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.

Seeing Everything

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.

Ready, Aim, Fire, and Then Repeat

Who doesn’t want to reach their goals? I know I do. And when it comes to goals, it seems like I have one for almost every area of my life. You name it, I probably have a goal for it: personal, professional, fitness, writing, financial, and spiritual. Yep, this list could go on. And though I want to conquer all of them, sometimes it is just not achievable. If I was a perfectionist, this would drive me crazy. Thank God I am not and no longer pretend to be. Instead of perfection, I am more interested in progression. Like the Taoist proverb says, “The journey is the reward.”

One of my main fitness goals these days has to do with rowing. I want to see how fast I can go and how high I can move up in the rankings for my age and weight. To reach my targets, I am rowing nearly every day. My mind is almost completely consumed with this and many of my decisions in other areas of my life depend on whether or not it will make me a better rower. Will I eat this or drink that? I don’t’ know, will it slow me down. Should I go to bed or can I stay up a little longer? Hmm, will I feel rested enough and be able to get up before 4 in the morning?

How likely is it that I can reach all my rowing goals? Probably not very, but I do know it won’t be from a lack of trying. And what happens if I don’t? My ego might take a blow, but everything else (fitness, discipline, nutrition, etc.) will be at a higher level. To progress in those areas without reaching my goal would still be worth it.

A goal is not always meant to be reached, it often serves simply as something to aim at. -Bruce Lee

I would invite you today to prepare your mind and ready your soul by choosing a difficult goal. Set your aim on it and make it all consuming. And then fire. Fire toward that goal with all you got. Fire with discipline, courage, and an unrelenting resolve. Keep firing. Keep hammering with all the physical and mental force you can muster. There are no cheat codes or short-cuts here, well except for maybe one.

Get after it and farewell.

Outperforming Yourself

I have been thinking about my fitness lately. I am not nearly where I want to be. Will I ever? Who knows? In the same manner, I have been thinking about how my level of fitness can make me a more virtuous person. Is this possible? I’m starting to think that living a life of virtue is a sacred duty that all should undertake. Fitness will either help me in this endeavor, or it will detract from this higher calling. There is no end to this journey of becoming more virtuous. Similarly, there is no end to this fitness journey.

How you can learn virtue through fitness:

Fitness and Wisdom. What are the keys to wisdom? Desire, knowledge, and understanding. One can even add listening to this. To get to your desired levels of fitness, you need to be constantly learning. You have to listen to your body and if possible listen to a coach who has more wisdom and experience than you do. Not only do you have to understand the exercises, but how your body moves and what it needs for fuel and recovery. This is a science, you are the scientist, and your body is the laboratory. And without an unmitigated desire, none of it will be really of any use. You have to want it.

Fitness and Discipline. On paper, it is an easy concept. Do the work. In practice, it is a whole different story. It is an area that I have struggled with over the years. Even when I thought I was being disciplined, I wasn’t. As a consequence, my results were never as good as I wanted it to be. And if you or I ever want to get the results we desire, we have to stick with it. We have to practice to become better. Because if we stop practicing, it is so much harder to get back going again. Remember, objects in motion tend to stay in motion.

Fitness and Justice. What? How does fitness and justice go together? Obviously, there are ethics involved in sporting events. Cheating is not allowed. Good conduct and following the rules is highly condoned. But how does that apply to general fitness? You have to do what’s right for your body. You can’t cheat yourself and expect to win. And when it comes to shortcuts, there are none. In this arena, you have to play the long game, and you have to play it right.

Fitness and Courage. The Ronin Musashi once said, “You can only fight the way you practice.” Breaking personal records and doing the things that once seemed impossible only comes through preparation. You have to practice to get the courage, otherwise you will be fool-hardy and prone to injury. The more you practice, the harder you can safely push the limits of your capabilities.

The greatest achievement is to outperform yourself. – Denis Waitley

Outperforming myself in all areas of my life is what I am trying to do. This week, I have been looking at how the rowing machine will teach me virtue. Here’s what I have learned so far:

Wisdom. You have to know the technique, or you could get hurt or even waste your time with nothing to show for it. A good coach will take you a long ways. Being in a community with other rowers, the same. Watch, listen, learn.

Discipline. I haven’t been doing enough or staying consistent. As a result, I am barely any better than I was when I first started. To meet my goals, this has to change. The only way that can happen is to spend more time doing it. “Practice, the master of all things.” –Augustus Octavius

Justice. No shortcuts. No pretending. I may never be a world champion rower, but I can become an ambassador for the sport. This means getting better at it, coaching others, and becoming a valued part of the community. This is the right thing to do if I truly believe in its merits.

Courage. I got a new Polar H10 heartrate chest strap this week. I was using my FitBit but was concerned it wasn’t accurately tracking my heart rate. The good thing about using this chest strap, which syncs to my rower, is knowing my pulse at all times. In the past, I would get into the 160’s and think I would die. Now I know that I can accurately push my HR into the mid 170’s and be fine. The courage comes in safely pushing my limits. When I am in the 160’s and sprinting, I know I can push a little harder and still be okay. As a bonus, I can also pace myself based on my HR zone and not gas out too early in the workout.

This is my third post in the Concept 2 Life category. I’m curious what I can learn about myself from this machine and hope that what I learn confers some kind of benefit to those who take the time to read.


Be Present

Concept 2 Life #2: Be Present

You have to have a target in mind. It is based on past performances, but it is only a target. You can remember your past, but you can’t live there. When you are on that machine, you have to be wholly there in the moment.

You can’t even look to far ahead. You can imagine the next segment. You can envision completing the work and what the results will look like in the future. But when in the saddle, it is only the next stroke that matters. All there, right now.

I first learned this lesson running on trails. Definitely no looking back. You can look ahead a bit, but you better be sure of your next foot strike. And though the headphones might help some zone out, I prefer not to do it. When I am on a trail in the woods, I want access to all my senses, especially my hearing.

Being present when rowing, running, or engaging in any exercise, is great training for being present in life. It is frustrating when you are speaking and you see the lost look in the face of the person you are conversing with. Imagine how they feel when they see that same look in your face. Now imagine when nothing else matters but that present moment. No distractions mentally, no interruptions from the outside. Just you present, able to listen to your partner, children, co-workers, or friends. Able to get the most out of your meetings, the most out of life.

If you are depressed, you are living in the past. If you are anxious, you are living in the future. If you are at peace, you are living in the present. –Lao Tzu

Quality Produces Speed

Concept 2 Life #1: Quality Produces Speed

As I am getting to know more about my new Concept 2 Rowing Machine, I am learning more about myself. Can I become a world-class rower? Not a chance. But can I become good? Really good? I think so. There is only one way to find out. I have to do it. I have to go through the experience and find out just how much I have mentally and physically.

First 5k: Slow with a high stroke rate

Last month, I rowed my first 5k. I thought my performance was pretty good and even posted it to my new Facebook group (Concept 2 Logbook). When the comments started rolling in, I was shocked. Members of the group asked about my stroke rate. Why was it so high? I didn’t have a clue about stroke rate and thus began one of my first lessons. For more, watch the Dark Horse Rowing video below:

With a lower stroke rate, I am able to maintain my form and really concentrate on a solid powerful stroke. The better my stroke, the faster I can cut through the imaginary water. But when I don’t pay attention to my stroke rate, it has a tendency to go higher. This may seem like I am doing more work, but the reality is that I am going slower. The faster my rate, the sloppier my form and the less power I have through the stroke.

I really noticed this when I copied a workout I saw on Instagram from Troy Atkins (@erglife on IG). The workout was a 2k warmup, a 5k workout, followed by a 2k cooldown. Midway through the 5k, I started to fatigue. I was drenched in sweat and struggling. As I continued to tire, my stroke rate began to rise and my pace began to slow. Simply put, I was not putting enough effort into each stroke.

I wonder…have I gone through life like this? I mean, not my whole life, but has there been times I have been busy, super busy, without getting much done? Has the quality of my work diminished in an effort to get more done? You know, I think there has been times. And where exactly did that get me? Not very far. Why? Because quality of work will always triumph and in the long run will cause you to go much farther and faster in life. Quality. Each time. Every time.

You can take the shortcut, but will it get you where you want to go? You can’t half-ass it and expect to get the same results as you would doing the full routine. You will only cheat yourself and fall short of your potential.

Quality produces speed. And if you have to go slower to produce quality, you will get where you want to go faster.

2k/5k/2k: Faster splits with a lower stroke rate