Top 10 most painful ergs

Erg 2 editedWelcome to the Top 10 most painful ergs.

This is a bucket list of ergs nominated be seasoned athletes from all over Australia who sent in their most feared sessions on the rowing machine via social media. That said, in the words of Tim Widdicombe (who stroked the WA LW4- at SIRR to a silver medal. He is a hard man): “any erg is awful, when done correctly.”

So here we put a warning: Don’t try this at home kids.

New: Check out the list as an infographic

However, for the serious and insane, if (and I say if) you complete this full suite of 10 sessions in 10 consecutive days and can email in a picture of your erg screen each day to, we’ll give you a free WARC visor. It’s not much, but we don’t want anyone to, like, die… so the encouragement is minimal.

So here are the rules:

erg meme1. All these sessions are completed off slides except the Spiral of Death. This is because slides are for lightweights, wusses and Jonesy.

2. As drag factors are no longer set by Rowing Australia, it’s up to you to decide however you can use these as a guide:

  • 95 for lightweight or junior women
  • 105 for women
  • 110-120 for lightweight and junior men
  • 120-130 for men

If you’re not sure how to set the drag factor, firstly you shouldn’t be attempting the Bucket List…

…But if you decide to try anyway, arrange to erg with someone with a bit of experience or have a chat to your coach.

erg meme 2To be able to complete these sessions, you will often need to know what your average 500m split for your 2000m personal best is. This is known as your TMS.

If you’re not sure (a) what this means or (b) what it is, again: maybe don’t try this at home.

But, if you insist, this wolverine plan has, on page 16, a really nifty pace chart. And this site has a rather handy erg time calculator. I’d like to think it wasn’t written to assist handing in false erg times back in the days before you could take photos of the erg screen, but that seems unlikely.

And here is what the Kiwi Pair had to say (note we were also favourited by Olaf Tufte and Concept 2!!):

And so, without further ado, the top 10 most painful ergs as voted by friends of WARC, from least painful to most.

The runner up to this list is…

Claire’s legacy: 20 minutes at two-minutes on, one-minute off, open rate. Complete twice.Thoroughly unpleasant for all who have attempted.

10: The Vomit Session

A favourite of the Pharcers in Melbourne, this involves:

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

9: Bad news erg (bad news comes in threes)

Three by 3000m. Each 3000m includes: 2250m at the 6km pace, 250m at TMS and the last 250m at sub-TMS.
rowing meme 3

8: Amy’s awfulust erg 

40 minutes of 40 seconds on, 20 seconds off.

7: Shaun’s shenanigans

This is a seven by four-minute step test with one minute rest between, dreamed up by the masochists at Rowing Australia.

Scarily, this also involves having blood taken in between sets (blerch) and wearing a breathing apparatus, at least according to the above 2008 document. Shaun says this started with each four minute being held at a proportion of the TMS. By the sixth, you’re at TMS and then for the final four minutes, the aim is to hold the split lower than TMS. At which point death was guaranteed.

6: The Spiral of Death

Dreamed up by a mmicrowave minutean called Bingles, this is a team effort. You need to hook your ergs up together on slides (ideally in two competition teams where there is something significant on the line. Like… getting out of unloading, for example).


  • 3 x four minutes, with a four minute break
  • 3 x two minutes, with a two minute break
  • 3 x one minute, with a one minute break Breakdown as follows:

The breakdown is like this:

  • First four minutes: Two minutes at 18 strokes per minute (spm), two minutes at 20 strokes per minute
  • Second four minutes: Two minutes at 20spm. two minutes at 22spm
  • Third four minutes: Two minutes at 22spm, two minutes at 24spm
  • First two minutes: One minute at 24spm, one minute at 26spm
  • Second two minutes: One minute at 26spm, one minute at 29spm
  • Third two minutes: One minute at 28spm, one minute at 30spm
  • First one minute: 30 seconds at 30spm, 30 seconds at 32spm
  • Second one minute: 30 seconds at 32spm, 30 seconds at 34spm
  • Final minute: 30 seconds at 34spm. 30 seconds at 36spm

Aim is to beat each previous split and to match rating with the nominated stroke, and each team member takes a turn at stroking.

Winning crew lives. Losing crew dies.

5: The two-man (or woman) pursuiterg meme 4

The stuff of nightmares:

500m flat out on the erg… then
1000m running
10 times

For WARC, the most common sprint length is out of the club, around the Bell Tower and back, or down Riverside Drive to the traffic lights and back. And then, of course it’s up the stairs and back on the erg.

4: The WAIS battery

This dreaded four by 4000m piece was part of a battery of tests that has since been abandoned by WAIS and RWA.

It involved athletes completing 4000m four times, with a five-minute rest between each piece.

It was nominated by every athlete that completed it.

3. The Hour of Power

Almost everyone who responded said the straight 60 minute steady-state at maximumerg  meme 6 pressure for the set rate was the epitome of erg purgatory.

For direct quotes from those who nominated: “The straight 60 minutes is 100 per cent balls.”

2. The 2000m test.

Although not actually nominated by anyone, it was already a given this would make the stop of the list.  If you want to know why, watch this: The 2K test can break the best of us, even the patron saint of rowing, Sir Steve Redgrave.

surge erg1.The Surge Erg

Dreaded by all, spoken of only in whispers: This is the Sauron – nay, the Voldemort – of the erg world.

It doesn’t have the volume of the Hour or Power, or the intensity of the Vomit Session. It doesn’t have the competition of the Two Man Pursuit or the Spiral of Death, and doesn’t have the outside pressure to perform of the dreaded 2000m test.

And yet, for those who have done it, the mere mention of the concept is enough to render them virtually catatonic.

The Surge Erg is:

Four x 10″ with five minutes rest 
(sound simple so far?)

Each 10″ is made up of 30 seconds at TMS, 90 seconds at 6km split.

So, that’s it. If you disagree, feel free to add new training programs to the comments – the only rule is it has to be a real training session – one you’ve completed, not just made up.

Like the 24-hour erg completed in Northbridge one night…

… Oh… hang on. That totally happened.

Happy rowing

PBR and the WA Rowing Club

be like paul

Good luck.



23 thoughts on “Top 10 most painful ergs

  1. I’m hoping that TMS is Twenty Minute Split, not 2km Split…no way I could hold TMS-15s for any length of time if it is based on 2km split!

  2. 6*3 mins on / 3 mins off.
    Open rate, full pressure. No suggested split, just hard. Lightweight women will go under 2k, heavies normally +2.

    Made Mahe and Alan puke after 4. Just keep going…

    Reinhold’s circuits as well, just ask anyone at the Tute before 05.

  3. The AGROCRAG:

    250 m on/1:30 paddle, then 500m on/3:00 paddle, 750m on/4:30 paddle, 1000/m on/6:00 paddle. Climb back down with same intervals. Rest 7:00. Repeat.

  4. “Category 6”

    90 minutes at 10% above 6k – low rate/high pressure
    I said ninety.
    Or if you passed out after one of those – two 45 minute pieces with 30 seconds off for a drink to remain conscious.

  5. For the 7×4 test, that’s 4:00 at each submaximal pace (i.e., six pieces with no rest in between) followed by 1:00 rest, then 4:00 max effort. Do I have that right?

      • That seems to fit with item 11. of the test procedures: “Blood is collected from your earlobe or fingertip during each rest period and analysed. During the 1 min rest period, you are permitted to remove the gas collection apparatus to have a drink. However, it is important to ensure that the breathing apparatus is back in position well before the start of the next work bout…”

        So, “…each rest period…” seems to suggest there must be more than one. But then we get item 13. “There is only the standard 1 min break between the end of the final submaximal step (6th step) and beginning the 4 min maximal step.”

        That certainly sounds like the only rest is after the 6th piece, i.e., at the 24:00 mark. Thus my confusion.

      • Just got an email from Tony Rice and you’re right. 1 min rest after each 4:00 piece, including between interval 6 (submax) and interval 7 (max effort).

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    • Hi Charlie yes I believe it is, however I’ll bring this to the attention of our club captain Nick who nominated the Surge Erg in the first place.

      Nick: the breakdown works as follows: 10′ 1st 30seconds at 2K PB, (in my case a 1:30 /500m split) than 90 seconds at 75% of 2K PB (in my case 1:39 /500) repeat this 4 more times to complete the 10′. Have 5 minutes rest and start the next 10′ piece.
      So in the end you have done 10′ at 2K PB and 30′ at 75% of 2K PB.

      Hope this makes sense – I have got a spread sheet which will do the calculations.

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