In my work, I speak to clients every day about transformation – that is, initiating and undergoing a programme of change that results in a marked improvement to their organisation. Nearly a year ago to the day, I decided to kick off my own personal programme of transformation, recognising that the years were drifting by and that middle age spread was catching up with me (much to my annoyance).
12 months, 1.4 million metres and over 15kgs (3st.) later, I can look back and pat myself on the back for a decision well made. However, the achievement didn’t come easy – it was a year of incredibly hard work. Initially, I set out with the aim of losing weight and simply ‘to get fit’. By the end of the year I found myself with a change of wardrobe, an entry ticket to the British Rowing Indoor Championships and a new objective – to row for a long and healthy life.
I’ve learnt lots along the way – about my own physical abilities, about the emerging sport of indoor rowing and also about living a healthier lifestyle in general. More recently, a new phase of my journey has begun – to learn more about myself when the going gets tough on the erg! I’m really hopeful that this mental toughness training will benefit my rowing as I go forward and perhaps I’ll take some aspects of this learning into other areas of my life.
What I can tell you today is what I know from 12 months of hard graft. So for now, let me share with you some thoughts on what has worked and what hasn’t over the course of the last year. Maybe some of it is relevant and will help you on your journey – perhaps other bits are a well-trodden path that has lead you to where you are today as well…
Life Can Get In The Way, But That’s Really OK!
In the beginning it was easy – Personal Bests (PBs) fell like snowflakes in the winter months when I first took up rowing. It seemed like every week I was able to scratch out a new time in my logbook. I was learning stuff fast from the Forums and Facebook Group that I had joined – pacing, technique, time trial strategy and all of that baseline knowledge helped me to progress relatively quickly. Then rather suddenly, it became harder – a lot harder. Not only to pop those PBs, but to actually get on the machine and find the motivation to train. I soon recognised that I needed some structure to give my training purpose and a direction.
I took the decision to join the Fitness Matters online rowing plan, with its mix of challenging sessions and community feel, it was a revelation in my training and I soon found that progress with my endurance and speed was picking up again, to levels that I had not previously thought possible. The only issue was, I had also picked up a lot more work and was travelling a fair bit. This got in the way of my rowing routine and I felt that I had to make sacrifices to even maintain the level I was at. I started to beat myself up about not spending enough time on the erg and what was a pleasurable pursuit started to feel like a bit of a grind, with a dash of guilt trip on top.
That’s when I began to realise that this journey that I was on, this pursuit of ever decreasing split times wasn’t where I should be headed. Mostly because it is not sustainable! I’d found something that was way more beneficial than a quick route to getting fit, losing weight and climbing up the rankings – I realised that rowing is something that you can work on for life. As a low impact, high calorie burning activity that can support increased flexibility and a stronger core, I needed to put into perspective the constant pressure of achievement and switched my focus to the long term benefits. Once I accepted that I didn’t have to make every session on the plan and that I didn’t have to break every PB I’d ever set from one month to the next, I found myself in a much happier place. I accepted that it really is ok for life to get in the way. Rowing became part of my routine, not contrary to it. I fitted in sessions at hotels where I could and got up at 6am just to get that buzz that would carry me into the long day ahead.
Make Middle Distance Your Friend…
Quite early on, it was rather challenging to master sitting for those long laborious sessions. You know, the 8, 10 or 12 kilometre sessions at a fixed stroke rate that just seem to take forever to get through. The mind wonders, the buttocks go numb and all you want is to finish up and go do something else. The sets of ten counted strokes just seemed to go on forever and I always rejoiced at the end.
Then I found a couple of things that helped change my view of these sessions. Firstly (and probably most obviously), my aerobic capacity improved significantly. I found that I wasn’t getting out of breath on the big hills where we walked the dog and also, I wasn’t sweating anything like I used to for pretty much any kind of task or activity – sport related or otherwise. I even jumped on a 30 min treadmill session randomly for a run (I hate running, this was the first time in years) and I just ate it up. This was all down to those long laborious rows transforming my fitness levels and body response under load. This in itself felt like huge progress.
I also picked up from some of the guys on the plan and in the team forum that ‘blind rows’, that is covering the average pace and focusing on consistency in stroke quality and power could change the way I experienced these long sessions. With some rate changes thrown in to boot, I found myself craving 10 kilometre sessions in contrast to some of the shorter sprint training that I had been doing. Also, I noticed that the time on the rower just flew by – my perception of time had changed and I began to find them enjoyable. Over the course of about 3 months, my acceptance and hunger for middle distance grew, culminating in the completion of a half-marathon (21,097m) on Christmas day. I no longer fear/dread these distances – although I wouldn’t say that I am craving a full marathon just yet!
In retrospect and in recognition of the sound advice I have received, a little bit of everything is probably good for you and the switch between sprints and middle distance to longer pieces is an important spectrum for any lifetime rower to play amongst – if not only for the variety and change of landscape. The truth is, a strong aerobic base is good for tackling most sessions that are put before you and outside of rowing, mastering these sessions can really make you feel fitter, healthier and stronger in your daily life.
Remember – It’s The Journey That Counts
At times, I have found myself becoming disappointed or frustrated by being overly critical on individual session outcomes. Did I push myself hard enough? Why didn’t I keep stoke rate for that split? How come that PB attempt resulted in a HD? (A Handle Down – withdrawal from the session). All of these micro arguments and torments are valid in the context of the moment, but it’s important to realise that it’s not just a single performance that counts for everything. It’s not necessarily about where you’re going, it’s about where you’ve come from. Take time to look back over your shoulder from time to time. You’ll find that you’ve come a long way!
There will be good days and there will be bad days. You have to remain realistic about your near and long term goals, whilst also being conscious of your periphery physical and mental situation/condition. Should you really be tackling that free rate sprint session at 6am with no food inside you? Probably not. Should you sit down and attempt to row a half-marathon after having only had 4 hours sleep? Maybe think again. Take responsibility for your training schedule and remember that whilst a plan is there to be followed, you’ve got to be selective in the sessions that you target to ensure you get the most out of your time on the erg.
I’ve also learnt that progress comes in waves and that these cycles are driven by your own physical condition, your state of mind and everything else that is going on in your life. It takes time, but it’s best to be in tune with this rhythm, to seek out the peaks and drive for your best performances on the crest, rather than push yourself in a trough to do a session that you end up resenting or worse still, not finishing. Play the long game. Take stock of what you’ve achieved from time to time and be thankful for the journey. There are lots of people out there that will never feel the buzz that you get after hitting negative splits from the last session you just nailed!
Never Underestimate The Power Of Shared Objectives
On this theme, one of the most gratifying things that I have found whilst being on the FM plan is experiencing the journey with other like-minded folks. People with shared objectives and an ethos of continual improvement. Surround yourself with people who are going forward and onwards and that positivity will rub off on you. Have a fall or a bad workout and you can be sure that the group will be there to patch you up, put you back on the rail and set you off again. It the dark corners of the pain cave, erging can be an incredibly lonely pursuit, but in a shared group where expectations and accountability are running high, only good things can happen.
I take inspiration from my peers as to how they have performed or tackled certain sessions in any given week. I try to take strength from their achievements and embrace their virtual support when the going gets tough. I honestly do not think that I would still be rowing as consistently as I am today without the support and camaraderie from the group. Working largely independently as a consultant, it does feel like the team are with you wherever you sit down to row, either in a new gym or hotel. Very empowering stuff!
And Where To Now?
So, what now? Where will this next year of ergotastic pursuits lead me? Who knows in truth…? As mentioned at the start, I’ve recently become captivated by finding and pushing my own boundaries in training terms (not necessarily focussing on a PB). I’m hopeful that this is where my journey will take me next – to darker places, becoming more accustomed to the pain… There are also a stack of race and other sociable events in the calendar that will provide an opportunity to meet more of the growing virtual erg community at Team FM. For now, the comfort of knowing that I’ve found something positive and beneficial from a health and longevity of life perspective is enough to carry me into another year of hard graft and beyond… What will inspire and motivate you in 2017?
In short, it really depends on whereabouts in your rowing or exercise journey you are at. The further along you are, the more important it becomes for a few reasons. I have trained for lots of different events in my life, most recently they have almost exclusively been indoor rowing events and I have always planned my own training in advance depending on what the goal was and made sure sessions were specific to it. This sounds obvious to me, but it far more common that people will not do this. Whether they are not sure how to, or don’t feel the need I am not sure.
The most important thing is that people are staying fit and active and introduce exercise into their lives in an enjoyable and sustainable way as without this the next level can’t be reached. However, as we become more experienced and interested in a sport very often we want to progress and following a plan brings a structure, focus and accountability to help this. Very often there are ups and downs along the way, but remaining consistent at what ever level you are at will always bring you the best chance of improving. Having a plan at this point is vital to remain on track especially as those margins for improvement become finer and the level of effort needed to achieve will increase.
If you feel you need some structure then I would encourage you to take a look at the many plans out there. This year I have developed a plan myself with a system for all abilities to follow. It is a generic plan that provides individual targets, feedback and motivation via a group of like minded people with a common goal. Details can be found at www.fmrowing.com/rowing-programme/.
Consistency will always be the stand out factor for me when trying to make progress, but following the structure of a plan will make that task a whole lot easier.
Apparently the phrase defines the modern concept of synergy, and echoes the concept of team spirit…”Together everyone achieves more”. Whilst each individual has a meaning on their own, taken together that meaning may change to create an effect which is greater than the sum of their independent parts…
April 9th 2016 9.00 am saw the start of something new that’s hopefully going to be around for a while. After the success of the Fitness Matters Devon Indoor Rowing Championships (DIRC) back in September 2015, it was time to open the doors on the next FM installment on the race calendar. People travelled for many miles to mark the end of the indoor rowing season with this final event. A valuable collection of both new and familiar faces. Things have gathered momentum since September, the word has spread…and we welcomed just over 100 participants with a mere handful of people who were sadly unable to make the event at the last minute.
I’ve only recently committed to a partnership with Sam Blythe in the context of Fitness Matters Indoor Rowing, although I have been involved with the online community he’s organically grown for much longer. This was also my first experience of hosting AND participating in an event so in some respects although you could say my view is biased (being a ‘FM Newbie’).
So the day itself was a real cocktail of athletes (I figure anyone that enters a sporting competition warrants the title of athlete if only for the duration), thrown together by a common aim…to achieve . Ergo fanatics and rowing rookies stood side by side to applaud the races.
The kids took on 4 minutes of complete madness whilst their parents willingly volunteered and signed up for the 1k. The armed forces did what they do best and made us all proud by turning up en mass to participate and support the event. There were British and World records broken, 17 races in all, and more PBs and SBs than you could shake a stick at (season’s bests not Sam Blythes) Many an indoor rowing seal got broken by those who bravely entered in the absence of any experience alongside the ‘big guns’ which included an array of English, British and World Indoor Rowing Championship competitors.
The relay finale meant the day ended with a bang, 2000m of chaos for those that took part (or was that just me?) and roughly 5 to 6 minutes of mass hysteria for those watching…a real recipe for success and definitely one we won’t be messing too much with for the future.
As the title suggests the biggest impression I was left with after I sat and reflected during the lengthy drive home was the sense that the whole really is greater than the sum of its parts. Fitness Matters Indoor Rowing would not be what it is without its participants, either at our races, following our training plans/WOD’s, or taking part in our Facebook Concept 2 Rowing Hub. I also believe that we (speaking as a participant in the sport) would not be what we are without the opportunities the Fitness Matters offers us as a sporting community. In essence, together, we do achieve more. There’s a definite hum of productivity and growth when the 2 interact, things mostly click, and things definitely evolve. Two completely independent agents (the ‘Us’ and ‘Them’) acting in common to create an effect which is truly greater than the sum of those effects (the ‘We’). It’s a great feeling…and that synergy makes for a great sport.
For me this day was a success, a real pleasure to be involved in on every level and a huge motivator in terms of my desire to innovate, build, progress (never stand still lol) in a sport that I have great passion for. A new insight, a chance to socialise, compete, support and be supported. So for now a massive thanks to those that were involved in the planning, the set up, the delivery and the execution of what was a very memorable day. We’re really hoping to see you all and many more at the next one…
A month of 2016 is already over and done with, and by now you will probably have a good idea of how your body is feeling after the early “Let’s get fit” New Year’s inspiration. However, the real test is maintaining this drive throughout the year. At Fitness Matters we’re all about sustainable progress.
Here are 4 top tips to help you achieve this!
Have an end goal
A clear purpose for your training, be it a general goal such as losing weight, or the challenge of an event like a half marathon, will focus your efforts and increase your motivation as the year goes on. Remember, it’s all about sustainable progress.
Surround yourself with like-minded people
Research has proven that those starting an exercise regime alone have a general dropout rate of about 43 per cent, whereas for those who train in a group environment, that figure lies around the seven per cent mark. Joining in group exercise classes can be much more effective and surrounding yourself with people with similar goals could help you with sustained determination this year!
Set realistic targets
This might seem like an obvious one, but failing to meet your fitness targets is often a confidence blow, and something that may cause your motivation to gradually ebb away. By giving yourself challenging but attainable objectives, you will feel good about yourself when your efforts are successful. Sustainable fitness plans are far better that unrealistic goals.
Change your workouts regularly
Regular alterations to your routine; from volume to stimulus and exercises, will shock your body and keep the gains coming. This will also have the psychological benefit of mixing things up and keeping your routine fresh, since there is nothing worse than fitness feeling like a chore.
At Fitness Matters we have a team of hugely experienced personal trainers: contact us now for a free fitness and lifestyle consultation and kickstart your 2016 in the best way!
That phrase is a great one as the destination is continually evolving the more we achieve. Rowing has always been a part of my training schedule for the last 20 years or so, but in the last 2 or 3 years it has taken over from rugby and general strength and fitness as my main focus. In the rowing community the 2000m is generally accepted as the main distance, although I have never really thought of it as my strength. However in the last year or so it became more of a possibility and belief for me that it could be a strength and I could break the 6 minute barrier. Well today that happened….
Finally sub 6.
I think many people think I am overachieving given my non rowing background and my shape and size etc. So how did I get to this point?
In general this is easy to answer. I enjoy adversity. I think how we deal with it is actually a mark of how we are. If things were easy then everyone would be a world record holder. I train hard (maybe too hard), I live my life as close to being an athlete as I can with the support of a lot of people – not least my family. I eat and prepare well for training and have a good lifestyle. Perhaps the biggest reason is that I am consistent, relentless even, fiercely competative and expect a lot of myself. I don’t make excuses ever. Sometimes there are reasons that we are disappointed, but they are the times we can learn and improve in the future. Every session has its place and every metre needs to be earned and respected.
My biggest challenge has been remaining patient. This is not a strength of mine, but to reach potential on the rowing machine we need to grasp this concept. It is sometimes hard to see where the next improvement is coming from, it almost feels like treading water, but it is those sessions and metres that will allow you to catch the next wave where we suddenly see continual improvement. Without that consistency and patience then this doesn’t happen.
I try to train smart. When things aren’t right I change them, but my goals remain. I have seen significant improvements recently through slowly downscaling (over the last few years) the amount of extra curricular training I am doing. I have run once in 6 months and have not been on a Wattbike or SkiErg at all for a month or so. I still weight train, usually two, or sometimes 3 times per week and the focus has switched to overall conditioning rather than raw strength and power. I still believe weights are very important, but less so once you are at a certain level of strength and have a long history of training with them. In short, if you want to maximise your potential on the rower, there seems to be no substitute to rowing. Sounds obvious, but many miss this point.
In the last 3 weeks I have learned more about rowing, and 2 km in particular, than in the last 2 or 3 years. I took myself off plan, and out of my comfort zone. It was not nice to start with, but became more familiar and in 21 days I have rowed 7 personal best times – 4 x 2km and 3 x 1km. That resulted in this time today and the belief that now this is in the bank I can go faster.
So to get the best out of your body there is no magic formula. Train hard, live and eat well, expect a lot of yourself, don’t make excuses, deal with adversity, be consistent and……. believe. The more of these you can achieve the more your body will give you.
Thanks for all those that have helped me get to this point.
Whether you’ve just had a baby, or you’ve recently sustained an injury, it’s entirely possible to recover and get your fitness levels back on track. Jessica Ennis-Hill, just a year after giving birth, is heptathlon world champion for the second time after winning the World Championship Gold at the weekend. And the six-pack is back too!
With the right level of dedication, it’s amazing how the body can recover from anything. Here are a few tips if you have been injured:
Don’t strain yourself before you are ready as getting back up and running too soon can cause injury. Reduce your physical activity, and use sticks and crutches to ease tension if needed. Seek medical advice! Remember work +REST = success!
If you have been injured, you can reduce any swellings or pain by using splints and casts. Again, seek medical advice!
This can be invaluable, especially if you are suffering from a long-term injury. It can take the form of massage or exercise, and really helps to ease pain and get you back to normal levels of fitness.
Perhaps most importantly of all, you need to make sure you are keeping healthy on a nutritional level, so stay away from sugary foods and alcohol, and make sure you are keeping yourself hydrated.
Listen to your body
And if you have just had a baby, make sure that you wait at least six weeks before returning to your old exercise regime – and even then make sure you seek professional advice first. You know your body, and don’t be afraid to wait if things don’t feel right.
When you do eventually start exercising again – take it slow. Start with gentle walks and stretching. Avoid high energy sports until a little later on.
If you want more specific guidance about how to recover effectively and efficiently no matter the circumstance, we know more than anyone the tricks of the trade to get you up and running again in a matter of months. You don’t have to be Jessica Ennis-Hill to have a fitness resurge, so contact us today and one of our trainers will get you fit and healthy again within no time.
Here at Fitness Matters we have loads of experience when it comes to training people and creating routines for people to better their fitness and push them to the next level, so for a long time we’ve been considering creating a members scheme to really allow us to dedicate our time to transferring this knowledge to our customers. We have a lot of expertise, but we love rowing, and that is what we low to focus our training schemes around.
And finally, we are proud to announce our Fitness Matters Membership Scheme, which consists of two amazing schemes to cover those that just want a little help and those that want a little more.
The first is less than £1.50 a week! For that little amount you will get our ‘Workout of the day’, access to our exclusive members forum, and a basic level of interaction with our very own Sam Blythe – ex Exeter Chiefs player and personal trainer extraordinaire.
The second is slightly more intense and is our bespoke training package (price on request). This also includes our ‘Workout of the day’ and access to our exclusive members forum, but then also includes a personalised training e-plan just for you, regular training with Mr Blythe, and a one-on-one consultation to really get to the bottom of what you want and need from your fitness plan.
My advice to people is to always concentrate on your own rowing and training, and if you maximise yourself you stand the best chance of being competitive with those around you and the rest takes care of itself. There will always be exceptions of course, but I think this is sound advice.
Today rowing was not in my schedule as I had done a weights session this morning, but events transpired to give me a chance to have a second shot at this month’s CTC (www.c2ctc.com). For those of you not familiar with it, it is a friendly, lighthearted but competitive online monthly competition (individual and team elements) for all ages and abilities. It has great participation, but if you are after joining in then there are many teams you can join….including Fitness Matters!! This month’s challenge was as follows….
As a rule I do the CTC only once per month as it can be so painful lol.
Well this month I broke this rule and ignored my own advice!! My first CTC attempt a few days ago was indeed very hard, but I finished it believing there was a tiny bit more in the tank. The fact that I had no further opportunity (or desire for the pain!) to do it was immaterial, but definitely good for the confidence. Tough rows followed Wednesday and Thursday and I had a decent weights session today. Then came an opportunity with a late client cancellation. So this is where I ignored my advice! I went at it again and I targeted Dave Marshall’s top time as we were so close after he edged past me yesterday on his second attempt.
My targets today. Thanks Dave!
On this occasion breaking the rules, although painful, moved me on and you consciously have to do this. It doesn’t just happen. My game plan was to go harder on the sprints and I was backing my recovery to hang on to a semi decent 2km at the end. It definitely hurt more and was closer to my limit. I fought off being sick 500-600m to go, but gained 5s overall. Done for another day and more metres and experience in the bank. Do as I say, not as I do!!
I started to write this blog in the car last night on the way home from the English Indoor Rowing Championships. I like to reflect pretty soon to allow myself to move forward again and clear my mind. However the volume of messages I received and their content in the hours following my race blew me away to be honest. I started to look at things a little differently so decided to write this the following morning.
Leading up to my race yesterday I had a clear goal and minimum requirement to achieve a new personal best (currently 6.04.5). I am a realist and this was more than possible given my training and some succeses in changes I had made. I removed my heart rate monitor, seeing it as only a negative input, and I had dismissed a lot of rate controlled sessions at harder intensity. This kind of created two workout types and all my ‘session best times’ had improved.
About to start
On the day I had entered two races with the idea to take part in the one which gave me the best chance of hitting a PB. At this point the winning of the race was not priority, although if in the latter stages things were tight then hopefully that would bring that extra bit out in me. For a few reasons, mainly a faster field and better perceived race time, I chose to make my main race The Open at 3pm.
I chose to row slowly in the 30-39 group race at 930 as didn’t want to leave a machine free having entered, so did this at a modest pace and quickly got an idea of race conditions. Well even then, and at that pace, there was no air and it wasn’t that pleasant. I knew by the time 3pm came around it would be worse as more oxygen would have been sucked up by an even busier venue. As the day went on indeed racers times were relatively slow so I thought through adjusting my pace to suit conditions. I decided to do this, but still had the hope I might sneak under my previous best. Race time came and following a slight start delay I was ready to go.
Final split times per 500m
Nothing short of altitude training could have prepared me for the next 6 mins lol. It felt my lungs were stealing any available oxygen, leaving my legs with nothing! My mouth was so dry it was like I had sand poured in it! I am sure the other races felt the same. So at around half way this became a race for me and not about a PB. A horrible experience that I just wanted over! I dug in and hung on for gold, ending also with the best time of the day from over 700 entries. I came off the machine struggling to stand let alone walk away, instead choosing to lie on the floor for quite some time!
Fastest male and Open gold
I am not disappointed with my effort, nor my win. I could have done no more on the day. But this is a journey for me and yesterday was about taking the next step – bridging the gap between 6 mins and 6.04. All my training was on the button and my preparation was faultless which left me knowingly confident, not complacent, of about a 6.02. And I am still yet to take that step which is the frustration. But in life things are all relative and I feel blessed with what I have and coming home to my family and 5 kids who had chosen to stay up to see me (930pm) was confirmation of that. I know that step will happen soon.
Fastest male presentation
Ending of a light note and of course a positive, this time last year I was told I rowed like a weight lifter which brought a smile to my face. A year on and I had a new comment to digest…I had a perfect rowing technique! Now I expect the truth is somewhere between the two, but it also made me smile. It shows either people’s opinions differ hugely or simply that in sport a year is a long time!!
genuine disappointment before falling off!
Well done to all those who took part. Our journeys are unique to ourselves and we set our own standards and expectations. I am sure many will have felt the same as me as we all chase our own goals. It is an incredible venue and event, run superbly. The only thing I would change is the conditions, which when I was rowing were most uncomfortable and certainly the hardest I have experienced. The times of the 3 leading men were all around 4-5 seconds off target.
Most of all it was so great to meet so many of you yesterday and put faces to names. Your support has been incredible thank you.
This week Apple announced the release of the Apple Watch, which will be available from the end of April and it’s predicted that this will mean that 25 million smartwatches will be sold this year. There are of course many applications for the watch, but we’re going to look at what smartwatches can mean for fitness.
Your watch will measure your activity throughout the day and show you how you’re progressing. You can set a target number of calories to burn and watch how you progress. It also counts anything more than a brisk walk as exercise and reminds you to make sure that you do at least 30 minutes a day (but we can do better than that!).
Keeps You On Your Toes
Our lives can be very sedentary, stuck behind a desk or plonked in front of the television, so another feature of the watch reminds you to stand up for at least a minute every hour, with a target of doing that for at least 12 hours a day.
Specific Applications for Specific Needs
At launch there are Apple Watch apps that can monitor you when you’re running, cycling (both on the road and on an exercise bike) or using a cross trainer. In future, we hope, someone will develop an app that can track you when you’re rowing. The good news is that it measures your heartbeat which will give you even more data when you’re working out.
There are, obviously, lots of smartwatches out there, but the release of the Apple Watch is expected to bring them into the mainstream. Also don’t forget that instead of smartwatches you can buy fitness trackers like the Fitbit and the Withings Pulse, which are specifically for tracking your activity and are usually cheaper than smartwatches.