Only €143.99 per rowing workout

Ten workouts in

I mentioned when I bought the rowing machine that I’d be keeping track of the per-workout cost as a way to keep myself going. Now that I’m ten workouts in, the cost of workouts is down dramatically… to just a little under a hundred and fifty Euros per workout.

Sigh.

I have made rowing a priority, meaning that I do it every other day, whether or not I ran on the prior day or not. That means that, if I miss a rund day, I don’t postpone rowing to get the run in. The run is just gone forever.

Still, I want to get three runs in per week, and the dual motivations of doing that and also getting in my rowing workouts has kept me pretty active.

Seeing results

It’s been a little more than two weeks of rowing, and I’m beginning to imagine I can see results. Not results that I can see in my body directly, but I am standing with better posture, feeling stronger.

Recently, I was climbing trees with the kids and found myself enjoying having the core strength to hang under a branch and move along it upside down. I didn’t make it far, but holding up my weight that way made me feel strong in a way that few activities have.

So, in that way, I see some results.

Also… I’m sore a lot. Rowing is a lot on the legs and running… You know which muscle groups running uses. So, I frequently start the day with tired calves. However, once I’m up and moving around, I’m back to normal. Because I’m pushing myself so hard, I’ve relaxed my need to get in ten thousand steps every day. I get them on run days, easily, but I don’t push myself on rowing days.

What I’m doing

I still see myself as a beginner and mostly do workouts just to mark them done. My goal has been to get around twenty minutes of rowing during each workout, and I’ve accomplished that a couple of ways, mostly using videos from Dark Horse Rowing on YouTube.

  • I use one of the workouts from his Learn To Row Workouts playlist, focusing on form in some way. Then, I drink some water and then row along with the 15 minutes of silent rowing video in that playlist. I try to focus on the new form elements during those 15 minutes.
  • He also has a longer workout with warmup and cooldown that includes some of what he calls “emotional work,” with him saying we’re rowing hard to stay ahead of competitors. I’ve done this twice and it has kicked my butt both times. I had to take a nap after my first time through… and I love that, but that’s not always an option.

One thing I have learned is to download the videos from YouTube when I think I’d like to do the workouts more than once. On YouTube, the workouts and interrupted by advertisements (I mostly get Peleton–I’m not buying any more big workout equipment!) and that takes me out of the zone, not to mention the fact that the workout is stopped.

Conclusion

So far, I don’t regret buying the rowing machine and it hasn’t been hard for me to find the motivation to row. I do find that it requires less willpower because starting–getting the machine out and setting up my notebook–is fairly painless. By the time I have to sweat, there isn’t much else to do.

I plan to check in again at twenty workouts and would like to be able to report more clear improvements in my strength, though it should be clear that I do feel abstractly stronger than I did before. I’d just like to know that I’m stronger.

The €1,439.84 workout

I just had a workout for almost one and a half thousand Euros, and believe me: I can still feel it in my legs.

With time, I’d like to feel the workout less, and to get the cost down. Let me explain:

Why a new workout?

I love my running. But, I don’t feel like it’s enough. So, I’ve experimented with various workouts though the years, and I’ve posted about a bunch of them here. (For example: the burpee project and, most recently, an at-home ninja warrior workout.)

Nothing has stuck the way running has stuck. And nothing has made me look forward to the workout the way running did. So, yes, I did find myself doing more burpees in a set or feeling stronger while carrying my kids around… but I didn’t feel success.

Then I read a book…

As with so many things in my life: I got an idea reading a book. The book was recommended by my family for at least a year, but I didn’t think of myself as the kind of person who read books about sports. And rowing? It’s not for me.

Still, whenever I mentioned needing something to read, everyone recommended “The Boys in the Boat.” It’s the story of a Washington University rowing team that, in spite of some unsportsmanlike conduct both in the U.S. during qualifying and in the Olympics, went on to win the gold medal.

It’s a story of the adversity of coming of age in the depression, as well as sticking it to the Nazis? How could I not be enthralled.

(An aside: this is further proof that, when someone you admire recommends a book, you should consider that book. When more than one person recommends the book, go and buy it!)

I found myself watching things like this:

And, all the while, admiring the boys and enjoying the adventure. Each chapter started with a poetic and inspiring observation by George Pocock, who made shells in the boathouse of Washington University. I found myself thinking: I would like to discover in myself some small part of what these young men found in rowing.

Enter the rowing machine

That’s why today’s workout was so expensive. On Saturday, I bought a rowing machine, with limited accessories for €1,439.84. It wasn’t entirely spontaneous: I spent some time researching rowing and rowing machines online. I know myself well enough to know that I wouldn’t want to be the beginner in a 40-and-up rowing crew where the other members have been rowing for the last twenty years.

After assembling the machine–it was a fair bit of work, and, more than once, I had to go back and add washers to bolts that I forgot to add them to–I went though a “your first workout” video which focused more on form and how to sit on the machine. So, though I did about ten minutes of rowing and definitely felt it yesterday, I’m not counting it as a workout on my running costs (see below).

Today, I did this workout focused on the catch, and, feeling that ten minutes wasn’t enough–we’ll see if aching muscles tomorrow tell me otherwise–I added this one as well. After all, when you pay over a thousand euros for a workout, you want it to last more than ten minutes.

Running costs…

I’m intimidated by the amount of money I spent. However, if it keeps me sane–or is even a major factor contributing to my sanity–it’s worth it. There are some factors that I think make it worth the investment:

  • It’s at home, I don’t have to invest time in travel to go anywhere.
  • My kids can see me doing it. That means that I’m a role model, but also that they can say they’d like to give it a try. They’ve all been on it a little. Further, it’s something that the oldest has mentioned as a way to help him manage his blood sugar.
  • It’s something I start and then do all the way through, requiring willpower only once. I’d found myself delaying between exercises when I did other workouts and taxing my willpower over and over again to get things done.
  • It should hold it’s value. I’m reasonably confident that, if I don’t get into it, I’ll be able to sell it for at least a thousand Euros and be four hundred Euros smarter. We’ll see. If I do, I’ll adjust my running costs.

As a motivation, I’m keeping track of the number of workouts I do and trying to get myself to lower the cost of each individual workout. So, this first workout cost the whopping thousand four hundred euros but, as soon as I do another workout on Wednesday, the cost of each workout sinks to €719.92.

My long-term goal is €2/workout (720 workouts), but next I’m aiming at €143.99 (10 workouts).

We will see…

Burpee Challenge: Reflections and reboot

The idea of my burpee challenge is pretty old. I began training for it back in August, and finally started the project in September. In the very first week, I missed a day, and–without posting here–figured I’d restart the one-week challenge.

I managed three weeks on the terms of getting a total of 300 burpees per week (50 burpees per day for six days). I missed the occasional day, but then did two sets the next day. Once, I even managed a long, drawn-out set of a hundred.

I got stronger. I began to enjoy the middle few burpees–after warming up, before beginning to be exhausted–and started wondering what I would do after the challenge. After all, this doesn’t seem like something that would turn into a lifestyle.

Then, last week got crazy and I missed three days. I kept the running tally of the burpees I still had to do, but realized I wasn’t going to catch up.

So, because the challenge is six weeks of six days, I’m starting again. I’m not giving up, yet. There is something to be gained from the burpees, and I’m enjoying the feeling of strength I get from them.

So, here we go again…

The burpee project begins!

I decided that September would start the burpee project. For a while, I was pretty consistent with fifty burpees a day — at least every other day — but told myself that I was just warming up.

At some point, however, it seems logical that the experiment had to begin. And, with September starting on a Sunday, that seemed like a happy coincidence. The burpee experiment starts in September.

Here it is:

  • 50 burpees per day
  • 6 days a week
  • (Or the equivalent)
  • 6 weeks

What’s an equivalent?

To give myself some flexibility, the basic goal is 300 burpees per week. I’ll count a week as successful if I do three days at 100 burpees each. Or even if I do 300 burpees in one day (not today, thank you!).

The idea here is that I am afraid I’ll miss a day and then lose motivation because I “screwed everything up.” So, this gives me the chance to fix my mistakes.

Starting data

I should have timed myself doing 50 burpees. I haven’t, but now that I’m writing, that seems like the kind of data that would be interesting to keep track of. I do know that I was 106.9 kg at the beginning of this week and that I’m both eating and drinking less than usual at the moment. It’s a little unfortunate, because it will be hard to know if the burpees or the reduced calorie intake has the most impact.

Nonetheless, I look forward to seeing the data at the end.

The burpee experiment

I have an infatuation with burpees. Along with pull-ups and rope climbing, they’re the exercise that has the most mystique. In fact, maybe I like them most because I can actually do at least a few burpees at a time. (I can do a single pull-up, I cannot climb a rope… the kids play on the one I hung in the tree outside.)

A month or so ago, I watched this video.

You can guess what happened.

Naturally I didn’t think I was up for kicking into fifty burpees a day right away. I’m getting older and I’m very afraid of hurting myself. But I did go right out and do a total of fifty burpees in who knows how many sets.

And I felt it the next day, just like I expected to.

So I took a day off. And I started writing down when I did the burpees.

It felt good to see the list grow and occasionally calculate how many I’d done in total.

Being on vacation, burpees were a great exercise to feel like I was getting something done without checking out from the family for an hour for a long run (with the consequence that I now have to break back into running).

My goal: Do fifty burpees six times a week for six weeks, starting in September. I’ve had goals like this before, but we’ll see.

Every day is better than occasionally

This might seem like an obvious statement to make — especially regarding fitness — but I’ve learned that every day is better than three or four times per week.

I’m still not in a routine that ‘just fits’ or a routine that I can’t imagine not doing. I’d like to get there, but, for me, exercise is a thing that I consciously choose to do because I know what it can do for me afterward.

And I struggle with making it a routine.

Enter, the idea of every day. For a while now, I’ve been using a 4-week challenge app on my phone as my ‘strength training.’ In fact, I’m restarting the challenge for the second time (I’ve been through it at the first to levels of difficulty.)

My January activity

You don’t need to open a dictionary to know that ‘every day’ means something different from what I accomplished in January. But, in January exercising four times a week — my old stretch goal — was a bad week.

I think that counts for something.

Even more, I’ve been feeling the changes to my own body, which is a nice thing to be able to report.

I still have the beer belly (“gas tank for a sex machine!”) that I want to get rid of, and I’m not pushing the scale much. But, when I hold my increasingly heavy kids, I can feel my core is stronger. Back pain has become so rare that, when it does rear its ugly head, I almost always realize “hmm, yeah, I haven’t exercised this week like I should.” (And that means that there’s a sort of positive-reward cycle that encourages me to exercise.)

In fact, as I’m going through the challenge again for the third and last time, I’m starting to wonder where I’m going to find my next every-day workout routine. The app I’m using (here, in the Google Store) offers workouts tailored to individual muscle groups “shoulders and back” and “chest and arms” or whatever. So, that’s the logical starting point, but I’ve been enjoying the simplicity of knowing that I have to free up a bit of time, start the app, and just do what it says.

So, we’ll see what happens when I ‘graduate’ out of the challenge.

I do get a bit of motivation out of these stats… 1100 minutes (18 hours)

In pursuit of failure

“Fail forward” is a sort of mantra in the startup world. (Or, that’s how it seems, watching that world from the outside.) The idea, as I get it, is that you have to fail often and fail fast, as long as you learn from your failures and get up meaner and leaner for your next adventure.

That’s not what I’m talking about here.

I guess that what I mean could be called muscle failure. But I think it’s more than that.

Back it up a bit

I guess that today’s The Obstacle is the Way chapter on Building Your Inner Citadel got me thinking about something that haunts me periodically: my own troubled relationship with willpower. And, perhaps, my weird linking of willpower with manhood.

This will be a disjointed blog post.

The fact of the matter is, I don’t know if I’ve ever reached muscle failure. I mean, I’ve collapsed after a set of push-ups. But, as I stood back up, I’ve been haunted by the fact that I might have been able to do a few more push-ups, if I’d really tried. After all, push-ups seldom are connected to any real consequences.

Fun random aside:

One of my father’s favorite stories from the Army was in some training camp or other where he was the platoon leader, and there were only enough truck to transport two of the three platoons back to the barracks. One platoon was going to have to march.

The way the seargents on the scene decided to allocate the trucks was to have the platoon leaders compete doing push-ups. “I knew I didn’t have to win,” my father always says in this story, “I just couldn’t lose.”

According to the legend, he did over a hundred push-ups in this story. I’ve never done that many push-ups, and I often wonder if I would have the mental fortitude to really push myself, if I had to.

So, I wonder, is there a way I can engineer my own muscle failure. Can I set myself up to try hard at things and fail, knowing I’ll come away stronger and wiser? (Or with a reinforced Inner Citadel, whatever that means.)

I don’t know.

The Army Combat Fitness Test

Part of what’s got me thinking like this is the news that the U.S. Army is introducing a new physical fitness test. Up until I stopped doing sit-ups (word on the street has it they’re bad for your back) I’ve been silently measuring myself against the existing Army Physical Fitness Test. After all, my first encounter with the idea of ‘minimal fitness’ was with the Army, and it’s nice to know (or think) “I could check all those boxes. I am fit.”

The new test may or may not be an improvement over the old test. What it is, though, is a departure from the days when I could do the exercises at home and say “Yup, that was enough push-ups.” or “I smoked my old two-mile run time.”

Conclusion

I don’t know if there is a conclusion. The point is, I wonder about my ability to push myself until my body simply doesn’t have more to give. I get that I’ll probably never need to do that.

But I want to know that I can. And I don’t know how to teach myself that.

A headstand is also a burpee

This post could be titled “Burpee challenge, modified” and is inspired — like the whole burpee challenge thing, by a post on lifehacker. In this case, it was a post about getting a hundred burpees done.

How things are now

I still do burpees most days. Following my initial math, I worked up to sets of ten, by managing to get twenty done in two minutes.

The thing is, it’s not as fun as it once was, and I’m not seeing improvement. I get at least one burpee done (the old minimum) at least six days a week. And on one day, I managed seven sets of nine — in competition with my daughter who takes some liberties with form.

Still, I’m feeling more and more like I’m plateauing. The number of burpees I can do is not going up. I’m not getting more pull-ups done in a single set. And, adding burpees to my runs (the kill-two-birds-with-one-trip-outside strategy) means that I seldom run much more than a kilometer without a ‘break.’ (To be honest, the running feels like a break.)

How I want things to be

I don’t have a clear answer. I want to get back to feeling like I’m getting stronger, to being proud of my workouts, rather than just getting them out of the way.

I genuinely want to feel stronger.

A good fitness memory

Here’s a thing we did not long ago that made all of this seem a little more worthwhile: getting the kids outside (one of my biggest summer priorities) we found an oak tree that had a lot of branches that we could reach. Of course, we climbed it.

I haven’t spent much time in a tree in a while — though that is a long-term goal — and was surprised to see how effortless it seemed to about using my arms and shoulders to support a lot of my weight. I wasn’t doing insane rock-climbing stuff, and there was still a lot of weight on my legs.

None of those caveats, though, takes away from the feeling I had — not much more than two meters in the air — of being somehow stronger than I was used to being. And being strong enough to help my kids climb.

I loved that.

You can bet we’ve been back to that tree — and others, though that’s the one that seems to need my arms the most — often, as much for my benefit as for theirs.

So, here’s what I guess I want: to continue doing workouts that impress me (without injury, I might add!) and to have more of those moments of relative strength.

The way forward

I don’t know what the way forward is. Often, I make these posts after I’ve come up with an idea I want to try. Instead, I wanted to make a record of how things stand right now.

There is one change I’m making now, as I look at how to continue this fitness adventure. And, unfortunately, it revolves around an experience I had in which I felt less strong: headstands.

There was a time when my sister and I had a competition to see who could do the longest headstands. I could count to twelve and back down while standing pretty reliably on my head (not, I should add, my hands). It was one of those things that made me feel strong.

And then back hurt and I got into planks, and from planks into burpees.

Then, recently, my daughter has become interested in headstands, handstands, cartwheels, the like. And she asked me if I could still do a headstand (she’d seen them)… and it was hard. I got my legs in the air, but not with the confidence I’d had before.

So, I guess I’m going back to doing headstands. And that’s okay. I’ve just rationalized that I’ll try to substitute headstands for burpees on those days when I’ve realized I haven’t done enough burpees.

Maybe I’ll join my daughter in her handstand/cartwheel goals.

 

The slow run you take is better than the speedwork you skip

It’s been hot here. Really, really hot.

I’m not complaining — I’ll take heat over cold any day — but it’s been the kind of weather that makes all movement a sweat-soaked enterprise.

But, I ran. I’m a runner, and runners run. (In addition to me prioritizing exercise as a superpower.) But I didn’t run fast.

The Wednesday speedwork was just a slow run with burpees in the shade. Friday’s mid-distance run was just a simple 5k with more burpees.

But, I ran.

I’m a big believer that the perfect is the enemy of the good. And, as an extrapolation of that, the slow run you take is better than the speedwork you skip.

There is sugar everywhere!

kidneybeans

The sugar fast update

Of course, I planned to be able to write that I didn’t cheat at all in my sugar fast. After beginning a day earlier than I planned — I didn’t eat the chocolate I had planned to eat — I thought it would be a pretty simple experiment for me.

After all, I don’t eat that much sugar.

That’s a joke.

“I’m not feeling so great”

On Wednesday and Thursday, three and four days after beginning the fast, I felt crappy. I couldn’t place what my exact complaint was, but it was there. I found it hard to get myself started on anything and did a lot of sitting and staring at walls until deadlines made me move.

I had a headache, and a pain I used to have in my neck, shoulder, and arm came back. (I still have it. I thought doing planks had helped.) I complained a lot to my wife, who observed that she didn’t think I had eaten so much sugar that I should have withdrawal symptoms, did I quit anything else?

Yes, I quit alcohol along with sugar (because it’s basically good-feeling sugar water, right?). But, even less than I liked having withdrawal symptoms from sugar, I didn’t like the idea that I had withdrawal symptoms from alcohol.

By Friday, though, I was happily buying a Granny Smith apple to eat in a meeting where I knew that my boss would be bringing cake. I wanted to have something to put in my mouth to avoid the temptation.

“What can you eat?”

When I talk to people about this, they have ask the obvious question. And it’s both more and less than you might think. First, I’m not trying to be strictly plant-based doing this… though that’s where I’d want to end up again.

Secondly, I’m not avoiding all carbs — or even all sugars — just the refined ones that have been added to something. Snacking on blueberries? Acceptable. Eating apples? You betcha. Pasta? Yes, please.

But, I took the photo at the top of the post to send to friends in protest. After I’d made my ‘healthy’ lunch (and I’m enjoying the minimalist element of my life right now), I saw on the back of the can that kidney beans have added sugar.

What?!

That was today’s lunch, and it wasn’t my first time ‘cheating.’ Last Tuesday, my wife cooked some pre-marinated chicken that we’d bought for a barbecue and didn’t grill. There’s a good chance there was sugar in the marinade. (And I still felt like crap on Wednesday!)

On Sunday, we had a really great pan-fried pasta-and-sausage thing. Delicious. But there was dextrose in the sausage. And, yesterday, my wife thought she was doing me a favor by buying me one of those sushi-to-go things. It was great to come home to after teaching until nine thirty.

After I ate the sushi, though, I turned the package over out of curiosity and… there was sugar in the rice.

Results

I can report that my energy is getting back to usual. I don’t know if that’s a result of the sun coming out, or the end of some mythical “withdrawal.” And, I feel good and mentally sharp. What’s more, I feel mentally sharp later in the day.

The mental sharpness could be an artifact of the placebo effect, but I’m looking forward to seeing how it continues.

My weight is slowly but steadily dropping. I’m down about a half kilo since I started this, but that could just as easily be the result of quitting alcohol as of anything else.

Lastly, I’m finding it easier to stick with fitness goals, like the ones I set in January. (I should get back to writing up those plans/reflections). That could be because I’m generally more motivated to see a return on my ‘investment,’ or it could be because my overall energy/motivation level isn’t changing as much.

I’ll keep you posted.