By Michael Krueger
I will row tomorrow morning as I have on every Sunday morning for the past eight weeks. I’ve rowed every Wednesday and Friday as well. Why is this news? Well, after Sunday, I will take a week off from cardio, and that is big news… at least it is or me.
When it comes to cardio, I have a tendency to just go on and on rather than take rest periods or even cycle the intensity of my training. I’ve always believed that my next big breakthrough was just on the other side of my next workout. It’s stupid, really, and contributes to injuries and burnout. However, for better or worse, that’s the way I’ve done it.
So, this column is documenting my much-needed week off… and nope, I’m not looking forward to it.
Running had always been my activity of choice when it came to cardio training. Then about two years ago I gave up running after 30-plus years and more than 24,000 miles because of wear and tear and annoying, nagging injuries. I switched to rowing—the Concept 2 rower to be exact. Training on this ergometer has provided me with the most difficult, annoying, challenging, productive, and amazing workouts I’ve ever had. I miss running, but it was something I had to do and, fortunately, rowing has filled in nicely.
For these past two years, I’ve rowed three times per week, missing only 11 workouts. That’s why this week is going to be so difficult.
Today is Sunday, the last row of the cycle. I dawdled before getting on the Concept 2 rower. I checked e-mails for no apparent reason, since I don’t have any clients on Sunday. I did the foam roller for much longer than was necessary, simply because I could. I drank some water and figured I should wait at least 20 minutes before I rowed. It was obvious that I was stalling. But why?
I know exactly why: I don’t want to take a rest week; I don’t like them. They go against everything that is me. That being said, I’ve already wrote the off-days in my log book so I’m committed. This isn’t going to be easy.
On Monday, I lifted and went to the dentist and chiropractor. The dental appointment was from six months ago and just happened to coincide with my off-cardio week. The chiropractor is a different, and a somewhat more dysfunctional situation. I’ve had some neck/shoulder issues that I should’ve addressed a few weeks back, but hey, I was in the middle of a cycle and I wasn’t going to mess that up! That is not a healthy way to think, but that’s what I do… yes, I’ve got some issues.
Today is Wednesday and the first “off” day of the week. I got up a bit earlier than usual, did some stretching and went for a long walk. I didn’t want to have unstructured down time where I normally would have rowed. It would’ve been very easy for me to have just changed the plan and gone downstairs and rowed.
So a nice morning walk and then on with my day… and repeatedly telling myself it’s OK not train cardio.
Let’s jump forward a bit and now the off week is done. It wasn’t as hard as anticipated, but I’m glad it’s done. I normally walk a lot, but I did do some additional miles so I’d be out of the house during my normal training time. Physically I feel the same, but in my head I feel better (I guess). By taking a week off I relieved some performance tension; my elapsed time was getting to be more important than the activity. Mentally, each row was piling up against the last and looming over the next. It was definitely starting to get to me; so it was worth it.
Now I’m looking forward to Wednesday and getting back on the rower, staring down the PM-5 monitor and seeing what happens.
So, now that the physical part is done, I want to take an in-depth look at what my log has to show me and see where I can improve.
Since the cycle was for eight weeks those are the rows I’ll focus on. The monitor on the rower keeps track of strokes per minute, split times and other interesting things. I keep a paper log of much of the same data, but I include how the row felt and my overall perceptions of the session. I have found that in the short term this information isn’t all that useful, but over time the comments provide a lot of context.
What I knew about the last eight weeks (even without reviewing the log) is that since my last break I have lost about three seconds on my 5K time; this is frustrating. I’ve had one good really good row in those eight weeks and the rest have been just OK.
I’ve been analyzing my workouts and what seems to have changed is my strokes per minute. They’ve gone from an average of 26 up to 28. That indicates a lessening of intensity and an (unconscious) effort to make it up by adding stroke volume. Also from some of the comments (in one I accused myself of slacking), I’ve learned that I’m not finishing my stroke as hard as I had been. The top of the stroke is where the intensity really shows. The other thing I saw in my log is that after about three weeks of these poorer times I was no longer noting that my left elbow was sore.
So, that was something I hadn’t expected. I’ve had some chronic tendinitis for quite a while and I’ll admit that I had simply assumed that it was just something I was going to have to put up with; a consequence of aging. The fact that the elbow issue resolved itself was a surprise, and that it was associated with the top of the stroke interesting.
One other thing I mentioned in the log a few times was that I occasionally had some very good two or three hundred meter sprints. In the comments I attributed it to demonstrating very solid form. I was keeping my back straight, chest up and going deep at the bottom of the stroke thereby really engaging my entire rear chain. I also noted that it was very hard to maintain and my hips tired quickly… now that was interesting as well.
So, I am not going to change the finish of the stroke in an effort to recover those three seconds, because I really like not having pain in my elbow…. but I am going to focus on my form; maybe I can regain those seconds by improving in a different place.
Another eight week cycle and we’ll see what happens.
Back at It
I’m glad that I took the time off. I’m hoping that it will make a difference in my performance, but even if it doesn’t, it was worth it. I learned a lot about me; what does motivate me and perhaps more importantly, what should motivate me… and that’s some very valuable knowledge.
If you find yourself pushing and pushing but not getting a good return on investment, it may be time for a productive break. Don’t just stop, but rather do it with a plan and a goal; that will make it productive as well as restorative.
When you do come back to it you will see it with new eyes, have new goals and better focus…
…and maybe it will even be fun again.
Michael Krueger is an NSCA-certified personal trainer. He got his start in fitness training while serving in the United States Coast Guard. He works with firefighters and others in and around Madison, Wisconsin. He is available to fire departments, civic organizations, and athletic teams for training, consulting, and speaking engagements. He has published numerous articles on fitness, health, and the mind-body connection and was a featured speaker at the IAFC’s FRI 2009 Health Day in Dallas, Texas. E-mail him at [email protected]