A couple years back I rowed a 1:28 500 meters on the Concept II rowing machine
some of you have seen in gyms. A 1:28 put me in the top 10% of men in my age
category in the country. As I was training for that row I realized something that was
kinda hard to admit to myself but it didn’t make it any less true.
I WASN’T AS TIRED AS MY SCARED BRAIN TOLD ME I WAS
Huh? Well the first time I rowed for time I rowed a 1:49. That’s 1 minute 49
seconds. I started off bad ass and about half way in I “thought” I was gonna die. I
felt a panic of sorts, out of breath, gassed and I kept rowing but I rowed slower and
slower and slower until the 500 meters was finished.
I initially chalked it up to simply not being aerobically conditioned to handle that
row for an all-out effort for time. But the very next time I rowed I dropped 10
seconds off my time. 10 seconds? I thought you were gonna die the first time you
might say. Ya, so what’s up with that. Did my aerobic capacity improve THAT
much in a week? No, not at all. So what happened?
Well, as with anything that requires some strategy or skill I changed my approach
a bit and didn’t come out of the gates quite as hard as the first time. I maintained a
much more even effort throughout the distance. Even so? I still got that
scared/panicky feeling about half way in. “I’m out of breath! I’m gonna die! Can I
keep going? I’m not sure.”
When it was all said and done, over the course of about 6-8 weeks I rowed a grand
total (training or for time) of possibly 15 times. How much, physiologically, can you
REALLY improve in 15 sessions? Quite obviously you can improve some but it’s
not as though you will have greatly improved your aerobic capacity. What will most
likely improve the fastest will be two things in my opinion:
1. Your form and strategy (you just get better with practice)
I realized after maybe 2-3 sessions as I improved quickly that I didn’t have a strength problem. I didn’t have a cardio problem. I was NOT acclimated to the rower and I simply didn’t have the “heart” to do the hard work in the middle phase and get past the fear and panic.
I can’t say I learned that heart matters – of course it does – anyone who’s trained as
I have for 30 years knows a lot about heart in training. But this was new, different
training. I wasn’t used to it. I was a newbie again.
So as I continued to progress toward my 1:28 time I began saying to myself in the
middle phase – “It’s all heart.” What did that mean to me? It was a clear voice
reminding me that I wasn’t weak and I wasn’t too tired and I would live just fine and
all I needed to do was DIG IN and put some damn heart into it. The combination of
the improved form and strategy coupled with the reminder that I needed to put
some heart into it was enough to keep me going strong throughout my 1:28 row.
A couple nights ago I was doing my cardio which is a combo of the rower and then
the Schwinn Airdyne bicycle. I had worked all day – my brain was tired – I really
kinda felt like kicking over the bicycle and throwing the rower out the window if I’m
honest. Ever just DIDN’T want to do it or be there? But I wanted the feeling I knew
I’d have after MORE than I wanted to rest or skip the workout. So I did it.
As I was about 2/3 through my total cardio time (a whopping 30 mins – yes
Maintenance is bliss) I heard – “You’re tired, just slow down.” but I immediately
heard “It’s all heart.” As soon as I heard that I began repeating that in my head “It’s
all heart. It’s all heart. It’s all heart.” It let me know, reminded me, that I wasn’t too
damn tired, I had plenty left to give, I just needed to dig down and find some damn
heart and DO IT! My speed on the bicycle increased frm 59 RPM to 67 RPM where
it should be and I kept it there until :30 to go – then I ramped it up to 75 RPM and
The mantra you use, the words you say to yourself, are
VERY powerful. What you say the MOST to yourself is who you will become – it’s
who you are at this moment. Are you too tired? Or do you need to find some new
language, IN THE MOMENT, that can snap your sorry ass out of the fog of pity and
negativity and get you to do what needs to be done when it needs to be done
whether you feel like it or not. And trust me, I’m not telling you all that you’re a
bunch of sorry asses – WE ALL ARE at various times. A key to success is to be
able to pull strategies forward, when you need them, as you need them, so you
can do those things that must be done when they need to be done whether you
feel like it or not.
Maybe you need to say It’s all heart. My guess is you’ll need to find one that works for you so you can own it. Regardless, the words you use when you’re alone with you are the most powerful weapons against you or allies of strength before you. Become aware of them and choose them wisely. Thoughts/words are things. It all matters.