My Fitbit begins to vibrate. The time is 3:29 a.m. I have one minute before the alarm goes off on my phone. This is about as gentle as a wake-up as I can get. Oh, and if I turn my phone alarm off in time, I won’t wake up my wife. Later, I will check my Fitbit app to see how I slept. If I am lucky, I will have gotten close to six hours hitting all the key metrics except for the stage the says “AWAKE.” That is if I am lucky, but chances are, I am not. Right now, it does not matter, I must get going. There is not a lot of time to waste, so I get dressed, drink water, and head to the refrigerator where I retrieve the cold-brew coffee I prepared the day before. The coffee is bitter and cold, exactly what I needed.
3:45 a.m. I am in the garage setting up. My heart rate chest strap is on and connected to both the Polar Beat app and to the Concept 2 rowing machine. The water bottle and the towel are both in their places. The program is set and now it is time. It is time to settle in and row.
Most days the program is set for one steady, keep your heart rate low, hour. I was approached by someone on Twitter (@jjtron83) about this regimen. It sounded different, so I did the research. The credit goes to the East Germans in the late 1960’s. I had big goals and no solid plan to reach it. “Why not,” I told myself. At the worst it could only cost me a couple of months.
Hardwired for Success
In the early days of giving this a try, my body gave me some excellent feedback. I had a few form issues I needed to iron out. The biggest one was one of consistency. One moment I would be sitting tall in the saddle like a seasoned fox hunter. The next moment I would be slumped over like a seventy-year-old lifelong desk jockey. But as I put in the hours, the better my consistency in maintaining my form and posture. Don’t get me wrong, I have a long, long ways to go before this is where I want it to be, but it is starting to improve.
Another issue I was dealing with was timing. What does one stroke every three seconds look like? And much like posture, this is all about keeping focused. It doesn’t take long for me to go from intentional rowing to a Sunday paddle in the virtual pond. If I lose my focus, which I do often, my stroke rate goes all over the radar and my efficiency begins to suffer.
When it comes to mastering a skill, time is the magic ingredient.
With practice, and this is certainly a practice, everything is starting to improve. Rowing is becoming a part of my fitness identity. It is becoming a part of my DNA.
Back to those first few sessions…
With this program, there was a lot to monitor: stroke rate (set at 18 strokes per minute), 500 meter splits (this is more about establishing consistency than it is about the actual time), and heart rate (no higher than 145 beats per minute). I had a hard time settling into a rhythm because my focus was everywhere. I also had the television on. I figured this was grueling work, and it would be nice to have a distraction. A distraction was the last thing I needed. I needed focus, a hyper awareness of what was going on within my body. I am reminded of the words of my favorite samurai/philosopher Miyamoto Musashi who said, “If you know the way broadly, you will see everything.” I was not paying enough attention, and therefore I was seeing too little.
The mind is no longer mired in the details, but can see the larger picture. It is a miraculous sensation and practice will lead you to that point, no matter the talent level you are born with.
Once again it comes down to practice. It is like the veteran race car driver. Every lap and all the small details are important. But if he cannot see the big picture and does not have a competitive car that can make it to the end, he is not going to be successful. You must know the way broadly so you can see everything. With practice, you can go beyond the minor details and move on to the big picture.
A Breathing Meditation
I was a bit afraid of the boredom and that was why the TV was on in the first place. But I found something worse than boredom, I found an unnecessary distraction. Boredom is a killer for many. We have trained ourselves to be always engaged. Remember when kids used to be bored when they had nothing to do? But these days, this is a rarity. Now they have their phones, tablets, games, and the latest streaming platform. They are always engaged. And it is not just them. We have trained ourselves to be always engaged.
My rowing buddy, who introduced me to this program, calls his early morning sessions a breathing meditation. Over the last few years, I have been making meditation a practice, one that I continue to struggle with today. Once again, it is not easy to quiet an overly stimulated mind. But this practice of meditation teaches us one important lesson. It teaches us to be in the present. No past, no future, only here, in the now. Rowing without distraction is exactly that. You are in the present moment with every stroke, every recovery before the next stroke, every breath, and every beat of the heart. Nothing else in that moment matters. It is a perfect meditation practice which can only help throughout the day to get past the distractions and get into mindfulness.
The only real impediment to this is yourself and your emotions -boredom, panic, frustration, insecurity…The boredom will go away once you enter the cycle.
We don’t always have to be engaged. Having nothing to do is fine. It is good to take a moment and do nothing. We can use that time to say a prayer of gratitude, feel the sunshine, and enjoy the present moment. We can be at peace in the present moment, free of regret (the past) and anxiety (the future).
Faith in the Process
I believe with every fiber of my being, that this program will make me a more powerful and efficient rower. I believe that the wisdom, courage, and discipline I develop through this sport will make me a better person in other areas of my life, where those virtues can be applied.
Faith in the process. It is another lesson I am learning that goes beyond the rowing machine. It is another concept I am bringing to life.
The italicized words in this post come from the book Mastery by Robert Greene. It is an excellent book that I highly recommend and will become part of my stable of go-to books to read again in the future. The following paragraph is from page 77:
When it comes to mastering a skill, time is the magic ingredient. Assuming your practice proceeds at a steady level, over days and weeks certain elements of the skill become hardwired. Slowly, the entire skill becomes internalized, part of your nervous system. The mind is no longer mired in the details, but can see the larger picture. It is a miraculous sensation and practice will lead you to that point, no matter the talent level you are born with. The only real impediment to this is yourself and your emotions—boredom, panic, frustration, insecurity. You cannot suppress such emotions—they are normal to the process and are experienced by everyone, including Masters. What you can do is have faith in the process. The boredom will go away once you enter the cycle. The panic disappears after repeated exposure. The frustration is a sign of progress—a signal that your mind is processing complexity and requires more practice. The insecurities will transform into their opposites when you gain mastery. Trusting this will all happen, you will allow the natural learning process to move forward, and everything else will fall into place.
I would like to thank my rowing partner Jean-Jacques (@jjtron83). He introduced me to this plan and held me accountable by including me in his posts. He is a phenomenal rower and to me an insightful mentor/coach. He is a part of the good side of Twitter where positivity and uplifting others reign supreme.