“Erg Test.” Two words spoken by your coach that unfailingly send waves of nausea mixed with a little excitement and anticipation or perhaps fear and anxiety through your entire body. Your stomach suddenly feels hollow and your throat tightens as beads of sweat form on your forehead.
As painful and as dreadful as they may be, erg tests are actually a wonderful thing. Maybe you’re even the crazy type that signs up for erg challenges. (Here’s to you all you CRASH-B
lunatics). Don’t get me wrong. Erg tests are no walk on the beach at sunset. There’s rarely ever anything pretty about them. They hurt. They should hurt. Above all else, an erg test forces you to go toe to toe with the greatest competitor in the sport of rowing you’ll ever face: yourself.
Over the past year I have actually come to really look forward to erg tests. Especially during the winter training months, erg tests provide those rare opportunities to compete and truly test your physiological advances and where your limits lie. The erg test can be a tricky thing though. A great piece will make you feel like you can accomplish anything and take on the world; a crash and burn may make you question why you’re even in this sport. But as I’ve said before: in rowing, you have to ride the highs and lows with some level of consistency and almost complacency. You can’t get too wrapped up in success or too dragged down by defeat. Every day is a battle and inevitably, some days you will win and some days you will fall a little short.
In honor of all of you preparing for any big erg tests coming up, I’ve put together a little “Erg Test Prep” guide. I will advise to take what I say with a grain of salt and make sure you read it through your own personal lens. Every athlete is different and their needs unique. The most important key to success in anything is learning what works best for you.
The Erg Test Prep Guide: Just Like Your Teacher Told You, Don’t Cram For The Test.
There are no shortcuts in rowing. You have to put in the work to see real results. The week before an erg test is not the time to start working hard. If anything, it’s actually quite the opposite. You should be confident in the work you’ve put in the past several weeks and months so that the few days leading up to the test, you are able to chill out a bit and give your body some time to relax before really putting it through the gauntlet. If you know you are going to have an erg test in a month or two months, set small goals for yourself in that time period to make sure you’re on track with your ultimate goal of nailing that erg test. Rest is Best.
Getting enough sleep the week of a big race or erg test is an absolute. Hopefully you have already made sleep a priority in your schedule so that getting adequate rest the week of the big test isn’t a new habit you’re just now forming. Plan ahead and try to clear your schedule as much as possible during test week so that you aren’t caught staying up late with work or social engagements. In such a physically demanding sport like rowing, the proper amount of sleep and rest is critical for recovery and optimal performance. Especially during test week, I try to make sure I get at least eight hours of sleep a night. Eat What You Want to Be.
You want to be the best? So eat the best foods. Chowing down on candy, soda, and junk food may work for some people to be at their best; but there is a reason that the world’s top athletes consider nutrition an integral component to their athletic success. Eating on a regular schedule and foods that give you the right amount of energy can make the difference between knocking it out of the park or crashing and burning. For every workout, I always bring a recovery snack and make sure to consume it within 30-45 minutes after I’ve finished training. The type of workout will determine what kind of snack I may bring, but I’m always mindful that my body is getting some carbs and protein, which are both vital to recovery. Good ideas include a piece of fruit and a bar (Clif, Luna, Kashi, Kind, Odwalla, etc.) or some Greek yogurt (I’m a huge fan of Chobani or Fage). Recovery shakes are an easy and great way to refuel as well. Day of the Test:
Keep it simple. Stick to foods you know that sit well with you, that you can easily digest, and will fuel you. Get a good mix of carbohydrates and protein. Make sure you eat a bigger meal at least three hours before the test to give your body the time it needs to digest and turn that food into energy. This allows you to be able to snack a bit closer to the test on something lighter like a bar or banana with a little bit of peanut butter. Helpful hint: pick something that won’t come back up during the test. I eat the same thing every morning before my first workout
and this carries over to test morning. This way I don’t surprise my body with anything new so that the only thing it has to focus on is working as hard as possible on the erg. Secret Tip:
Right before any big erg test or race, I take a GU gel packet. GU Energy Gel packets provide a quick 100 calories of high-quality, easily digested, and long-lasting energy. Drink Up!
You’ve heard it from your coaches a million times over: hydrate, hydrate, hydrate. The tricky part about being hydrated is that you can’t take care of it the day of or even the day before your test. It’s a process and something you have to be consistent with. Hopefully you’ve already developed wonderful hydration habits, but heading into test week be extra diligent about putting those fluids into your body. I try to make sure I always finish the water and/or Gatorade I pack for training sessions. In between practices, be mindful of continuing to hydrate. For some people, water can be boring so try to spice it up a bit with (healthy) things you like to drink. This will make it easier. Personally, I like to stock up on coconut water, decaf coffee, and tea. Keep a water bottle by your bed at night. Sip on it as your reading or watching TV before you fall asleep. If you wake up in the middle of the night thirsty or to take a trip to the bathroom, you already have some water handy. There is such a thing as “over-hydrating” which can be just as troublesome as being dehydrated. Just be smart and mindful of how you’re feeling. If you’re having to get up more than once during the night to go to the bathroom, cut back on the liquid intake right before bed. Urine color analysis is an easy way to monitor your hydration. Body Work.
During test week it is important to keep up with your stretching routine, get a massage if you need one, ice those nagging ailments, and spend some time on the foam roller. These are all things that are hopefully already a part of your routine and will help you feel fully recovered come test day. If you’re not used to massages, I wouldn’t recommend trying this the week of a big test; but if you do get one, make sure you have a day or two before the test to recover in case the massage makes you a little sore. Personally, I like scheduling a massage two to three days ahead of a big test. Whatever it is, do what you need to do to make sure you’re feeling relaxed and as good as possible when you wake up test day. Plan, Visualize, Walk Through.
Visualization; meditation; imagery; mental rehearsal. Not everyone buys into these tactics, but they have been proven to contribute to many athletes’ success. Whatever term you use for it, the mental practice of seeing yourself do well during your erg piece can help you to better prepare for it. Come up with a “race plan” for your piece. Write it down in your training journal. (You DO have a training journal, don’t you!?) Commit to it. If you’re not sure about what your goal should be, talk to your coaches about it. They should have an idea about where your fitness is and what the expectations will be on the test.
Personally, I like to break my piece down into smaller parts. Maybe it’s a 2K broken down into 500-meter sections or a 6K broken down into 1200 or 1500-meter sections. Within your plan, set an overall goal but also create steps toward reaching that goal. I approach an erg test with the idea of "negative splitting," meaning that I try to go a little faster with each step. What do you want to accomplish in the second 500? What split do you need to pull in your sprint to reach that goal?
Rehearse your plan, visualize your test. Set the erg for the amount of time you want your goal split to be and paddle through the “test” time visualizing yourself hitting each split during each step of the piece. Football teams have “walk through” practices on the day before their games, walking through their plays and visualizing their opponent’s offense and defense. Again, your biggest competitor is yourself and how well you prepare determines how well you perform.
And last but certainly not least, go fast.
Give 100% of yourself during the piece. It’s an erg test; treat it like the championship final of a big race. You already know your body will experience some pain. It’s amazing how quickly the pain goes away after accomplishing something you set out to do.