CrossFit and the 2k Row
The 2k Row might be the best test of fitness. It tests an athlete’s energy systems and grit. You can’t fake it or cheat a rep or 2. The sport of CrossFit rewards the strong and enduring. But the 2k Row rewards the pacer who is strong, conditioned and can dig deep when they’ve gone full send.
The 2k Row might be the most challenging test of fitness also. It puts athletes in a very uncomfortable position, and every time you take the test, you’ll reach the point where your mind tells you to give up. The 2k Row isn’t a long test, tell your mind to shut up. Doing that is the first step to finding real fitness.
So why is the 2k Row so important in the sport of CrossFit?
Training on a rowing machine activates 85 percent of the body’s musculature and can get your heart pumping in a hurry. It requires a blend of both endurance and power, and the low-impact nature of the movement doesn’t pound your joints like running on a treadmill. Competitive rowers are some of the fittest and most powerful athletes on the planet, and the rowing machine plays a massive role in their training.
The chart below shows how our body’s three basic energy systems produce energy over time:
The ATP-PC system supplies the majority of the energy for very short (0 to 10 seconds) intense bursts of exercise; the lactic anaerobic system supplies the majority of the energy for longer (up to 1 minute or so) intense bouts of exercise; and the aerobic system supplies the majority of the energy for continuous exercise that lasts more than 1 minute. If any one of these energy systems isn’t up to snuff, you won’t be able to row a strong 2k. CrossFit has helped crush any preconceived notions of the sport of rowing. Rowing appears to be purely an endurance sport like jogging (notice i didn’t say running), but the variance of rowing distances (relying on and refining the energy systems) and strength required for rowing in CrossFit have proven the 2k Row is a wonderful way to track overall fitness.
The smooth nature of the rowing machine allows you to push past physical barriers that exist in many other fitness tests, leading you to explore dark, distant corners of your own mental fortitude.
To register a good time, you’ve got to start fast. The first 500 meters aren’t quite an all-out sprint, but they’re just a notch below that. The next 500 meters are when things really start to get freaky. By then, you’ve likely crossed the anaerobic threshold, meaning you’re now burning stored carbohydrates as your main source of fuel. Around this point, your body will start producing lactate faster than it can remove it. As lactate rapidly begins accumulating in the bloodstream, your mind goes from “this is uncomfortable” to “this is pure torture.” Your heart will race and your legs will ache, and you won’t believe you’re only halfway through. The third 500 meters is all about quieting the voice in your head screaming for you to stop while you try to hold on to a decent pace. One of the beauties of this test is that it’s impossible to cheat. Rep quality is directly reflected in the numbers on the display—a weak pull will see your split times rise, while a strong pull will see them fall.
As you get into the final 500 meters, you may not believe you’ve made it that far. Now is the time to access the reserves of your reserves. For the last 300 meters or so, you put the pedal to the metal and wring every last ounce of effort out of your body. If you performed the test correctly, when the number mercilessly hits zero, you’ll be absolutely drained.
What constitutes a “good” time on the 2,000-meter row test varies widely by age, size and fitness level. Tall people generally row faster than shorter people. Stronger people row faster than others also. A conditioned, strong person rows even faster. Anything around 6:00 for a male and 7:00 for a female is world class. A competitive RX CrossFitter should be under 7 minutes for a male and under 8 minutes for a female. Yes, there are stronger males and females with slower 2k Row times, but those who want to take it to the next level can improve their 2k Row times much faster than they can put 40 more pounds on their clean and jerk.
What about those who don’t care about competing in CrossFit?
Yes the 2k Row is important to you also. Having refined energy systems is a vital part of living a longer and healthier life, along with not carrying around excess body fat. Win win.
Where do you go from here?
Like any fitness test, the purpose of the 2k Row is to see if your training is actually getting the desired results. Make sure you’re lifting weights so you can be stronger so you can row faster. Make sure you're doing hard workouts, long workouts, and even doing 90 minute walks from time to time to optimize your energy systems.
Turn up the music real loud and row a 2k. Log your time. Retest it every 4 months or so. You’ll be shocked at the results. There is a direct correlation of the changes you’ll see in the mirror and what your 2k Row time is. The time we want you to finish in: 7 minutes for males and 8 minutes for females. Seven minutes or less tells us that you’re not only in good shape, but that you’re also willing to silence your mental demons, go all out, and keep getting better.
Of course, it's OK if you can’t finish in 7 minutes. The point is that you truly give the test your all, and continually train to finish below the time limit. Once you nail that goal, keep going. Collegiate rowers routinely finish in the low 6-minute range. (All other things being equal, taller, heavier people generally log faster times than shorter, lighter people.)
Happy training. We’re here to help.
At Okie CrossFit in Tulsa, we pride ourselves on training / refining all of our energy systems to promote athletic development and a longer and more fruitful life. If you're in the Tulsa area and want to try a FREE WEEK of Tulsa's best CrossFit Gyms (2 locations) use this link. If not, we wish you well on your rowing journey and check in on our blog from time to time for information to help you live an amazing and long life.
If you're looking for more information about rowing as a sport and how to get better at it, visit Coach Neil Bergenroth's website for informational blogs, tutorials, or for private coaching.