Archive for the 'ergblogging' Category

Sep 08 2013

Indoor Rowing Makes It to the Big Leagues

Published by under ergblogging,Rowing

It was only a matter of time before the exercise-cultists discovered the rowing machine, aka “ergometer”, aka “erg.”  I wondered why the concept of group rowing classes haven’t taken off — Chris Ives sort of pioneered the concept in the 90s, Swiss sculler Xeno Mueller has a devoted following out of his studio in Newport Beach, Josh Crosby breathed a new life into the Water Rower (the stylish piece of furniture rowed by Kevin Spacey in House of Cards) and now, thanks to Crossfit, the wheel-of-pain has come into its own as the flavor of the month for gym rats seeking the next big thing to go along with their smart wristbands and perpetual search for the new and different.

While it would be tempting to point at the Sunday New York Times Style Section article as either the moment in time when ergs came into their own …. or jumped the shark, it is good to see the misunderstood, much maligned erg make its debut in the national press as something other than a weird thing used by masochists.

You can read the piece here.

Here’s where Crossfit gets credit for taking the erg out of the boathouse and into the gym:

“Why the surge in popularity? Thank CrossFit — and nearly everybody selling indoor rowing does. That craze’s high-intensity strength and conditioning workouts sometimes require ergs, and CrossFit offers rowing certification for instructors. Some CrossFit boxes, as the gyms are called, offer temporary homes for group indoor rowing start-ups as they already have the machines and the space.”

My Yale buddy and fellow-rower Mike Ives gets a prominent mention in the piece:

“And on a steamy recent Tuesday at the West Side Y.M.C.A. in Manhattan, Michael Ives, 55, a former Yale rower (toting the gold medal he and his team had recently won at the Henley Masters Regatta in England) had to turn away some 10 hopefuls from one of his evening classes.

“I don’t think it’s a case of misery loves company,” Mr. Ives said. “It feels good, and it sounds good,” he added, referring to the rhythmic, almost meditative, whooshing of all of the ergs moving in unison. His class — pioneered by his younger brother Chris, widely credited with being the first to offer indoor group rowing, in 1995 — is a polished version of what crew teams might do off-season. There is no music, only the sound of Mr. Ives’s preternaturally calm voice offering pacing instructions.”

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Jan 27 2013

Countdown to agony

Published by under ergblogging,Rowing

The indoor rowing season’s first race happened this morning — Cape Cod Rowing’s Cranberry Crunch — and I am glad to have that behind me. Nothing personally compares to the pre-race dread I feel about the 2,000 meter distance. It’s short enough to demand a maximum effort sprint but long enough to punish the rower foolish enough to go out too fast with the dreaded “fly-and-die” strategy.

I finished under 7 minutes — always the big threshold — with a 6:53, coming in second in the master’s division to a beast of a man, Rick Martin, who smoked me by ten seconds with a 6:43. This was not my best shot — I rowed a 6:50 after Thanksgiving — but since excuses must be made I’ll blame the flu that knocked me out during the holidays. I’ve been underwater ever since, fighting to regain my lung capacity.

Now I have a month to get it together for the Crash-B sprints in Boston. I’ll buckle down on the paleo program, keep throwing some interval work into my usual Crossfit regimen, and hopefully come closer to the increasingly dim goal of breaking 6:30 in my last year in the 50-54 heavyweight class.

 

 

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Dec 30 2012

Erg race registration reminder

If by any remote chance you are thinking about competing on the indoor rowing circuit this winter, my two favorite races are now open for registration.

Cape Cod Rowing’s Cranberry Crunch, aka “The Cape Cod Indoor Rowing Championships” takes place Sunday, January 27 at Cape Cod Community College in West Barnstable, MA. Doors open at 10, racing begins at 11:30, distance is 2,000 meters across various age groups and by gender. There is a 500 meter sprint challenge as well. Registration is at Regatta Central for $20.

And the mother of all indoor regattas, the venerable CRASH-B Sprints, aka “The World Indoor Rowing Championships”, is taking place February 19, Sunday, at Boston University’s Agganis Arena. Registration deadline is January 14 and costs $25 for masters, $20 for collegiate and high school rowers. The distance is 2,000 meters across lightweight and heavyweight classes for men and women. If you miss the registration there is a walk-on “bullpen” race where you show up, pull your piece and get counted against your class. This is my last year in the men’s heavyweight 50-54 category and perhaps my eighth year racing at the Sprints.

 

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Dec 12 2012

Erg Playlists — 2013 edition from Row2K

I’ve written before about the necessity of a good playlist to make it through a winter’s worth of erg rowing. Now that I am training for the CRASH-B sprints (Feb. 17 in Boston, registration now open until Jan 7), I back to messing around with playlists on my android phone.

Row2k — the best source of all rowing news online — has a feature on erg playlists and a poll to vote for your favorite (I voted for Rammstein’s Du Hast as it is prominent on my go-to list and is utterly teutonic sturm und drang). I also respect the Rage Against the Machine on Row2k’s list, but have to puke on Jackson Brown. Now to go compile this sucker off of Amazon and load it up for my next bout with the Wheel of Pain.

If you row and you read Row2k you owe them a contribution. Send them $60 and get an awesome t-shirt. No site matches the depth of their coverage, the completeness of their calendar, the awesomeness of the features, the relevance of their news and the usefulness of their classifieds.

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Nov 25 2012

The erg beckons…..part 2

Published by under ergblogging,Rowing

As part of my annual and irrational race against age, I did the second 2,000 meter test on the erg yesterday, and cut eight seconds from the first a week before.

I pulled a 6:50.1, averaging 1:42.5 per/500 meters, five seconds faster than the 6:55 I set out to row in my quest to break 6:30 by mid-February. I tried to negative split the piece, but as I always do, I started too fast — pulling 1:28 over the first 100 meters before settling down and finishing the first quarter of the piece at an average 1:40 pace.

I settled down more to a 1:44 for the second 500 meters, went into the pain cave at the mid-point and maintained another 1:44, but brightened up and flogged a 1:41.3 to finish the last 500 meters in a grunting sprint of ugliness.

My coach Mark is determined to get these last 20 seconds standing between me and my goal stripped away, and is emailing me nutritional advice. His demand that I start “eating like a man” is duly noted. The pecan pie remnants are in the trash, no more obsessive-compulsive carrot stick crap, just back to the  paleo diet and some common sense.

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Nov 19 2012

Relentlessly Self-Improving

I confess I haven’t rowed on the water once this calendar year. My only excuse is a shitty start to the season with the torn bicep back in January and the five months of rehab. Now it looks like that same arm has a “slap tear” at the top of the bicep, and that means some specific movements are both painful and very weak, including lifting the shell out of its rack and getting it over head.

The winter injury happened just in to time to knock me out of the 2012 CRASH-B sprints (the “world championships” of indoor/erg rowing) and I never got motivatedenough  to wake up extra-early for the calm water and portage my scull down Old Shore Road to the harbor.   Crossfit and the tedium of physical therapy had my full attention and now, with Thanksgiving holiday ahead, it’s time to start hyperfocusing on the indoor rowing season which traditionally begins for me with the Concept 2 Holiday Challenge (200,000 meters between Thanksgiving and Christmas) and ends with the Crash-B’s in February.

This is my last year in the 50-54 men’s heavyweight division. In 2011 I tanked after going out too fast from the start and bonked in the last 500 meters, blowing a nice pace and finishing 14th with a 6:39.9.  I had won the Cape Cod “championships” at the Cranberry Crunch the month before with a 6:42 and was all full of myself and cocky at the Crash-Bs and went out too fast. I learned my lesson and left the arena at Boston University determined to come back better in 2012. I signed up for Crossfit Cape Cod the next week and have been training with an eye towards getting faster on the erg.

Today I did my first 2,000 meter test to set the baseline for my training over the next three months leading up to the race on February 17.  I climbed on the erg, stripped off my shirt, set the monitor for a 2,000 meter piece and decided anything under 7 minutes would be a good place to start. I made it. Barely, with a 6:58.8.  That meant an average 500 meter pace of 1:44.7. Respectable, but a long way from where I need to be in 12 weeks. Ironically, focusing on Crossfit has made me slower on the erg — proof that randomizing my exercise the Crossfit way between metabolic and strength conditioning isn’t as effective as my tried-and-true model of putting in tons of meters and shifting to short sprint intervals as the races grow near.

I logged my time on Concept2’s online ranking page and now stand 39th out of 616 heavyweight men ages 50-59. The winning time in my division last year at the Crash-Bs was a 6:11.4. The world record is 6:07.7 set by Andy Ripley in 1998. The world record — period — for men is 5:36.6.

Breaking seven minutes is a great goal for any guy in good shape, but being the competitive egomaniac I am, of course I am going to obsess on the winning times in my division and have my eyes on the next age group’s record of 6:18 set by Harvard/Olympian legend Dick Cashin.    As for this year. I would dearly love to get under 6:30 in 12 weeks. That means shaving 30 seconds between now and then. It’s improbable, if not impossible, but it is at least aggressive. The question is how to develop a training plan that will get me there while allowing me to do the daily Crossfit workouts, and taper in time for the big event?

If I pull one 2K per week — say every Saturday. I should be shaving 3 seconds off every week if I want to break 6:30 on February 17.  I bet if I were to attack a test piece now with the same intensity a race requires — “emptying the tank” — and leaving nothing to spare at the end, I might get to 6:45 with a superhuman effort. The question is how shave the last 15 seconds knowing full well the law of diminishing returns that sets in as one gets closer to the goal.

Developing a training plan to get from here to there is not a simple matter of plotting a line from 7 minutes on November 15 to 6:30 on February 15 and hoping a miracle will happen somewhere along that line. It won’t. Physiological adaptation doesn’t work that way.

In fact, to be more geeky about it. The best way to look at the challenge is not by gross finishing time, but the specific pace that has to be maintained to get there. For that I turn to the Concept 2 online pace calculator. The rowing machine has a monitor that counts down the meters, notes the strokes per minute and most prominently displays a big bold number — the erg’s equivalent to the speedometer on a car — the current pace for 500 meters. In Saturday’s baseline piece, my average split was 1:44.7. I didn’t row a a flat 1:44.7 every one of the 200 or so strokes it took to tick off 2,000 meters. I started with a 1:33 and gradually degraded to as slow as a 1:50 at one point. Fortunately, the monitor also displays an estimated finish time that one can improve by pulling harder, so having sat down with a sub-7 minute performance as my goal, I was able to keep the predicted time under 7 minutes and not let things decline and get out of hand.

Split strategies are essential to a great 2,000 meter performance. Using the Concept2 calculator and entering in 2,000 meters as the distance and 6 minutes, 29.9 seconds as the goal. I hit pace and it tells me that I would have to maintain a 1:37.4 pace on every stroke. Alas, I am not a machine so I start strong, fade, and then comes back to sprint to the finish. Hence my splits are all over the place. The experts say the trick is to pull negative splits — meaning go progressively faster every 500 meters and not do a “fly and die” and rush out of the start and go like mad until something goes very wrong (which it always does in a fly or die situation). The discipline required, not to mention the conditioning, is massive.

As Mike Tyson said, “everybody has a plan until they get punched in the face.” All of my pre-2k battle plans go out the window the second I start whipping myself back and forth trying to get the flywheel up to speed and realize the adrenaline is pushing me way too fast out of the blocks. After I settle down to my planned pace, and do my power-tens on the 500 meter marks, the dreaded visit to the pain cave begins about 750 meters or three minutes into the race, then comes what my friend Dr. Dan calls the “talk with Jesus” in the third quarter following the half-way point. All sorts of bad thoughts creep into the mind in during the 500 meters when the lactic acid is flaming, tunnel vision begins, and one’s head starts to roll around. This is when the debate between survival and simply continuing and just stopping and puking happens. In a boat you can’t stop. If you stop it is a disaster like an eight car rear end collision on a foggy highway. No one stops in a rowing race. It just can’t happen. Rowing is all about the inner debate between the survival part of the brain and the more noble “because it’s there” part. To hell with winning. The third quarter of a 2K race is about continuing. The last quarter is the realization that in 50 strokes the agony ends and the realization that anyone can do anything for two minutes.

I just need to figure out a practical path to get my numbers down in what should be an interesting test of the “quantified self.” It is a very profound psycho-physiological-spiritual question to ponder: if hope springs eternal as the cliche says, and if one is a “relentlessly self-improving” man (to quote Doctor Evil in Austin Powers), at what point does the aging ego accept the fate of all flesh and realize that the wheels have started to come off and indeed, as we age, the rower’s adage of “the older we get, the faster we were” is the bitter awful truth?

A 18-year old, prime-of-life specimen of immortal perfection can look at next year and rationally expect, with hard work, training, supplements, steroids, whatever …. to go faster. Athletes peak in their 30s. Most Olympians are in the 20s, some in their 30s, (depending on the sport of course. )The oldest successful Olympic rower is Sir Steve Redgrave, who won five gold medal in consecutive Olympics. He won his last in 2000 at the age of 38 and then retired, was knighted, and was the guy who ran the torch from the motorboat into the Olympic Stadium during London’s open ceremonies this past summer.

The best way to show the reverse parabola of progress would be to plot all the erg scores from the Crash-B’s against the age of the competitors. It would show a quick improvement from the teens up through the 30s, then a steep decline that accelerates through the 50s.   Masters rowers — 40 years and up– are  generally Type-A personalities, well funded, and obsessively competitive on and off the water.  I suspect not one of them accepts the truth that they are going to get slower next year, and most, like me, are throwing themselves into training plans, double-session workouts, expensive fish oil, post-workout protein supplements, weight regimens, and new boats (a new high end single scull costs well over $10,000 for 18′ and 35 pounds of carbon fiber). Speaking for myself — we’re fighting the clock.

To end this disquisition on age and improvement …. there is nothing like an ergometer to give one the naked lunch* truth that in the end, everybody has to slow down and stop some day. Eventually everybody runs out of water, has to check oars, and back down before slipping over the spillway and cascading, lifelessly over the foaming precipice. To that I call bullshit and hope to be the toothless cackling codger who walks out on the floor of the Agganis Arena in 2052 at the age of 94 and pulls a sub-ten minute piece and gives time and deterioration the middle finger.

*: defined by the William Burrough's novel Naked Lunch, where "Burroughs states in his introduction that Jack Kerouac suggested the title. "The title means exactly what the words say: naked lunch, a frozen moment when everyone sees what is on the end of every fork.""

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Oct 22 2012

Finding one’s faults

Saturday I competed in my first CrossFit competition — one for Master’s ages 50 to 55 — and failed miserably, completely humbling myself in front of a big crowd when two key movements failed me and disqualified me more or less. CrossFit   is the dynamic fitness regimen that has burst out of its humble garage origins in Santa Cruz and has now spread to become the fitness fad of our times, with corporate sponsorships proclaiming it as “The Sport of Fitness.” I took it up in 2008, did it alone in my garage by following the workout of the day posted on the Crossfit site, and eventually joined a local affiliate, Crossfit Cape Cod, in February 2010 after getting drubbed at the CRASH-B Sprints and realizing I needed to get serious to get competitive.

Competitive impulses are going to be the death of me. All jokes about “mind’s making promises bodies can’t fill” apply here. I ripped my left bicep off of the tendon that anchored it to my forearm last January, I’ve trashed my back countless times on the rowing machine, my shins are ripped apart from deadlifts and rope burns, my shoulders feel like they’ve been beaten with sticks … all in the hope I can actually get faster when the truth is I am doomed to get slower.

The morning competition started with thrusters. I thought I was doing pretty good with 27 in one minute. But no. That was only good enough to tie for fifth place out of eight. It was just about the only thing that went well all day.

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Then came six rounds of jump rope, pull-ups, and 85-pound cleans. Rope, I can endure. Cleans I can also endure. Pull ups? Total failure. I made the first round okay, but kept failing the subsequent rounds as my arms gave out. I kept throwing myself at the bar, but the judges wouldn’t give me the movement and I came in last.

Second round a few hours later started with an overhead snatch followed by three overhead squats. I had two minutes to hit my max. I did an “insurance” round at 115, then went up to 135 before calling it quits. That got me a third place in the third workout.

The fourth and final workout involved burpee box jumps, wall balls and toes-to-bar. Basically hanging from a pull up bar and swinging my body up until my toes hit the bar I was hanging from. I made it through four rounds then could go no further, and spent most of the time on the clock fruitlessly swinging, and missing. Again, last place. I finished seventh out of eight for the entire competition.

The agony of defeat. I slunk off the floor, tail between my legs, determined to fix my issues on the bar. And so it goes as old age approaches. Here’s the final results at CrossFit New England. They were awesome hosts.

 

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Dec 02 2011

Modern Muzak

Muzak, also known as Elevator Music, has always been a great joke. Hearing a Steely Dan tune like “Do It Again” while leafing through a six-month old issue of Field & Stream at the dentist is its own special circle of hell, especially when the mind starts getting infected and singing along silently to the bowdlerized tune (“Back, Jack, Do it Again ….”). And many a great movie has used elevator music to great comic effect. My favorite being Dawn of the Dead (yes, it’s Zombie week at Churbuck.com).

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Muzak, at least the true commercial version, is supposed to have a specific effect on the listener. According to the Wikipedia:

“Elevator music is typically set to a very simple melody, so that it can be unobtrusively looped back to the beginning. In a mall or shopping center, elevator music of a specific type has been found to have a psychological effect: slower, more relaxed music tends to make people slow down and browse longer.”

Which brings me to my constant musing about the effect that background music has on certain behaviors. I’ve written in the past* about the way that certain music can improve my ergometer results while other songs effectively kill it. This isn’t your usual athletic lockeroom get-psyched cliche music.  I’m not referring to Eye of the Tiger or House of Pain’s Jump Around. That Rocky soundtrack stuff isn’t what gets my 500 meter splits down an additional two seconds. Indeed, there is some academic research that confirms that some music can improve aerobic results but I’m too lazy at the moment to hunt it down.

When I tended bar it was a given that loud music drove alcohol consumption higher.  At some point in the evening the manager would always step in back, find the big volume control, and crank it when the joint was good and buzzed. Of course the din made it impossible to hear some desperate dipsomaniac shout an order over the heads of her fellow patrons for a pina colada, a peach daiquiri and a sloe gin fizz shortly after midnight on a Saturday night when the only thing that would keep the bar out of the weeds was sloshing wine into glasses and pulling drafts out of the taps. “What?! What?!” we’d shout, handing over a napkin and a pencil with a shrug and the implied suggestion to write it down. Obviously loud music made it difficult to conduct a conversation and all that shouting of “WHAT?” led to a subtle anxiety that could only be slaked by another drink and another drink after that.

Silent restaurants are spooky. I suppose a low volume soundtrack gives one the illusion of being in a sound bubble where one’s conversation can’t be overheard by the next table.

When I was writing unpublished novels and short stories in great earnest during college, I found I could only enter that special creative zone if there was music playing. Loud music. Something about writing to rock and roll got me into a typing groove. I can read fiction with soft music in the background — jazz, etc. — but can’t concentrate on academic level stuff if there are lyrics involved — the word absorption gets mixed up.

My big revelation, and this goes to the post’s headline, is my re-discovery of the Ambient genre and how perfectly it suits a day of concentration. In the mid-70s, when I was a college student, I had two roommates with very eccentric tastes in avant garde music. I’m talking stuff by Morton Subotnick, Sun Ra, Stomu Yamashta and most memorably, Brian Eno, in particular his Ambient 1: Music for Airports. For some reason, ambient is way back on my personal playlist these days.

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I think of Eno as the father of ambient music — he’s a genius at elevating background noise from elevators and waiting rooms to high art. Another godfather of ambient has to be Vangelis, particularly his soundtrack for Blade Runner:

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So, it’s strange as I age that my taste is music is not the chestnuts from my youth; one more rendition of Freebird or Green Grass and High Tides Forever and I’ll lose it. What’s surprising me is how my tastes have swung to utterly obscure musicians I would never have encountered were it not for the random intelligence behind Last.fm. So, with that said, here’s some names that deserve to be checked out. This is great music to plug into in the background when you’ve got other things to do.

  • Aphex Twin
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  • Eskmo ( a favorite video)
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  • Lorn
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  • Boards of Canada (note the YouTube comment, “The Ultimate Homework-Doing Music”)
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  • Carbon Based Lifeforms
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  • Loscil
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  • Stendeck
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  • Totakeke
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  • Monolake
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  • Robot Koch
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*: My erg playlist, from 2006 pretty much is holding firm. Suggestions always welcome as “erg playlist” seems to be a top search term driving people to this blog.

  1. Scum of the Earth: Rob Zombie
  2. Who Was in My Room Last Night: The Butthole Surfers
  3. Jesus Built my Hot Rod: Ministry
  4. Ain’t my Bitch: Metallica
  5. Rusty Cage: Soundgarden
  6. Sex Type Thing: Stone Temple Pilots
  7. New World Order: Ministry
  8. Hey Man, Nice Shot: Filter
  9. My Own Summer – Deftones
  10. Astro-Creep: White Zombie
  11. Them Bones: Alice in Chains
  12. Time Bomb: Godsmack
  13. Blizzards, Buzzards, Bastards: Scissorfight
  14. Du Hast: Rammstein
  15. God Save the Queen: Sex Pistols
  16. You Think I’m Not Worth a Dollar, But I Feel Like a Millionaire, Queens of the New Stone Age
  17. Jump Around: House of Pain
  18. Liberate: Slipknot
  19. She Sells Sanctuary: The Cult
  20. California Uber Alles: The Dead Kennedys

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Aug 02 2011

Fixing Yourself

A year ago I could barely raise my right arm over my head due to a partial tear in my rotator cuff suffered one icy day when I slipped and fell on my ass while filling the bird feeders. A trip to the surgeon, a claustrophobic half hour in the MRI machine desperately fighting the urge to squeeze the claustrophobia panic bulb, and next thing I knew I was scheduled for surgery and what veterans of the procedure said was a nasty multiple-month recovery involving sleeping upright in a chair and being incapable of performing a certain unmentionable act of ablution.

I decided to cancel the operation and fix the issue myself. I think I’ve done it. How exactly, I can’t say, but for the most part it’s been a lot of work focused on shoulder strength, stretching, and some quasi yoga poses. A piece in today’s New York Times by Jane Brody confirms what I learned myself over the past eight months: you can fix yourself with some simple moves. A basic yoga stretch promoted by a New York physiatrist, Dr. Loren Feldman, has helped other rotator cuff sufferers avoid the knife (or scope).

I’ve gone through physical therapy for various muscular-skeletal ailments over the years, stretching rubber bands and lifting light weights, but nothing has done more to help me fix my messed up body more than Kelly Starrett’s Mobility Work Out of the Day, or M-WOD blog. Starrett is the owner of San Francisco CrossFit and a guru to CrossFitters for his simple message that “every human being should be able to perform basic maintenance on themselves. If you have a lacrosse ball, a foam roller, some pylometric bands and the will, his daily video posting will unmess your joints and muscles in no time. His first work out of the day, posted a year ago, is humbling and very, very primal — sit in a squatting position like an Afghani villager in the dust for ten minutes. Try it. I made two minutes the first time.

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I just read Tim Ferriss’ Four Hour Body,  an interesting exercise in one man’s obsession with understanding his physiology and improving it without wasting hours of fruitless labor and bad diets. The punchline is this: time expended does not equate to results. A paleo diet (no grains, sugar, dairy, legumes) administered like a drug (time the intake of protein, boost the metabolism with lemon juice, cinnamon and certain supplements), a CrossFit like regimen of short, intense, but functional movements, and an obsession with measurement can yield significant results in very little time.

Anyway, self maintenance is a good thing, it’s cheap, and it can deliver great results if you stick with it. So get a lacrosse ball, bookmark the MWOD blog, and read what you can about the science that is turning the FDA food pyramid on its head.

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Jul 22 2011

100 Days of Burpees and other proof that the body is evil and must be punished …

Nearly six months of formal Crossfit training and the results are pretty remarkable. I won’t post pictures of my oily muscles, but let’s just say the day I was able to execute an unassisted classic pull-up was a big personal victory. Now, it’s all about the Work Out of the Day and getting stronger and ready for the next big Churbuckian athletic goal — the 2012 World Indoor Rowing Championships.

Yesterday I embarked on what may prove to be my undoing: the 100 Day Burpee Challenge. If pull ups were my first goal, mastering burpees is next on the list (that and doing a lot of consecutive double-under rope skips, but that’s a digression for another day).  What is a burpee? The New York Times recently asked the question : “What is the best single exercise?”:

“Ask a dozen physiologists which exercise is best, and you’ll get a dozen wildly divergent replies. “Trying to choose” a single best exercise is “like trying to condense the entire field” of exercise science, said Martin Gibala, the chairman of the department of kinesiology at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario.

“But when pressed, he suggested one of the foundations of old-fashioned calisthenics: the burpee, in which you drop to the ground, kick your feet out behind you, pull your feet back in and leap up as high as you can. “It builds muscles. It builds endurance.” He paused. “But it’s hard to imagine most people enjoying” an all-burpees program, “or sticking with it for long.”

Burpees suck. Especially for big, tall people like me as it involves throwing oneself to the ground into a planked push up position, performing that pushup, and then leaping to one’s feet and jumping in the air with an overhead hand clap. Here’s the video demonstration:

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I hate burpees. Dread them. Nothing destroys me faster or more completely than a round of burpees. They make me feel sick, panicked, and woefully old. Hence I love them. This morning’s Cape Cod CrossFit WOD (called the “Airforce WOD”) was a simple round of five relatively light weight exercises, 20 thrusters, sumo high pull deadlifts, push presses, front squats and overhead squats at 95 pounds. Doing 100 lifts against the clock is hard, very hard. But leave it to CrossFit to make it horrible by specifying that every minute, on the minute, you stopped what you were doing to perform four of the evil Burpees.

The origins of the Burpee are in dispute, but I like this explanation:

“The exercise may have been originated by a man named Lieutenant Thomas Burpee (1757-1839). He was an officer in the New Hampshire Militia during the Revolutionary War and was described as “having the innate Burpee fondness for martial exercises” in A History of the Town of New London, Merrimack County, New Hampshire. Lt. Burpee may have used the combination of pushups and squat thrusts as a means of drilling, conditioning, and disciplining the troops under his command. In addition, the exercise may have also been used by the troops as a way to stay warm during the winters in wartime New England.”

Being who I am and believing in attacking weaknesses head on, I am embarking on the dreaded 100 Day Burpee Challenge. Simple enough. One burpee on day one. Two on day two ….98 on day 98, 99 on day 99 ……

I am on day two and all is well with the world. Then again, I managed to have 52 inflicted on me this morning at  while doing the aforementioned “Airforce WOD.” I promise not to blog every dreary day ahead. And yes, there is a cult around this particular silly challenge or, at the very least, a blog.

 

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Feb 20 2011

Not good enough – CRASH-B Sprints

Published by under ergblogging,Rowing

6 minutes, 39.9 seconds — good enough for 14th place in the 50-54 men’s heavyweight division.

But not what I was looking for. I had gone in hoping to pull an average 500 meter split of 1:38, but completely collapsed in the last 500, allowing three other guys in my heat to pass me in the last 250 meters after holding third place for most of the race. What happened? Negative mindset from the start, a serious desire to put down the handle at 750 meters, then a searing burning pain in my lungs unlike any I’ve felt before. Not my day.

Thank heavens my friend Marta (she of the Charge of the Light Brigade quote in the previous erg post’s comments). She sat behind me and coxed me out of an abject failure and some modicum of victory in that I beat my previous season’s best (6:42) from the Cape Cod Cranberry Crunch and kept my average split just under 1:40. As I told her before the race, keeping the split out of the forties was the main thing. Without her perfect coxing and exhorting I couldn’t have done that.

Michele Marullo from Rome took the race with a record breaking 6:10. Amazing, simply amazing to watch him pull that off.

Well, now I have a mark to beat next year. Onwards to Crossfit Cape Cod and some serious strength training before water rowing resumes in a month.

Here’s the replay of my heat:

6 responses so far

Feb 18 2011

Countdown to Agony

In 48 hours, at 9:40 a.m., I’ll be sitting on ergometer #19 on the floor of Boston University’s Agganis Arena, staring at a small square LCD screen flashing the words: “Sit Ready” “Attention” “ROW.”  While I dread it, I have to ask: how awesome is it to participate in the world championships of anything? Even if it is the world championships of indoor rowing? Sunday is the 30th anniversary of the event, which started in Harvard’s Newell Boathouse in the grim winter following the cancellation of the 1980 Olympics (thanks to Jimmy Carter’s Cold War displeasure with the Russian occupation of Afghanistan).  What was a humorous way to kill the tedium of winter training among a few elite Cambridge rowers has now turned into a major affair involving a couple thousand competitors and 10,000 spectators.

Then I’ll be off and puffing for the next six and a half minutes until I pull the handle about 200 times and manage to spin the flywheel at a rate faster than the other 80 or so heavyweight men in their early 50s sitting on identical machines next to me. The results won’t be pretty. The experience will definitely be ugly, and those six-and-a-half interminable minutes will likely be the worst six-and-a-half minutes I experience in 2011.

Or they may be the  best. In the end ergometer racing proves the cliche of the man who hits his head against a wall because it feels so good when he stops.

I’m tapering now with one light,  last row today on the deck in the springlike sunshine, a pyramid of ten, twenty, and thirty strokes at my race pace, then a rare day off tomorrow before Sunday’s moment of truth.  Hydrating, carbohydrate loading, stretching, fretting over my warm-up and race plan, always anxious about whether to set a pace and goal that is within or hopelessly out of reach. Whatever happens, the event provides the venue and the inspiration to dig a little deeper and try a little harder than I would alone, in the shadows of my garage, racing myself against the clock.

Here’s a virtual replay of the finals in my event last year (I didn’t participate).


6 responses so far

Jan 30 2011

The Older We Get the Faster We Were

I’m using the same line twice in two weeks, but what the hell.

Rowed my first formal 2,000 meter indoor rowing race of 2011 today at the Cape Cod YMCA — the annual Cape Cod Cranberry Crunch sponsored by Cape Cod Rowing:  the local club that rows on Lake Wequaquet in Centerville. I was entered in the men’s heavyweight division — there were eight of us ranging from maybe 15 years old up to the 60s — and there were races through the afternoon for various categories of girls, women, lightweights and heavyweights.

My race — the combined boys & men’s 2K — was first, so I started warming up almost as soon as I arrived, got good and loose, peeling off layers of clothing until I was conspicuously perched on the ergometer in lane one in my stylish Union Boat Club uni-suit, aka according to my wife, “The Dink Suit”

The eight ergs were networked and a lane display was projected on the wall showing little yellow boat icons with our names next to it. I rocked back and forth a couple times, mouth bone dry, and the monitor counted down — Attention. Ready. Row!

I did a series of short starting strokes to get the flywheel up to speed, and then lit up at 36 strokes a minute for ten strokes with an average split of 1:20. I had written out a race plan on an index card that was on the erg between my feet, and even though I felt like Superman on Crack in the first minute, I resisted the dreaded Fly-And-Die strategy and settled down to 26 strokes per minutes at a 1:41 for 250 meters, and then further down to 1:44 for the next 250.

At the 500 meter mark — 25 percent of the way through — I started to breath twice on each stroke — exhaling at the finish and the catch and inhaling on the drive and recovery as my metabolism shifted into oxygen deficit and my heart rate was climbing into the 160 range.

I did a hard power ten at the 500 meter mark and saw the 17 16 year-old kid, novice Andrew Pereira on the erg next to me — a 220 lb., 6’5″ beast from New Bedford Community Rowing who was definitely going to kick my butt — was cranking a lot faster and pulling away. I was tempted to ignore the index card and chase, but a plan is a plan and the whole purpose of today’s race was to gauge my speed three weeks before the world championships and the plan was to break 7:00 and aim for 6:45.

I felt great in the second 500 picking up the pace to 1:43 and rowed a power ten at the half-way mark. I ignored Pereira r and his coach exhorting him next to me, and stayed on plan, rowing the third 500 at 1:42, and the beginning of the final 500 at 1:41. With 250 meters or about 25 strokes left I “emptied the tank” and sprinted at 1:38. Ten strokes in and the junior was done, finishing with a 6:31. I put the handle down at 6:42.2, fast enough to win the adult division, but second to Pereira who won the Boys Division and had the fastest overall time of the day.

I won some schwag for the effort and felt good enough about the race to brag in a blog post. I’m now ranked 22nd in the world for the 50-55 heavyweight men’s class.

9 responses so far

Jan 19 2011

I Erg, Therefore I Am

It’s the depths of ergometer season — when northern rowers are off the water and on their rowing machines racking up meters and laying down a base of fitness for the spring racing circuit.  Having racked up somewhere in the neighborhood of 20 million meters since I started erging in earnest in 1995, I have mixed emotions about a device that I spend an average of 45 minutes a day on, third in terms of device time after my bed and desk chair.  It’s the extreme simplicity of the machine, the fact that I like to take my exercise sitting down, and the unblinking feedback its little computer gives me from one stroke to the next that  makes my rowing machine much more than a way to stay fit.

In some ways my ergometer is a daily test, a check-in between me and my willpower, a place to set goals, to even compete against others, but ultimately a place to zone out in a sweaty, 170 heartbeats and 26 strokes per minute cadence of exertion that leaves me miraculously charged for another 24 hours. Erging is all about goals. Micro goals of getting more than 8,000 meters in 30 minutes, or setting a personal best in the standard 2,000 meter race distance.  Macro goals like rowing 2,000,000 meters in one year, or 200,000 between Thanksgiving and Christmas. Erging is about competing, against the published times of other rowers, sometimes impossible times set by Olympians, but nevertheless times that somewhere deep inside one’s ego reasons is possible to beat if you work hard enough.

Ergs are all about hope and possibilities, the optimism that one can be better tomorrow than they were yesterday. Unfortunately, as my friend Charlie Clapp (silver medal in 1984 Olympics) is fond of saying: “The older we get, the faster we were.”

Alone in the garage, door open onto the village center, watching the runners and strollers and traffic slide by, plugged into some electronica-trance music, stoner rock, or industrial metal,  sawing back and forth, back and forth, the thoughts that creep into my mind as I fight to keep my splits low and my form composed are amazing and nagging like a bad feverish dream. Thoughts of guilt over not trying hard enough, of not working hard enough, of eating that crap the night before, or skipping a day due to some aching ailment or another. But finishing a workout and beating a goal leaves me with a charge of victory that follows me off the erg and stays with me for the rest of the day.

There are moments of transcendence in rowing when everything suddenly goes very zen and effortless, when a flood of power and adrenaline surges and makes you fly. Rowers call this “swing” and it’s a rare but sublime state that only rowers can understand when eight people in one boat suddenly click and the sum of the whole rises as close to perfection as an imperfect world has to offer. The right song, the right point in my training, and the erg can deliver the same brief moments of swing, when suddenly everything is right in the world and my legs, my arms, my back are twice as strong as they were an instant before.

The monotony of the erg is meditation. Swinging back and forth as if riding the end of a metronome clicking away on top of a piano. 26 strokes a minute. Ten meters per stroke. 500 meters in two minutes means 1000 meters in four. The mind does the arithmetic over and over and over, a Rainman insanity of counting through the stroke (one-two-three-four), the piece, the session, all while the machine blinks out its numbers, making stark judgments and humbling the best intentions and plans laid out at the start.

In two weeks the racing begins. First the Cape Cod championships — The Cranberry Crunch — when a couple dozen local rowers come together at the YMCA to endure the hell of a 2,000 meter race. Then, in late February, the World Indoor Rowing Championships, or CRASH-B Sprints, a wild affair with thousands of rowers from around the world — Olympians to senior citizens — competing in their age groups and weight classes for the coveted Hammer trophy.  Words cannot describe the agonizing anticipation one feels before the start signal is given — the foreknowledge that in just a couple minutes one’s body will begin to suffer an agony unlike anything experienced. Think of surgery without anesthesia combined with suffocation and a beating with a blunt object. The vision goes after a while shrinking into a little tunnel focused on the monitor; the lungs burn, thighs turn into wooden blocks, and the head begins to loll around and strange noises come out of it — grunts and moans as first 500 meters, then 1000 (halfway!), and then the dreaded wall of hell until the final 500 when anything is doable and questions of survival give way to the anticipated joy of stopping.

Finish and look to the left — people are still in agony, sawing away. Look to the right, the same, one after another letting go of the handle in a personal victory of having survived the worst 7 minutes of their life. The scores are posted, the judgment is final.

Erg scores are a modern rower’s badge of honor — exposed for all to see. While ergs don’t float and great ergers don’t always make great rowers on the water, the scores are crucial, grounds for invitation to training camps and college recruiting.  There were no real ergs when I rowed in college. Coaches made judgments and selection based on seat-racing and on the water performance. But as soon as Concept2 introduced the first machines in the early 1980s the sport was transformed.

Now erging is a sport unto itself — Indoor rowing. No one is keener on it than the British, who have turned out some amazing ergers over the last twenty years. From English prisons to the Royal Navy, erging is a big deal in England, and nearly every country on the Continent has its own national championships. There have even been suggestions that the sport become an Olympic event.

I suspect I’ll erg right up to the end. Rolling through the meters, thanking the Wheel of Pain for keeping the pounds off and giving me the chance to eat another slice of birthday cake and not huff and puff when I bound up a flight of stairs.  Today, with on-the-water rowing seeming so far away, I want nothing more than to sit in an actual boat on a sunny day and glide over smooth waters under my own propulsion; but once there I know I’ll miss the stability of the machine, the way it lets me pound away without fear of capsizing or running backwards into a dock.

9 responses so far

Dec 07 2010

Online coaching: rowing resources

Published by under ergblogging,Rowing

This post is for fellow erg-nerds training for the World Indoor Rowing Championships on February 20th in Boston. With less than 90 days to the worst 6 minutes and 30 seconds (I hope) of physical torture you can imagine, the pressure is building to get going on a training plan designed to make me peak on that chilly Sunday morning when I climb onto my assigned Concept 2 ergometer in Boston University’s Agganis Arena.

Preparing for competition is what coaching is all about, but since I am too far away from my rowing club in Boston to avail myself of the coaches there, I have to train by myself. Because rowing is an extremely quantitative sport — the embodiment of the classic equation Distance = Rate X Time — indoor rowers spend all their time staring at this, the Performance Monitor:

Add a heart rate belt and some software such as RowPro, and the process of training becomes extremely logical and frankly can become very complicated. Assuming a training schedule over a six-day week — with the seventh day taken off for recovery — designing a program to achieve constant improvement without over training or incurring the dreaded lower back strain is very complicated. Fortunately there are a few online options which are very effective — some free, and some expensive.

A popular free program is the Wolverine Plan which was invented by Mike Caviston, coach of the University of Michigan’s women’s crew team. Like all good training programs it begins with a series of tests to establish a baseline, and then spells out, in complex detail, a regimen of varying intensities (watts), paces (strokes per minute), and duration (time and intervals of work and rest) that in theory will yield maximum performance on the day of the race. It worked for Caviston as he holds the world record for his age group and has gone on to be a trainer of Navy SEALS. The Wolverine is very popular, free, and avidly followed by the competitive indoor rowing community, but the most common criticism is its complexity and emphasis on long (60 to 75 minute) workouts at mind-numbingly low stroke rates.

An easier version of the Wolverine Plan which I followed for six weeks — or two three-week cycles — is the Pete Plan, developed by British indoor rower Pete Marston. I achieved some solid improvement on the Pete Plan, but since it feels more oriented to a 5,000 meter distance (under 20 minutes) I went looking for something more oriented to the 2,000 meter, or sprint distance. I shaved 7 seconds off of my average 500 meter times over 5000 meters in six weeks thanks to this plan.

One great online coach is Boston University’s head crew coach Tom Bohrer who, with his wife C.B. Sands, a former elite world championship rower, publish a great training plan at TBFIT.com. Tom was my coach at the Union Boat Club before taking the B.U. coaching job, but his online workouts are very effective and mix in an emphasis on core workouts (abdominal) and weight/strength training not found in the Wolverine or Pete Plans. TBFIT is a subscription model, but Tom’s 2K training plan is very effective and led me to my personal best at the CRASH-B sprints in 2004, a 6:28.7.

I am in the first week of a new online program designed by the former Danish Olympic coach, Bo Vestergaard, called the Rojabo Plan. The first month is free, then it converts to a paid subscription priced at $47 a month (now discounted to $14.99 a month).  Rojabo starts with two tests — six minutes of rowing at specific stroke rates in one minute increments, then an evil endurance test where one tries to maintain a certain watt output over time. Based on those results the system generates a daily training plan which feels very effective and is designed with the specific goal of 2,000 meters on February 20th. How effective won’t be known until I retake the endurance test in a couple weeks to gauge my improvements, but if exhaustion and muscle aches are any indication, it’s working.

Combined with Concept2’s annual Holiday Challenge where the goal is to row 200,000 meters between Thanksgiving and Christmas, my daily hour of indoor rowing (technically outdoor as I do it on the deck or in the garage) is keeping me both fit and sane.

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Nov 03 2010

Paleo Pete

Published by under ergblogging,Rowing

With indoor rowing season under way, I’ve adjusted my exercise  and training routine around the magic date of February 20, 2011 — the date of the 2011 C.R.A.S.H.-B sprints, aka the World Indoor Rowing Championships. Getting ready for this ugly seven minutes of agony is a long process entailing lots of time on the ergometer and weight and stretching work to protect my back.

Since September I’ve been logging steady paced distance pieces: 20 to 40 minutes at a stately pace of 2:00 minutes/500 meters at 26 strokes per minutes (spm), with a shift last month to interval training designed to build endurance and lower my splits to the sprint levels I’ll need to do well in late February. I’m on a training model called the “Pete Plan” which mixes short intense interval work with long distance pieces six days a week. The Plan follows a three week cycle that repeats itself over and over — giving me an indication every 21 days of progress and improvement.

Ergometer training is  brutally boring – a distance piece lasting an hour can accumulate 1,500 strokes, back and forth, like a metronome, with no variation or change other than the feedback delivered by the performance monitor — the computer that indicates effort, time and distance. Following the Pete Plan provides some measure of variation — a sample workout might consist of eight short hard sprints lasting 500 meters with two minutes of rest in between.  The next day might be a leisurely hour long piece.

The key is a good iPod.

While indoor rowing does a good job at working a varied set of muscle systems it can breed bad habits, especially in the lower back region. To compensate one has to stretch a lot and focus off the ergometer on the core.  I spend a lot of time stretching hamstrings, doing situps, and evil medicine ball exercises called Russian Twists. A little weight work a few times each week, and one day of full rest to recover and then it’s on to the next week in the Pete Plan cycle. Everything is logged on the Concept 2 log book, but I’ve pimped my erg with a program called RowPro that interfaces off of my ThinkPad via a USB cable plugged into the performance monitor. I could, if I wished, compete virtually against other indoor rowers over the internet via the Oarbits server, but I use the program to build the custom interval workouts in the Pete Plan, and then upload the results into my Concept 2 log book.

Diet is a big issue — I want to lose weight but not do something goofy that will leave me low on gas for the machine. Thanks to the example set by a good friend, I’ve moved pretty religiously to a “paleo” or “caveman” diet that eschews grains, legumes, dairy and sugar and focuses on lean protein (chicken, fish, eggs), carbs from vegetables (broccoli, sweet potato, cauliflower, etc.) and fats from things like olive oil, avocados and nuts.  Paleo is big in the Crossfit community (which I still subscribe to, but less ardently due to rotator cuff issues) and there is a ton of material and recipes throughout the web. I bought The Paleo Solution by Robb Wolf. The science is a little tedious — as it is in most diet books — but the concept is very simple.

The primary secret to training diets is to log what one eats — obsessively — and to aid in that task I use the Livestrong “MyPlate” app for the iPad, using it as a calorie counter and goal tracker.

The results so far:

  • Weight is down 22 pounds since June
  • My rankings are decent, but not great:
  • My splits are dropping dramatically, especially for the benchmark 5,000 meter piece.

4 responses so far

Jan 16 2010

Phil Odence on barefoot running

Published by under ergblogging

My buddy Phil Odence has started a blog on barefoot running.  I only run when pursued, so not my bag, but still, anyone who pounds the pavement barefoot in eastern Massachusetts in February deserves a shout-out.

http://odence.wordpress.com/

Phil also tweets as @podence and does biz dev for Black Duck Software.

One response so far

May 31 2009

iErg – how to listen to music on an ergometer

Published by under ergblogging,Rowing

Indoor exercise is tedious and without good tunes, it can be worse than boring and more like torture. Since 1994 I’ve been rowing on my Concept2 ergometer and trying to perfect the perfect “mix-tape.” The last 15 years have also seen me struggle to figure out how to listen to that perfect set of songs without a) horrifying people around me by playing them out loud, in the open and b) killing myself or my personal electronics.

At first I used a Sony portable CD player – one of those little round things – and set it next to the erg on a chair. I’d climb onto the rolling seat, put on the “sports” earphones, and then haul away for 30 minutes to an hour, the thin wire swaying back and forth with just enough slack not to pull the player off the chair and crash it to the floor. Too much slack and the rolling seat would roll over the cable, jam the wheels, bring me to an abrupt halt (not cool when one is pushing a 200 beat per minute heart rate) and trash the earphones.

Then I moved to a MiniDisc player and put it inside of a neoprene fanny pack/belt thing that made me look like an American tourist with black socks and madras shorts in the Bagatelle gardens. That was okay, but when I travelled I had to make sure I had the thing as no belt meant no tunes.

In 2002 or so I joined the iPod movement. I moved to an armband holster thing popular with joggers/runners. That was okay except it constricted the blood supply to my burgeoning biceps and I had to wind the cord around and around the iPod to avoid the aforementioned cord-meets-wheels-surprise.

Forget that little solution at home when I travelled, or lose it, and the iPod would get stuck inside of my rowing shorts – or “trou” as rowers refer to them – a tight lycra-spandex bike short sort of thing without the butt-pad. Rowing shorts are better than petri dishes for growing new biological weapons, and let’s just say you never want to borrow my iPod. Never.

A few weeks ago, while reading the Union Boat Club of Boston’s email listserv, I saw a fellow member recommend a solution called the iErg. This is a fabric cover that fits over the rolling seat of my Concept 2 erg, with a side pocket for the iPod. Brilliant. Ten minutes later I had PayPal-ed an order and within a week it arrived.

Perfect solution. I strongly recommend it. And I paid $25 for it, just so you know I am not blowing blogola/pay-per-post b.s.

3 responses so far

Apr 26 2009

Erg Blogging for 04-26-2009

Date: 04-26-2009
Distance: 5000 meters
Time: 20:40.0
Split: 2:04.0
Comments: Testing erg score integration with blog.
Tags: workout

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Feb 21 2009

Post-rib recovery

I just climbed off the erg for the first time since Jan 7. Six weeks without exercise (other than beach walks) has left me fat and out of shape. So back on to the erg I went today — 5,000 meters in under 20 minutes so the news wasn’t as bad as I thought it was. Rotator cuff not affected by the stroke, so it would appear I have no more excuses and can try to work off the pounds in anticipation for the first water row on or around St. Pat’s.

YouTube Preview Image

I have over 500,000 meters logged so far in the Concept 2 log book for the year (C2’s year begins May 1), maybe I can get another 100K onto the books before the calendar resets.

Tomorrow is the CRASH-B sprints in Boston. I have an entry, but I think my best effort might be a feeble 7:30-7:45. Maybe I should man up and waddle up there anyway. Guilt will weigh on me for the rest of the day. And this was to be the year I went for a 6:15 race as it is my first in the 50+ heavyweight category. Oh well. Always next year.

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