“If I pass out, note my time.” – Rower completing a 2K
Nobody knows who said it first, but it’s said thousands of times a day by rowers around the world.
If you do it right, rowing is one of the hardest things you can do. It is also one of the best workouts there is, period. If you’ve never rowed before, you’re in “decent shape” and you row 2000 meters as fast as you can, you’ll most likely finish somewhere between 8 and 10 minutes before you stumble off the erg. You’ll also have gotten one of the best full body workouts of your life.
You’re done. Spent. And you’ll most likely be mentally and physically depleted as well.
Don’t believe me? Sounds like it’s too easy? Go do it.
Give it a shot, and talk to one of the coaches when you return. You see, rowing, especially indoor rowing — or Erging as it’s known among rowers — is one of the hardest sports I can think of. It is excruciating, depleting, but an incredibly addictive full body workout.
The Erg keeps me coming back day after day after day, to get my latest dose of stress relief and dopamine. I would never want to go back to my pre-rowing days. That’s how addictive it is. Oh, and as a side benefit it has gotten me in the best shape I’ve ever been in — physically as well as mentally.
See, the thing about the Erg, is that it is a microcosm of life. Erging will teach you a few things about the way the world works. Here are three that I’ve learned so far.
The More You Work The Better You Get
The 2000 meter row, known as the 2K, is the distance in rowing. It is what everyone benchmarks themselves against, and talk about to no end. The worlds fastest 2K erg’ers are revered in the rowing community. The point is — the 2K is hard. It takes guts and heart and incredible physical conditioning to even get close to this level.
But you’re not there, at least not yet. The good news is every varsity rower, every state champion, every world record holder had to start somewhere and progress to where they are today.
So how do you get there? By preparing.
You have to put in the work. You have to put in the long steady rows (with good form) when no one is watching. You have to put in the hard intervals and keep fighting when everything in your mind is telling you not to, and every muscle in your body is screaming for you to stop.
Mental toughness and strength are key to being a good rower. Your coaches will tell you not to stop or to “push through the pain” not because they are there to torture you, but to help you realize your mind hasn’t pushed or stretched itself to the limits you are capable of…yet. Ask any of the varsity rowers and they’ll tell you they had to learn to go farther than what their mind and muscles told them they could. It comes with a bit of experience and a whole lot of practice. That’s what Winter Conditioning is all about.
“It will take time…and it will be painful…and you’ll want to quit. But it will be worth it at the end when you make the team.”
But soon you’ll realize the more you work, the better you get. That is a universal truth right there, and one that applies to every single aspect of life whether it is rowing, writing, making it in the business world or whichever endeavor you can think of pursuing. Putting in the work is the only thing that works. And the rewards will come.
You will get better. Be patient, but stay focused on becoming better. And if you put in enough work and give your best effort you might actually get good at it. It will take time…and it will be painful…and you’ll want to quit. But it will be worth it in the end when you make the team.
Humility Is Key
When I started rowing I had no idea what I was doing. I was bad. Luckily I had enough insight to realize I was bad. This helped me improve more quickly than I would if I’d just assumed that I was doing well.
Admitting that we don’t know something is hard. I’ve always had a hard time doing it, but somehow rowing was different. As a novice rower I quickly realized that I was nowhere near as good as others, but nowhere near as good as I could be.
Your coaches will push you, because they see new rowers struggle at the beginning of each season. As they get to know you they will be able to tell when you can dig deeper, help you align your form, correct your breathing and continue to challenge you to improve mentally and physically.
The point is that when you’re setting out to learn something humility is key. Realizing that you don’t know the half of it is a good place to come from. There is a catch though, because the more we know, the less humble we become. There is a trick to keep our humility about us, and staying humble. Which is far from easy. It is especially not easy, when we start hitting our stride, reaching new highs and setting new personal records, known as PRs. But this is where it matters most.
Because in order to get from where we are now to where we want to move to, we have to be humble. We have to realize that there is still more to learn, there are still ways to get better. There are always ways to get better.
Spend Your Energy The Right Way
Almost everyone wastes energy when they just start rowing. I was no different. This is known as energy-leaks. It means that you spend energy doing things that doesn’t translate to faster times. You add input without getting more output.
The more I row, the more I realize how important it is to spend my energy the right way. We all have a limited number of resources, and the way we spend those resources is determine how well we do. This is true on and off the erg.
The thing about the erg though, is that it gives you direct and immediate feedback. The better you spend your energy, the better you do. This is also true in life in general.
Find the points where you have energy leaks. Stop doing unproductive things and hope that somehow it translates into productivity. Don’t cry about how little time you have if you’re at home playing Xbox, Mario Party on Nintendo Switch or watching TV instead of homework, reading or family time. We all have energy leaks somewhere.
Rowing has taught me the value of finding out where I waste my energy, then I have to decide to stop doing that. This might be the most valuable lesson of the three, because when we apply our energy in the best way possible and get the most output from our input, good things happen.
And when good things happen during Winter Conditioning, good things can happen on the water in the spring.
*As this post was being typed I found an article by Nick Kastrup on Medium.com that went over many of the same points I was making, so I added my comments in with Nick’s article. But the meat of it belongs to him. – Rich Greene