Palms & Wrists; Balance, Symmetry & Timing: and More

Increasingly long spring rows, after starting with short rows, to let the fingers and palms and wrists adjust to hold an oar handle and to feathering with each stroke.

If I am holding the handles of my sculls correctly, they should be mostly nestled in the finger joints, so I do not expect much palm damage or callusing. If I am holding them lightly and pulling with the oars in position rather than forcing it, there should be little strain on the skin. If I am minimizing movement while squaring and feathering, there should be less chance of carpal tunnel (or similar) strain.

Balance, symmetry and Timing:

You may enjoy Gordon Hamilton's Sculling in a Nutshell and William Irvine's With Two Oars. Interesting ideas about approaching the stroke and training for smooth, effective rowing from both of these rowing coaches.

Starting on the water again in the Spring is really like starting again.  When I push off from the dock, I think about balance - not something that is too much on my mind while on the erg all winter. That leads to paying attention not only to my body position and movement, but to the symmetry of my blade work. Are the sculls balanced and even off the water? Am I catching and releasing at the same time? Is my pressure even (watch the stern wiggle!). Am I achieving full reach on both sides at the catch and using both legs evenly? In both of those slim but helpful books you will find loads of ideas to give you focus and direction when on the water.

Breathing deeper on the water: Now I am lifting my boat and my body along with each stroke, not just spinning a wheel. I can breathe in deeply at the catch - or try to, if my winter gut will let me; and then out deeply at the release.

Mantras for 10 strokes: 

Think "Burn fat" and I can feel myself carrying that extra weight and wanting to row a bit longer and harder to burn it off to a manageable weight.  "Build muscle" and l can focus on muscle groups and how I am using them and the goal of building up strength. [One of the most depressing articles that came out this winter said that older folks can build up strength of muscle cells but once we lose a cell it is gone as we make no more. Did I get that right? Is that one reason bed rest for the ill kills us?] And "Clear the lungs" and I can feel the deeper breaths doing me more good. That is especially true after a cold for the days or weeks when congestion remains.  What a great feeling to have it gone completely!


Why Row Harder - and When

First let's start with when to row harder. We all tend to want to see how hard we can pull on our first row after a long time off. Let me tell you, it will not be as hard as you want to pull. Or as hard as you can pull.  After working out regularly for a period of time.

And it may be hard on the joints or muscles or organs. Sudden change can be hard on the body.

So my suggestion for when to row harder if you have not been rowing is, "Later."

Now, get out and row and do it comfortably. Do it longer. Do it each day. Do it twice a day if you cannot stick with it for a full-length workout at first. Do it strongly. But do not flail. Do not seek your limit. You are in this for the long run, not a record today.

As your muscles tighten, stretch them. As they get stronger, work longer. As you naturally want to row harder, let it happen.

And as you row more and push harder, what can you imagine or picture is happening in your body.  Go to the Body of Water page for more on that.

Start the Transition from Erg to Boat

Last year, I got out on the bay to row five times before the end of March. Right now, there is still ice along the shore.

I can erg more regularly to get ready to row outdoors.

But for me the biggest parts of the transition are the boat, the hands and the wrists.

Have to check to see if the boat is ready to row. I do not want to get out on 35 degree water and start taking on water. And that will be the Alden or Martin at this point, not the Hudson. The racing shell can come later.

Have to get the car rack ready to make it convenient to take a boat to calmer water on windy days.

The hands are a relatively small problem as the blisters and callouses have been less of an issue in recent years.  Is that because I am not pulling as hard?  Or is my technique better?

But adding the wrist movement of squaring and feathering the blade is a major transition. I get in more short rows early in the season to let the wrists develop. That helps me avoid strain and tendonitis.

Then, I need to develop a race plan - when might I race and where this summer and fall? And from that I can work backwards to develop a training plan for my rows.

And what worked as a focus?  I have found many types of focus useful. Here are two examples.

One thing I sometimes use on the erg or in the boat is to focus on a particular part of the body. Drive the knees down. Push with the quads. Strong hamstrings. Use the glutes. Hang on the lats! ten strokes at a time. Feel the emphasis in the muscles in question. Feel for the effect on my stroke and the boat.

Another focus is simply to remind myself why I am pushing harder than average. I like using a set of three "mantras," if you will:  Build muscle - clear the lungs - burn the fat. These three remind me I am not there just to move the boat but for the positive effects on the body. If I can push harder for a longer row, I will burn more fat, use the lungs more efficiently and put a demand on my muscles that results in stronger, harder muscles for the next row.

Losing Excess Weight

As mentioned before, one goal in 2016 was to lose excess weight.  Get lighter in the boat.  Lift less weight doing pullups. Free the gut from the excess padding and - I hoped - breathe deeper and longer at full power.

I cannot recommend one right or best way to lose weight. But i did succeed in losing 25 pounds and felt a lot better.  I used the "try a little of everything" approach:

  • Cut out or cut down intake of bread, rolls;
  • Reduce sugar intake;
  • Eat less meat and more salads and vegetables;
  • Smaller portions;
  • More meals but less after dinner/approaching bedtime;
  • Exercise more and harder - which seems to support feeling good a little hungry rather than a little (or a lot) full;
  • Take water on the road to help avoid buying drinks (sugar/calories);
  • Avoid fast food;
  • Eat more whole grains.

All in all, i found what worked was partly the basic mechanics of what I chose to put in my mouth.  But it was also developing a change in my thinking. And that has been the hardest to maintain after the racing ended.

I wanted to be light for racing, to reduce what I had to "carry" across the finish line. And, while i felt better having a looser belt, the latter has not kept the weight off as the focus on racing did. I think going to double workouts and adding more interval training helped, too. Both put a premium on not feeling full, as that feeling tends to result in a weaker workout.

Clothing - as with the belt, losing some of the belly/waist/hip fat helped make clothes fit more comfortably and i even wondered, If i can keep this up, will i need to get a smaller waist shorts and pants?  That did not happen, but the same waist became comfortable to loose instead of tight. The belt got notched one spot tighter - and was comfortable.

I also felt that doing more core work helped.  Holding my body tall through the middle helped improve the appearance of slimness compared to the increasing paunch.  Sometimes appearances are real and they help.  Starting to see some of the core slimness of earlier years was encouraging.

Any encouragement is helpful.

Races Entered 2016; and in 2017?

I raced my single in four head races - the Lift Bridge Regatta in Fairport, NY; the Five Bridges Regatta in Welland, ON; the Head of the Charles in Boston; and the Head of the Hooch in Chattanooga.  Three were about 3 miles (Fairport has shortened its course to closer to 2 miles).  I was lucky with weather and water conditions with all three (it got much windier at the HOCR later in the day).  I raced several people more than once but many different people in each regatta, given the distances between them. 

I did not win any of the races, but I also did not come in last in any.  I improved my time in comparison to some others, while some of my competitors improved in relation to me.

My main takeaway was that, while I rowed hard, I was never rowing at full power.  This tells me several things.  First, I enjoy rowing lightly on the bay in the Martin and that may be good for my aerobic base, but it does not prepare me to compete.  Second, the increase in power I experience during most workouts (i.e., I start slow and end stronger) is productive as far as it goes, but does not achieve what I want for a race pace without intentional increase in pressure.  Third, the planned workouts I did, both on the water and on the erg when the bay was too windy, were far more effective as training sessions than simply going out for a row.  Fourth, the more I planned and used interval workouts, the easier and more helpful they became.  (With regard to this last, I have to say that not too many years ago, I did very little interval work.  However, at that time, my average pace on the erg was under 2:00 minutes per 500 for almost any distance and my practice was to start strong and stay strong.  Now I start - it seems - half asleep and gradually strengthen my pace.  Inserting intervals after a warmup improves my pace throughout.) Fifth, I need to find time to get out in my racing single more times during the summer and fall. The Martin is great - and better for open water that rarely stays flat, but I need more time in the racing single to improve my comfort and control and technique.

In 2016, I considered doing some summer racing (1k sprints) but did not enter any summer regattas.  In 2017, I will consider it again.  And if I do enter those races, my intention will be to use them to 'up the ante' on the interval work I do in the summer for the fall. And to do so sooner (and perhaps with something closer to 'full power') in order to gain a competitive advantage on the pace I had by Labor Day in 2016.

And then, for the fall, I like the idea of 4-5 head races.  I have a guarantee at the Hooch but not the HOCR.  I do not need one at the Lift Bridge and Five Bridges regattas.  And perhaps it is time to add a new venue.  We will see.

Today, with snow on the ground and ice on the bay, my hope is to get some miles in on the water before the end of March!

Looking Back at 2016 to Prepare for 2017

In 2016, many of us decided to compete, indoors and out.

I decided to race my single in four events in 2016, all in the fall.  In preparation, I wanted to do several things.  For my rowing, I wanted to spend more time on the water and more time in my racing single.  (I do a lot of open water rowing in a Martin, too.)  For fitness, I wanted to build up my strength (fight muscle loss) and do more interval work.  For efficiency, I wanted to lose weight - 20-30 pounds.

Here is a quick recap of how I fared with those goals. 

First, because I planned to race, I immediately became more serious and more effective at working on the other goals.

Second, as I worked on weights and exercises like pushup and pullups, I realized that a lighter body would be easier to pull up to that bar.  That added a specific incentive to cut down the layer of fat that had grown over what used to be pretty lean muscle.

Over a period of months, I lost just over 25 pounds, probably partly with the exercise but also with diet.  Another 8 pounds would have been perfect, so I was pleased with that progress.  I did more pullups (though still did not reach 10).  I felt lighter in my Hudson.  And it made me more aware of design options for a new single, such as the fact that Empacher makes singles for a sequence of sizes/weights, not just heavy or light.

I thought about doing some summer racing but did not enter or compete at that time.  (I will not blame my daughter's Labor Day wedding, but it was a busy summer at home.)

I entered four fall head races - in Ontario, NY State, Boston and Chattanooga.  More on those events later.

And I spent a number of weeks doing double workouts.  I came to realize that even when I pulled hard, it was "half-power" hard, not (with very rare exceptions) full power.  I did much more interval work, and I incorporated sequences of decreasing duration intervals.  More on that later, also.

I had some good races, not in the sense of being truly fast or winning, but of staying focused, finishing, being competitive with others, and learning more about things I need to do to be efficient racing on unfamiliar courses.  I got passed, but I also passed some other rowers.  I saw old friends/competitors and met some new ones.  I faced the fact that at 65 I was at the low end of my age group, so others with more years could beat me with handicap as well as speed.  More later.

And then winter came.  I went indoors.  I spent more of my time on the erg.  I moved where I store my racing shell and put a roof over it.  And I began looking forward to spring again.  And planning to take back off some of the weight i re-gained and to race some more in 2017.

How about you?  How was 2016 and what is coming in 2017?

Catching Up and Looking Ahead

With four months since the last post on this page, there is a lot to catch up on.

Winter has come and gone.  Got in 200k in the C2 Holiday Challenge – did you try and how did you end up with the challenge? 

Traveled; sometimes found an erg to row (never took the single along this winter, but have looked at options in Florida).  Continued to erg through the winter.  Took up weight lifting – erratically.  Kept rowing long pieces.  Occasionally inserted interval work of varying length – satisfying but challenging and inconsistent.

Cord on my C2 dynamic broke again this winter.  Frustrating but also great to find C2 so willing to help.  Since I had an original part to hold the mechanism that did not allow ready access to thread the replacement cord, they sent a new one.  Worked great and I was back in the saddle.

Got final city approval for Traverse Area Community Rowing (TACR) to offer rowing in Hull Park, Traverse City, Michigan, beginning this year.  (Amazed and disappointed to find rowers in the next county trying to block this community effort!)  TACR has begun offering indoor rowing LTR classes with help from many and cooperation of a local health club (TACR has no building yet).  Fenced compound to go up next month and looking for boats and oars to supplement the small fleet of singles we have.  LTR classes begin on the water in June.  Have found others to be very willing to help locate equipment for sale.

Enjoyed the Lubbers Cup Regatta last weekend on Spring Lake, near Grand Haven, Michigan.  Two of us acted as announcers with great support by the media group of GVSU and a local television station.  Fifteen universities’ rowing teams and club teams competing over two days.  Great regatta despite the wind and cold.

Got out on the bay to row three times in March but winter kept coming back.  On the water twice so far in April.  Tried the C2 Bantam sculls and new skinnies – both felt good.

Planning a first, informal “group row” (not a race) across Grand Traverse Bay from Suttons Bay to the Old Mission lighthouse this year, perhaps Memorial Day weekend.  Have 4 of us now planning to participate – subject to calm weather, of course.  Safety launch to follow – a local businessman who rowed in high school.  Join us?

Finding it challenging to increase my wind after a winter of long low rows.  With the number of friends I have who are dealing with early onset Alzheimers, Parkinson’s disease, blood cancer and lung problems, I cannot complain. And the fact is that the body responds when I do interval work or keep the longer rows going strong after fully warming up. But the process of aging makes it a daily challenge.   Good to have rowing to use in all seasons and conditions.

Summer racing?  May do some sprint races this summer to prepare me better for the fall head racing season.

The books (“Row Daily” and “A Row a Day”) – getting some good feedback but always welcome more.  Additional books in the works.  Always interested in discussing ideas.  I am still interested in pursuing the idea that the way exercise helps us with fitness and health is through the changes it (movement and deeper breathing) makes in the way water is used in the body and how water moves through the body.  So far, I have not found a doctor who is excited by that idea and I need to follow up with physiologists.  Reactions or input?


Ways to Row Stronger

If you feel you can row with more strength but are not sure what to do, consider the following thoughts on power application.  (You can also do many other things, from changing your stroke rate to lifting weights and more to get a better erg score/row stronger, but the following points assume you are rowing regularly and moderately but feel you could reduce your pace in terms of how fit you feel when you row, apart from other tools in your tool box.)

1. Row long:  I often shorten my stroke when I am not pulling hard.  Be sure you are reaching all the way forward (while still sitting upright/not slumping over/not over-reaching), and pull the arms in firmly to the body to finish the drive.  Not reaching out and letting the hands languish over the thighs are sure signs you have shortened up.

2. Catch with the legs: If your leg application follows your beginning the drive with your arms, you have lost out on your primary engines from the catch.  As is often said, "hang" on the handle at the catch while beginning your drive motion by pressing the legs down.  This does not have to be explosive, but use adequate leg pressure to begin the stroke, which pressure can then accelerate through the drive.

3. Couple legs and back: As you have begun to drive the legs and the knees begin to lower, you are reaching the position with the legs where you have the best leverage.  Couple your back/use your back/open your back at that same point/through that same range to achieve maximum acceleration (through the water if you were in a boat - with the added advantage that your blade is closest to perpendicular to the shell so the effort goes into forward movement).

4. Legs finish strong: Believe it or not, it is possible to begin a strong leg drive but then let the legs lag as the body and arms finish.  Pay attention to the knees completing the drive firmly and see how much more you feel that in the quads.  You can even do sets of 10 'firm leg finishes.'

Power on the Drive

Let's say you are sculling.  Probably rowing 24-32 SPM.  At 30 SPM, and assuming an even ratio of recovery to drive, you are spending one second on the drive each stroke.  It seems to go by too fast to be thinking of breaking down the motion; just pull, right?

At full reach, the shafts of your sculls are approaching a position parallel to the hull.  The first part of that second on the drive is simply connecting with the water and getting the blades moving.  Assuming you start with arms straight and do not lift the shoulders and back to begin, you are beginning the motion of the drive and setting the blades with the legs.  At full reach, the knees are compressed. This initial motion allows the legs to transition from recovery to drive without delay and begins to open the knees to a position of greater power than you have in this compressed position.

Equally interesting, as the drive progresses, the sculls move through the beginning of the arc to the portion closer to perpendicular to the boat.  In the arc of the blade 'through the water' from before perpendicular to after - call it the middle 75% of the drive, the power you put into the oars is most useful at moving the boat forward; the sculls drive mostly toward the stern.

With the legs in a stronger position during this portion of the drive and the blades in a more effective position, powerful acceleration is called for. And moving the back (hips, back and shoulders) through the range of motion they will apply on the drive at this time compounds the effectiveness of the legs. 

Then the legs are down and feet pressing against the foot stretcher, the shoulders back and the elbows pulling through while the fingers and thumbs tweak the handles as the blades lift and feather and begin a return on the recovery.

See for more.

Repetitive Motion vs. Repetitive Motion Injury

I am happy to be corrected, but I do not think repetitive motion (read: rowing) necessarily leads to repetitive emotion injury.  The latter, development of a problem like tendinitis, may arise out of repetitive motion some of the time.  But I suggest that the injury does not result from the motion or the repetition itself, but rather from something about the motion that is stressful to that part of the body - and which the person making the motion is not handling properly.

For example, in the spring when a rower begins to row outside after a winter indoors on the rowing machine, one key change is having to feather and square every stroke, which requires quick back and forth movements with the hands/wrists/forearms.  And it may be in colder weather, possibly another aspect of stress on the part of the body newly in use.  The combination of a new motion, back and forth and rapidly repeated, may result in strain on tendons in the wrists.  However, all that is needed to avoid the tendonitis is to work into it (rowing with feathering) gradually.  Make the first few rows a little shorter, fewer strokes, lower rating, less pressure/pull on the arms.  Build up the distance and number of strokes you take and allow the wrists to strengthen, relax, acclimate to the new motion over a period of days.

If repetitive motion such as the rowing stroke always or inevitably caused repetitive motion injury, every rower would suffer from it. And given the use of the whole body, the RMI conditions would be pervasive - hands and arms, shoulders and back, hips and knees.

When done in moderation, one aspect of which may be the phasing in of more challenging work or motion, rowing need not result in injury, from repetitive motion or otherwise. 

Dr. Carolyn M. Kaelin

The obit for Dr. Kaelin appears in today's NYTimes.

Dr. Kaelin dedicated her career to research, advocacy and surgery to help breast cancer victims.

As the obituary says, she "helped start research that found rowing could help relieve lymphedema, the painful swelling in the arms that affects many women after breast cancer surgery."

Google her. Honor her. Buy her books.

Support programs that use rowing to support breast cancer survivors.  See, for example, Recovery on Water, a Chicago-area group:

Training and Racing

A rower training to race will usually engage in regular, intense sessions on the erg or on the water.  A rower training for health may row with less intensity, moderately, every day.

Suppose the rower for health decides to race. Does the level of intensity have to increase all the time or can she continue at a moderate pace?

It depends on the rower's goals. If the goal is to participate in a race, to try it, to experience the event and meet others, it is not necessary to train as if you are trying to win. Even at major events like the Head of the Charles, there are competitors out there who have trained in that way. They may be slower, but they are participating.

If the goal is to see how well you can do, you will want to ratchet up the intensity of some workouts. Do not plan to row easily at all times before an event and then have the ability to row the course at full power.

On the other hand, the moderate training you have done year round can provide a solid aerobic base on which to build as you begin to train to compete. Build on it with interval work. See how your body responds to shorter bursts of harder rowing. Watch day to day and week to week as your strength and wind improve.

The Five Points of Contact

Rowing on a machine is very similar to rowing on the water, but also very different. The basic bodily motion is (or should be) the same. But on the machine you are only moving back and forth but you are not moving through space. You are not dealing with balance. And you are not interacting with the surface of the water.

One model you can follow to pay attention to what you are doing as you row is to focus on the points of contact. On the erg there are three, feet in the foot stretcher, seat on the seat and hands on the handle. On the water, there are two more.

Consider the (outdoor) rowing motion from the perspective of points of contact among the body and the equipment and the water. It is through these points of contact that your bodily effort moves the boat. You are sitting down and yet you are moving. You are facing backwards and yet you are going forward. You are moving your body back and forth and yet the boat moves continually ahead. The blades of your oars repeatedly drop into and lift out of the water and yet you stay balanced. The blades push against a fluid and yet they propel your solid boat and body across the water. How does each of the five points of contact enable you to make this happen?

The five points of contact are the points where your body touches the equipment and the oars touch the water:

  • The foot stretcher, where your body is fixed to the boat;
  • The seat, where your weight rests and on which you move back and forth;
  • The handles, the link between your hands, the boat and the water;
  • The oarlock, the fulcrum against which you lever the boat forward with the oars; and
  • The blades, the instrument with which your bodily effort swings the boat forward.

Next time you are in a boat, select one of these points of contact and consider, as you row, what part it plays. Here is one image to start with:  Imagine you and your single are floating not on the water but in the air. You are a unitary physical system, of which the boat is about 30 pounds and most of the weight is your body.  If you were floating on air (and are ignoring rowing/forward motion for a moment), each movement you make back and forth with your body would involve a corresponding opposite motion of the boat. And, since your body has more mass, the boat would move a correspondingly greater speed or distance to maintain equilibrium. Apply that to taking a stroke; as you glide through the recovery, the boat must surge forward, not necessarily because you are pulling it forward with your feet, but simply because the weight/mass as a whole will have consistent momentum – and as you reverse (actually just slow) the forward momentum of your body, that must necessary speed the forward momentum of the boat.

Am I Hungry or Full: Exercise First

Nutritionists and sports therapists will often point out that exercise can affect diet in positive ways. After you exercise, you may feel less hungry. And you will want to eat something that fuels your body more effectively with better nutrition.

But also consider the feeling of hunger in the afternoon, the feeling before you row:

I am driving back from a meeting. I can go back to my desk and work; or I can get a snack or early dinner; or I can go for a row first. I feel hungry. And then I realize that I also feel full.

On the hungry side, I want a burst of energy; I long for something that tastes good; my teeth want to work on a snack, if only a candy bar or an apple or granola.

But at the same time I realize my gut is not sending signals of hunger. The digestive tract has plenty to work on. I have had the experience of rowing when I am somewhat full, too soon after eating or with too much in the tank. It is not comfortable; I cannot breathe as deeply. I do not get as good a workout.

If I row now and eat afterwards, I will enjoy both experiences more.

(Next: Relax in the evening with a glass of wine or a row - or both!?)

Eugene ("Luigi") Faccuito

Today's NYTimes reports on the life and death of this dancer, choreographer and teacher who helped many deal with injury and use of the body with a systematized approach to movement.

The report summarizes, of his approach:

"It emphasizes strength, balance, alignment, bodily freedom and above all the imperative of his oft-repeated mantra, 'Never stop moving.'"

In 1946, to help himself recover his ability to walk after an auto accident, he "devised a painstaking regimen of stretching, breathing and movement, isolating the muscles needed to move each part of the body."


What Feels Good

When you ask what feels good about rowing, or about exercise generally, you will tend to get several types of response.

One response is that it does not feel good; I do not exercise because it is boring, it is hard and I would sweat. It would make me sore and my muscles would become even tighter than they already are. It does no good.

Another response is, I know I will feel good if I start and stick with it, but I hate going through the early phases, the first days and weeks.

Those who have developed a routine and either avoided the obstacles of the prior response or have, at least, gotten past those first days, will often say, I do not know why, but I like the fact that I feel better all day. And I sleep better.

Some more specific responses include appreciation of losing weight, feeling more fit, having more energy and enjoying my meals more.

Some new to rowing focus on how it differs from the running and cycling and basketball/tennis/etc. they used to rely on primarily for fitness; it is more efficient and uses more of the body and I do not have sore joints from doing it.

Once you have a daily routine, you will find you feel good about including it in your schedule, doing something positive for your health, no longer feeling as heavy or full and more.

This list could go on and on, and with every person and group, something new and different comes out, a positive feeling from rowing.

Let’s consider what may be one of the ultimate good feelings that can come from rowing, the feeling of having great wind. You are working in and on your comfort zone each day you row. With longer pieces, shorter and more intense pieces and judicious use of intervals, you push yourself to a point of being more winded while you row. And, lo and behold, you find your wind improves. Not only can you then ‘push’ a bit harder or farther the next time you row, but you also feel less easily winded as you go about your daily routines. And then the day comes that you row so close to the edge of your comfort zone that you expect to feel the familiar desire to stop. But you do not. Instead, you feel you could go on forever, even though you are breathing hard.

Moderate or Intense for Health?

Two of the quotes I use in the coming book “A Row a Day for a Year” refer to the usefulness of moderate exercise:

“Exercise does not have to involve working up a drenching sweat. Moderate exercise, preferably every day, provides significant health benefits. The key is doing moderately active things regularly.”

            Merck, at 806

“My parents always wanted me to be above average, but this [exercise] is one area where average is fine.”

            Michael Lauer, MD

The point that moderate exercise is sufficient – and that strenuous exercise may not be as effective at promoting health – was made in a NYTimes article by Gretchen Reynolds last Tuesday.

But what level of effort works best for you?

There may be several factors that affect what level of exercise, what degree of effort, feels right.

  • Feeling: "If I do not row harder, I do not feel I have done any good." Pay attention to your feelings, but also learn to distinguish between the satisfying sense of ‘clearing the pipes’ with some good hard strokes and what promotes health.  Most importantly, do not stop rowing just because you are rowing less strenuously than you used to. You may be slower, but you are still promoting your health.

  • Weight: "Row slow to burn fat," some say. But we all know that you burn fewer calories if you do not push as hard. Where do you draw the line? We all will tend to find it harder to keep the weight off as we age. But consider whether that comes with increasing weakness rather than being an inevitable challenge. Use your time wisely; row longer and vary your work with intervals. We can learn at any age, even how to eat better. Do not let the tail wag the dog; eat for what you need rather than letting what you eat control you.

  • Weakness: If we weaken as we age, one reaction is to try to row harder to make up for that. A different reaction is to allow our pace to slacken. We may need to get smarter as we age, and one way to row smarter is to row more consistently. A long hard row on the weekend instead of regular rows all week will likely be less effective, in part because you will find you have lost muscle mass and strength during the week. Get in control of the process by rowing daily.

  • Sweat and the Lungs: You may not feel satisfied without breaking a sweat and filling the lungs deeply. But that does not mean you have to row at your limit the full 30 minutes (or hour) you are on the machine. Do some mini-pieces from time to time, in effect rowing with what used to be called the “fahrtlech” method (from the German ‘traveling’). Let your body push as hard as you want when it feels right, but let it ease off, too, when that feels comfortable.

Why Breathe Deeper

David B. Agus, MD notes in his book "A Short Guide to a Long Life" (page 158) that we "breathe in 2,000 gallons of air a day into an organ with the surface area of a tennis court."

That's your lungs. They fit in your chest but due to the complexity of the inner surface where the air you breathe meets your blood their working surface area is extensive.

So how much of that surface area do you use? If you are not breathing deeply, you do not use it all, certainly not to its capacity.

And what happens to unused organs in the body? If you do not use all of the lungs' capacity for exchange of oxygen and waste, what happens to the portions of  your lungs you are not using fully? Do they remain fit and available for use, or do they harbor disease or become unusable over time?

Breathe more deeply once a day. Not in the sense of sitting and taking one or more deep breaths. Get your body moving. Let your body decide how deep to breathe. Keep moving until you know you are using a greater portion of your lungs with deeper breaths.

One reason rowing is such a useful exercise is that it uses a high percentage of the body at once (joints, muscle mass, etc.). That greater simultaneous demand more readily creates a greater demand on the lungs. It is an efficient way to breathe more deeply and, thus, to gain the benefits of your lung power.

Is it fair to say that hard working lungs are happy lungs? Maybe that is too simple, potentially misleading. But you get the point.

Dealing with Aging - From You

            Are you trying to figure out how to deal with the declining strength and wind that comes with age? Consider the following situation provided by Allen S. (shared with his permission):

            First, last July: “I have been rowing for about 5 years on a Model D and have a lifetime total of over 7 million meters. I'm 69 years old and my max HR is 178 (recorded using a HR monitor during a 2k time trial) and my resting HR is 48. I generally work out in a HR range of 130-152. That range was determined using the Karvonen method. A couple of years ago, I could row for an hour at 152 without difficulty. Now 15 minutes at that rate leaves me exhausted. Scans performed by a physician show that I have no plaque in my arteries and I'm not aware of any medical issues. I suspect that I have ‘overtrained.’ . . . Apparently 152 is too high a rate for me on a regular basis.”

            And now, six months later:

            “It seemed like my rowing efforts in July and August kept going downhill. So, I decided to really back off and not allow my heart rate (HR) to get above 120 while exercising. In September, at a checkup with my doc, I tried to explain my frustration with my workouts, being generally tired, etc. His response was “You’re not an athlete and you’re getting older; what do you expect?” Then he said he thought I was depressed and he wanted to start me on a med for that. I told him that I was indeed depressed but it was because I couldn’t do my workouts at any sort of a reasonable level. He finally agreed to do extra blood work to check things out. Fortunately, those results were normal. I told him I wanted to see a cardiologist just to make sure everything was okay. An echocardiogram and a sleep study both came back normal. After all of that, I was satisfied that I was healthy and had just been pushing too hard for too long.

            “Ironically, about that same time, I read an article about a book by Matt Fitzgerald called “80/20 Running.” What caught my attention was that the book was based on studies by a pretty successful masters rower and PhD by the name of Stephen Seiler. Here is an interesting article by him:

            “I purchased the “80/20 Running” book and was very fascinated. The book points out that most professional athletes train at a low intensity pace about 80% of the time and only train at moderate and high intensities 20% of the time. The book further points out that most amateurs train at something like 50/50 and consistently push too hard. I realize it comes down to how you define “low, moderate and high” intensity. Matt believes that those definitions should be based upon your “lactate threshold” HR and he developed an app to make it simple to figure out what that HR is for each individual. The app is from PEAR Sports. Basically, you use that app to measure your HR at various exercise intensities and it comes up with “lactate threshold” and calculates five exercise zones. After I had a chance to read the book and study my calculated zones, I was indeed in the 50/50 group and probably worse than that.

            “Matt has quite a few exercise plans at the back of his book for runners but they are easily converted to other sports. I took his basic half-marathon plan and converted it to rowing using RowPro. I started working on that plan about 12 weeks ago and it is going very well. It seems unbelievably easy and yet my row rates are steadily improving for the various zones.

            “For the past four years, I have rowed about 2 million meters each year. Then, last year, I struggled to reach 1.2 million meters. I looked back at my monthly totals for this year and they were Jul=81k, Aug=105k, Sep=64k, Oct=61k, Nov=119k, Dec=221k. I started Matt’s plan the first part of November. For the past four years, I have met the 200k level for the Holiday Challenge and I was pretty excited to again reach that goal after a pretty tough summer and fall.”

                                                                                                Allen S.

            Lots of great references here that are worth exploring. And, perhaps most importantly, a great story of persistence, paying attention and adjusting to enhance your experience.