by Simon Moore – Director Jeppe High School for Boys Rowing


Is 2,000-meter rowing aerobic or anaerobic? Modern research puts an all-out 2,000-meter row or erg between 77-88% aerobic and 12-23% anaerobic. However, this simple answer isn’t the end of the story. In this article, we’ll cover some of the research behind the aerobic and anaerobic breakdown and why this matters for rowing performance.

We might be tempted to think that the key to rowing faster for 2km is to just row harder. Let’s get the greatest intensity out of our energy system and go anaerobic as quickly as possible for as much of the race as possible. Anyone who has tried a “fly-and-die” 2km erg knows that it’s not this simple.

A highly trained anaerobic system can get you through 2-3 minutes of high intensity output. No one is ever going to be able to row 2km in under three minutes, so the duration of a 2km row means that it is always going to be majority aerobic. Also, remember that the downside of the anaerobic system is high fatigue. Hypothetically, if we could race 2km at anaerobic intensity, the accumulation of metabolites implicated in fatigue would become unbearably painful.

The goal of energy system performance in a 2km race is to get maximal aerobic power for the base of the race, sparing the anaerobic system as much as possible for the final phase of the race. At the sprint, we want maximal anaerobic power for the highest intensity and longest duration possible, “emptying the tank” at the end of the race. Basically, if our base pace for 2km is 400W (1:35 average split for a 6:22 total time), we should try to get as much of that 400W to be from more sustainable, less fatiguing aerobic power. This spares the anaerobic system for the final sprint when we might tap up to 600W (1:23 average) and just try to hold it for that last 30-60 seconds of the race. Therefore “fly-and-die” is a bad race strategy. The rower who sets out at too high of an intensity for their base pace taps into too much anaerobic system energy too early and succumbs to pain and/or biochemical regulation processes before the race is over.

Takeaways for Rowing Training

Three major goals of rowing training come into clarity from research.

First, build maximal aerobic power so that athletes can achieve base race pace primarily from the aerobic system, without tapping into anaerobically powered intensities until the final sprint. More advanced rowers may perform higher training volumes consisting of more U2/U1 work and more specific training, while less advanced rowers may perform lower training volumes consisting of more U1/AT work, and more cross-training.

Second, develop strength and lean body mass to improve force generation, force transfer, and leverage on the oar. Aerobic fitness is the floor; general muscular strength is the ceiling.

Third, do enough specific (rowing/erging) short duration work above the anaerobic/lactate threshold so that rowers can build fatigue tolerance and perform technique effectively under high pressure conditions, for the final sprint phase.

Follow these general principles from and you will be well on your way to reaching your rowing goals 😊

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