BY TAYLOR BROWN
PHOTO BY ED MORAN
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The most feared words in the rowing world are “Set it up for 2K.”
Rowers, young and old, have experienced testing on the erg. Sometimes tests are planned, sometimes they are a surprise, but they always provoke a range of emotions.
There is an inevitable mental battle that occurs in anticipation of an erg test, and during for that matter. Staring at the numbers on the screen that you perceive as sealing your destiny for that season can mess with your head.
Some rowers begin playing the numbers game, “If I’m at 22 strokes per minute, then that means I have 17 strokes till 750 left, which equates to about 32 seconds.” Others just shut their crying eyes and try to get through it. Some thrive under pressure.
It’s clear that the experience of rowing a 2K test is not a pleasant one for many and, therefore, can elicit powerful performance anxiety and nervousness even before the workout begins.
If this is you, here are some tools to manage your performance anxiety and test your potential:
It’s Not Pass/Fail
Any good coach knows that ergs don’t float, and selecting boats based only on erg testing is not a recipe for a fast boat. Therefore, 2K erg tests are not the only factors that are taken into consideration when coaches make boating selections. Many other factors figure in such decisions, such as technical competence, general attitude, and determination.
Ultimately, 2K tests are not pass/fail. Instead, they are a benchmark to monitor improvement throughout a season. Taking pressure off yourself to “pass” the erg test will allow you to focus more on things you can control, like executing your plan, maintaining good technique, and trying to achieve progress from your previous test.
Accepting the Discomfort
It’s a fact: 2K’s are painful. We get ourselves into trouble mentally when we resist the experience of discomfort. The best thing you can do is accept that you’re going to be in significant discomfort for the next six to eight minutes of your life. Remind yourself that it’s a temporary experience and to take it one moment at a time.
If you feel yourself getting overwhelmed by the discomfort at any point, ask yourself, “Can I tolerate it for one more stroke?” The answer is usually yes. Just take the rest of the piece one stroke at a time.
Another way to stay in the discomfort of a 2K is to plan where you’ll be focusing on each part of the piece and what words will help anchor your mind. For example, you may decide to repeat a few technical cues through the third 500, along with a positive affirmation: “Hips, hips, hips. Yes, right where I want to be.” As with many things in life, practice makes progress. The more you put yourself in the type of pain you’ll feel during a 2K, the better you will get at handling it.
Nervous or Excited?
Imagine this situation: A woman is stepping up to a platform on a high bridge to go bungee jumping. She feels jitteriness in her hands and weakness in her knees. Her heart rate is elevated, and her thoughts are racing wildly. Is she nervous or excited? This is difficult to answer because to the body the experience of nervousness and excitement is the same; both involve arousal of the sympathetic nervous system.
But she can decide how she wants to interpret the experience. If she believes she is feeling this way because she is nervous, the experience will be debilitative and will impact her performance negatively. If she regards the experience as exciting, it will be facilitative and will affect her performance positively.
The way you perceive an experience is not entirely in your control, but you can train your brain to view experiences as exciting. The next time your palms are sweaty, your heart rate is high, and your legs feel like jelly, tell yourself, “I must be excited about this!” Before you know it, you may start believing it.
The bottom line: If you’re struggling with 2K nerves, experiment with different routines to manage them so they don’t impact your performance negatively.