One thing I’ve learned over the past few years is that people in general
undervalue consistency. We live in a culture of big life-changing events, new-years resolutions and
have a growing need for instant gratification. Now don’t misunderstand me,
big changes are great. The problem, is they very rarely stick. I didn’t
understand this until recently. I’m approaching 40, and my body isn’t able to deal
with my unhealthy habits as well as it used to.
Until about two years ago I was the poster-child for how not to treat your body. I’m was (and still am!) 192CM tall, I weighed in at 106KG, had a 25% body fat percentage and just fit into 36 inch pants (91.44cm for the enlightened). I was unhealthy and unfit, the type of unfit that has you panting when trying to climb a few sets of stairs.
I was the type of person who tried the Gym, but always in an extreme way. It always seemed to start around January, lasted about 30 days, and when I managed to make it to the Gym, I spent more time choosing the music tracks to play than I did doing cardio or resistance training. Regardless of the efficiency, every Gym session was concluded with a Burger King Meal … because I needed the protein…..
I can’t really pinpoint what changed, but I realised that my usual
all or nothing
approach wasn’t cutting it. I needed to change my lifestyle in a consistent and
achievable way. I wanted to improve my health over time, in a way that would still be
enjoyable and effective 12 months later.. and beyond.
I wanted to play to my strengths, I’d never really been great at lifting weights, and I didn’t do well with cardio, or so I thought. My experience of cardio was cross-country running in the cold and wet of english winter. 1/10, would not recommend.
What I did have going for me was my legs, they’re long and had always been my
strongest part; no idea why, given the usage they got, or rather …
didnt. And so, after
some research I decided to do what I always do, I rented a indoor rowing machine.
Throwing money at fitness always works….ask my 10’s of expired Gym memberships.
I went all-in and ordered a Water Rower, I’d used one at a Gym lifetimes ago, and I enjoyed the realistic feedback and sound it provided. It feels and sounds like you are actually rowing.
Did it work?
No, not at first. It would have been really easy to give up. When I first got the rower I could hardly row 250m without feeling like I was literally having a cardiac event. I cannot stress how little I am exaggerating here. During those first few days, my heart rate would be in the high 150’s after 250meters of gentle rowing. I was neither good at rowing nor did I enjoy it.
Bargain with yourself!
At the start it was tough-going, there is no way I’d have stuck the course without some mind games in the truest sense. I love podcasts, some of my favourites are on RelayFM network (Cortex, Upgrade, Connected) and the legend that is the Accidental Tech Podcast (ATP).
I used my love of podcasts to force myself. The deal was, I could only listen to podcasts while rowing for the 3 months after i got the rower. No exceptions. It made for pretty boring commutes, but I needed to establish the behavior, I needed to trick my brain into looking forward to rowing, because….podcasts.
But.. that was the easy bit, podcasts ensured I at least
turned up and attempted a row
every day. Next was the problem of my fitness, or lack of it. No matter what the
intensity, 250m isn’t going to do much good. I needed a plan to increase my capacity.
And this is where consistency comes into play. I could have attempted to increase my distance massively every day. That would be a quick way of achieving my goal, or dying and/or not using the rower much. I decided to take it slowly, using small incremental change.
My plan went something like this:
- Day 1 - 250m, 30 second rest, 250m
- Day 2 - 250m, 30s rest, 250m, 30s rest, 250m, 30s rest, 250m
Each day I would add on 2 x 250m distance, with 30 second breaks in-between. Once I reached 1000meters, I would then work on reducing the rest.
- Day 3 - 20 seconds rest
- Day 4 - 10 seconds rest
- Day 5 - Active rest (super slow rowing)
- Day 6 - No rest … 1000m constant.
In 6 days, I’d increased my distance from 250meters, to 1000meters with no rest. I was, and still am proud at the progress in the early days, it felt like a massive achievement.
Day 7 to Now … each 6 day period I would add another 1000m, and gradually reduce the rest. but I would have a longer rest between each 1000meters.
So it would start being 1000m, 2 minutes rest, 250m+30s+250m+30s+250m+30s+250m. Then I’d work on reducing the 30s rest periods down to zero. Giving 1000m + 2minutes + 1000m. After that, I’d work on reducing that 2 minutes by 30seconds per day until I was completing 2000meters in a single stretch.
Rince and repeat for weeks and months and I completed by first 10km single row with zero rest periods.
Over the top
On Jun 16th 2018 - about 18 months after that failed 250m i completed by first 25,000 meter row. It took me 1h40 minutes, but I did it at a pretty agressive page … and without any rest.
Thats the power of consistency, improving each day. I attempted to row, or walk every single day. And each day, try and improve on the previous day, even if it was just 1 extra minute, or 1 extra meter. Over time it adds up.
What I realised doing the 25km row, is that it’s not efficient or sustainable. Everyone is different, but I find there is an endurance limit past which your body starts physically failing. For me, it’s not a fitness thing; I could have rowed 30km+ easily, the issue is in the days following I had serious hip pains which took me out of action. While it may feel great doing 25k’s - its not effective if it takes 4-5 days to recover.
So increasing distance is off the table, but as a goal for the rest of 2018 I want to improve my performance.
In terms of my times for 10km, I have various common speeds:
- 10km in 40 minutes - nice and gentle - hardly taxes me.
- 10km in 39 minutes - good workout.
- 10km in 38:30 - getting tough.
- 10km in 38 minutes - nightmare mode.
It might not sound a lot, but each 30 second reduction in time is a different league in terms of difficulty.
So.. in 2018 I want to achieve a
35 minute 10km row. It’s going to be really tough
but I think with consistency I can achieve it.
I’ll be making a few spreadsheets for each step, 38 mins, 37:30, 37, 36:30, 36, 35:30 and 35.
For each of these i’ll list the minutes:seconds values for each distance. Every day, i’ll try and make it to the end of the row, keeping these times, until I make the whole 10k time and then ill move on.
I’m looking forward to it … and if you are interested then follow this blog and/or my twitter for updates :)
I’ve learned a few things along the way which really helped me stay consistent:
Monitor and record your progress- this could be as simple as a pen and paper, or you could invest in some health tech like an Apple watch and Oura Ring. You should take the time to read this article over at MacStories for another opinion on how much fitness tracking can literally change your life.
prepare your clothes the night before- I know, I know, you’ve heard this one before but it really helps. I found that pulling my gear out of the draw and dropping it on the floor next to my bed made a massive difference. Once I started doing this I didn’t wimp-out of a single session.
sleep, sleep, sleep- I cannot overemphasise this one, sleep is THE most important part of recovery. The only way I can consistently row 10km’s a day is to get my sleep. I found I could improve my sleep by monitoring it with my Oura Ring, and by investing in some blue-light blocking glasses.
get dressed in your workout gear- as a concrete rule, EVRERY day, make a deal with yourself to put on your shorts and t-shirt. The act of doing this, makes it much less likely you will skip a session. Even if i didn’t feel like rowing, I’d get my gear on and walk to the rower. Every time, without fail, my brain gave up and I rowed :)
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