of 20 reps each…

The high rep squats build leg strength endurance, and replicate the drive off the platform that you perform with each rowing stroke.

There are few better ways of improving explosive leg power than plyometric jump squats. These compliment the strength endurance work you’re doing with the high rep squats.

Training upper body for rowing

Despite legs being the main contributor to rowing performance, you still need to strength train the upper body. 

Given it’s a pulling movement, we need to focus on horizontal rows. You want to prevent a weak pull, so ensure the weights are heavy enough to challenge. Medium weight, high rep sets are the aim. 

Horizontal rows are perfect for this. You can wear a weighted vest to add more resistance if they’re too easy. Again, shoot for 5 sets of 20 reps.

How to tactically approach a fast 2000m rowing time

Now you know how to train for fast 2000m rowing times, you need to learn how to tactically approach the event. On a rowing machine you have access to a lot of data, so use this to your advantage. Pace yourself and you’ll do well.

Understand your target average split time before you start, so you can plan ahead.

For a 6 minute 2000m row time, you need to hit an average 1 minute 30 sec per 500m. For a 7 minute 2000m row time, you need to hit an average 1 minute 45 sec per 500m.

Know these numbers before you start, because they’re important. You don’t want to start too fast, or play catch up at the end – this approach is a disaster.

Establishing smooth technique early – slow is smooth and smooth is fast!

There’s a military saying, ‘slow is smooth and smooth is fast’. You don’t want to rush out of the starting blocks with crappy technique. This is inefficient and it’ll fatigue you quickly. Instead, in the opening 200m work on establishing your rowing stroke.

Look to keep your strokes per minute consistent and your split times low.

The information you’ll need to stay on track is all on the screen in front of you, so pay attention to it. 

a monitor showing 2000m rowing times
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Build SPM through the phases

Once you have established your technique and have a good split time, it’s time to increase the intensity levels.

Your target split time will depend on your end goal. Remember…

  • 6 minute 2000m row time is an average 1 minute 30 sec per 500m. 
  • 7 minute 2000m row time is an average 1 minute 45 sec per 500m.

By the 200m mark, you should be at (or slightly faster than) your target average rowing split time. Here’s where you have to stay for the next 1000 – 1500m.

Finish FAST!

When you’re in the final 200-300m, it’s time to sprint finish. Execute each stroke with a high rep quality. Drive hard with the legs, pull hard with the upper body and show the mental toughness you need to smash your personal record! 

That final minute of rowing should take everything you have, but the results will be worth it! Your entire body will have contributed to the effort.

Putting the package together to SMASH your 2000m rowing times!

Improving your 2000m rowing times is a combination of improving your rowing technique, your strength endurance and your tactics.

Thankfully, the low-impact nature of training on a rowing machine means you can work hard without needing too much recovery time. Using the Lydiard method mentioned earlier, you can phase your training up as you go.

Your rowing machine workouts can be short, so you can supplement them with strength training afterwards. Do this in the same session, and train 4-5 times per week, for 12 weeks.

When testing your time, establish a smooth rowing technique. Use the data on the rowing machine to guide your performance. Hit race pace through the middle 1500m, then sprint to the finish.

Enjoy the results!


Steve Hoyles has spent over 20 years in the fitness industry, working as a personal trainer and weightlifting coach. He now owns a large strength and conditioning facility in the UK, where he trains people from all walks of life. His client list ranges from everyday gym users through to professional athletes. He loves to share his knowledge with people at all stages of their fitness journey.

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