I came across the “10 most painful ergs” list on the WA Rowing Club website while injured and vowed that once I could row again I would complete all 10 on 10 consecutive days. I knew they would be hard, but I thought, ‘I do 10 training sessions a week during term time, 1 per day for 10 days can’t be THAT bad’. I vastly underestimating how hard it would be.
I also didn’t know exactly what my fitness levels were like due to being off rowing for a few weeks, but my most recent 2k had been a 6:44 so I chose 1:41 as my TMS pace and hoped for the best.
10.) The Vomit Session
1000m at TMS -5, four minutes rest
Two x 500m at TMS -10 with two minutes rest between
Two x 240m at TMS – 15 with one minute rest
Going into this session I knew it wouldn’t be easy, it required me pulling a pb 1k, 500m, and 240m consecutively, but I was optimistic and was blissfully unaware of what lay before me.
The 1000m went by without a hitch and I finished it with an average split of 1:36.3. The first 500m happened like any 500m usually does, feeling fine for the first 200m before having everything catch up with you as you spend the last 250m desperately trying not to lose your average split. I missed the goal completely, finishing in 1:35.2 and realising that I was definitely not going to come out of this well.
The second 500m however, was where everything really fell apart. I started off around 1:35, trying to keep the rate high and minimise my losses but with 350m to go I suddenly felt like I’d been hit by a train and both my rate and my split were irrecoverably lost. I can’t say I’ve ever felt so terrible while erging as I did just then. It came to me as a massive shock and my entire body felt like it’d turned to jelly as I stumbled across the line with a miserable time of 1:53.1 and 2 minutes before my next sprint. I was in no mood to give up however, and I braced myself mentally for what was about to come. I won back some self-respect by completing the next 240m at a split of 1:34.7 at rate 38 (although it was supposed to be at 1:26), and the next at 1:38.3 at rate 37 before rolling around on the floor for the next 10 minutes trying not to be sick.
While I was incredibly disappointed with the times I got, I left the session feeling pleased because those 15 minutes probably impacted my rowing more than any single training session I’ve done in a long time. It showed me that if you’re prepared for the pain you’re about to experience, and you know what it feels like, you can cope with it and push through. But if you’re not ready, and it comes as a shock, you have very little hope of fighting through it. Just like at the catch, you must be braced before the pressure hits it. From this session I concluded that 1.) One’s training program should occasionally have horrible ergs like this in them, just so that you’re ready for the pain when it hits you, and 2.) it is always possible to hurt more and you have definitely not reached your total potential yet.
9.) Bad news erg (bad news comes in threes)
Three by 3000m. Each 3000m includes: 2500m at the 6km pace, 250m at TMS and the last 250m at sub-TMS.
There was no rest time defined for this erg, but as @KimmyJCrow suggested in the original article that any session with 1 minute rests should be on the list, I thought 1 minute rests seemed appropriate. According to the 75% power rule, my 6K test split should have been 1:51.1 so I held this split during the first 2500m of each piece, before stepping up to 1:41 and beyond. Unlike the first day, I managed to complete this erg at the correct splits, averaging 1:49.4, 1:49.7, and 1:49.1.
This erg was hard in a different way to the previous one. What made this one hard was dealing with the effects of the sprint for the first 2500m of the next piece. So while the intensity was not on the same level as the day before, the length of time spent suffering was much longer and so finding a way of coping with each 11 minute piece was the biggest mental struggle (I started counting the strokes left at 200 to go during the last piece). The pain was also different, it felt as though my muscles were in a debt (which they were) and no matter how hard I breathed, there was no way I could repay it, so I just had to endure it for 11 minutes at a time. Trying to take something away from this session, as I always do, I think firstly, when I start to feel this way during a 2k, I can remember how I felt during the last piece today. I know that if I could keep going for 10 more minutes today, I shouldn’t be worried about feeling the same way for much less time during a test. Secondly, I will remember that sprinting at max and spending 3k near maximum feel very different, and I should expect both of these feelings during a 2k. Lastly, I will remember that no matter how bad you feel, you can always take the next stroke, so don’t let that one be the one which lets you down.
8.) Amy’s Awfulust Erg
40 minutes of 40 seconds on, 20 seconds off.
This totalled 26 minutes and 40 seconds of “on” erging time so thought trying to hold 2k pace during the intervals seemed like a reasonable goal. Annoyingly, I found out that you can only do 30 intervals during one workout so I had to start a new one with 10 to go. Due to the really short rests, it felt more like an endurance session than a sprint session. I found that the key to getting a fast split was to make sure I “attacked” each piece and reached 2k pace in the minimum number of strokes. I managed to average 1:41.8 across all of them which I’m pretty pleased with.
7.) Shaun’s Shenanigans
7x4 mins step test, 1 minute rest
The 6th piece should be at 2k pace and the last should be sub-2k
There isn’t much information about what splits and rates to aim for because the link on the blog post is now out of date. I tried searching for information on the Rowing Australia website but their archive only goes back to July 2014 so I suppose the information is lost forever! I therefore decided to start at rate 20 and increase the rate by 2 each piece until I was at rate 32 at sub 2k split. When I came up with this idea I worried it might be too conservative, but this erg turned out to be one of the hardest. So hard in fact that I was sick with just 20 seconds to go on the last piece (ruining my split!) meaning I couldn’t properly finish! I just did steady state for the 6th piece for “recovery” and decided to attack the last one again but roughly a minute into the last piece I did it again and so just steady stated to the line.
6.) The Spiral of Death
§ 3 x four minutes, with a four minute break, progressing from 18 to 24 spm
§ 3 x two minutes, with a two minute break, progressing from 24 to 30 spm
§ 3 x one minute, with a one minute break, progressing from 30 to 36 spm
There is no phone signal in the public gym I was using to do these (I must have looked pretty interesting with my unisuit soaked in sweat, occasionally grunting on an erg while normal people “rowed” around me) so I failed to double check exactly how to perform this erg. This resulted in me actually completing every piece 2 spm too high, finishing at 38 spm. Despite this, I found this erg quite nice (as nice as an erg can be) and averaged 1:42.8 across the pieces.
5.) The two-man (or woman) pursuit
500m flat out on the erg
I had been looking forward to this erg (or non-erg) as soon as I read this list. Before starting rowing a little over 6 months ago, I competed in cross country at school and so considered this running to be my “safe zone”, and I was interested to find out what the transition between erging and running would feel like. The hardest part was definitely the first 200 metres of each run, before the lactic acid was sufficiently pumped from my legs and I could start psyching myself up for the next erg sprint. I was very pleased with my result with this session and averaged 1:38.1 on the erg and finished in a total time of 1:09:06.5.
4.) The WAIS battery
4x4k 5 minute rest
This was without doubt, the worst erg on this list. It was horrific. I recommend everyone does it. It felt like the last 15 minutes of the hour of power, except 4 times in a row. It shows how desperate I was that I started counting the remaining strokes with 250 to go even on the second piece. I managed to finish in 1:49.4, 1:50.9, 1:51.7 and 1:54.0 and it also made me terrified for the 60 minute test the next day.
3.) The Hour of Power
Rate capped (I chose 25)
By this point in the series of ergs, I was starting to be woken up each morning by the pain in my legs and I was struggling to walk up and down stairs. I knew I couldn’t just approach this hour without a plan so I spoke to my cox about how to tackle it. We decided on treating it like eight 5 minute sections bookend by two 10 minute sections (which were “free” because one wouldn’t hurt and one would very much so). Each 5 minute section had 5 aspects of technique I should focus on for a minute each. This helped me massively with the mental struggle of just staring at an erg screen ticking down from 60 minutes, and also prevented my technique from gradually deteriorating throughout the piece. The fastest hour of erging I’d ever done had been at 1:53.9 and was a 6x10min session, set rate, with 2 minute rests. I therefore decided that 1:54 would be a decent split to aim for and I finished with an average split of 1:54.5. I think the toughest part of this erg was psychological rather than physical, but I finished it feeling stronger than ever! (A feeling which didn’t last long…)
2.) 2k Test
This 2k was pretty bad. Pretty very bad. I thought it would be easy to push myself seeing as it would only take six and a half minutes compared to my much longer previous ergs, but this turned out not to be the case. During a poor 2k, most people will describe how they blew at a certain distance to go and their split rocketed. In my case, however, due to the cumulative effects of the intensity of the previous ergs, I can’t really say there was ever a point in the 2k in which I was “un-blown”. I stuck to my plan despite it hurting a LOT more than it should with 1500m to go, and persisted to the 1000m mark. Where I committed the cardinal sin of rowing. I broke the biggest rule of all. I stopped. It happened before I even knew what I was doing and suddenly I was just sat there staring at the screen say 980m left.
After swearing quite loudly, and drawing yet more attention from the “norms”, I exchanged a few messages with my cox. 20 minutes later, I was back on the erg and finished a dreadful 2k in 6:56.7. The past 8 days had definitely caught up with me. I had been hoping that all the mental strengthening from these ergs might have helped me push harder than I could have before and finish with a pb, and while I think that may still be true after some rest, there was no way I was managing it this day.
1.) The Surge Erg
30s at 2k Pace, 90s at 6k Pace
The last erg. I dragged my beaten and bloody (slight exaggeration) body to the gym for one final erg of death. And this one was pretty special. The 2k pace bursts (notably positioned at the start of each 2 minutes rather than the end) ensured one’s legs were swimming in lactic acid for the entirety of each piece and the 5 minute rests meant there was no need to hold back from any of them. I hit it with everything I had – paying back the erg (I chose the same one) for the previous day– and finished with an average split of 1:49.5.
And then suddenly I had finished. That was it. And while I remembered how much the ergs had dominated the last 10 days of my life, the abruptness of their ending reminded me of the main thing I had taken from them. No matter how bad it feels, and no matter how much further you still have to go, it WILL end. The only decision you get to make is whether you finish proud of what you’ve done.
I’d like to thank the WA Rowing Club for compiling the list and strongly recommend it to everyone.