Diet Plans and Exercise

I have never been a dieter. In my younger years, I ate as much as I wanted and did not face a weight problem. That may have been partly because my extensive exercise was burning off more calories than I ate. I would also like to think that I ate wisely, seeking good nutrition rather than empty calories. But that certainly was not always the case.

As I have aged, I have found it harder to keep off the pounds. That has made me more aware of talk about diets. I still have not undertaken a specific diet. And I am very aware that it has become harder over the years to exercise as hard as I once did.

I hear talk from friends about high protein diets, high carb diets, no wheat diets, cabbage diets and more. The names apparently come from the devisers of the diets and/or the concept. (Is there one called the Neanderthal diet?)

But I have a question. When we debate whether eating carbohydrates will result in my putting on more fat compared to eating a meat and fat diet, are we talking about the chemistry of the body or about something else? If I consume only the calories I need and not more, does it matter whether I eat meat or bread? Unless I eat more than I need (more than I burn up through daily living and exercise), it will not turn to fat whether it is cheese or rolls, right? Instead, the food I consume will be consumed to run my body.

And if I eat more than I need or if I fail to consume the nutrition I need, then I will likely pack on some more fat. Right or wrong?

So is the key to weight gain the calories we take in or the calories we burn off?

Circadian2 - 'Spanish' Lifestyle

Let's question how the 24-hour rhythm works.

Some would say it is important to eat, row and sleep following a regular pattern.  I do schedule morning rows when I am approaching an early morning race to get my body used to the timing of the race, but I do not necessarily row at the same time every day.  Some would say the continuous cycle of digestion works better if we eat and exercise and rest on schedule.  Does exercise-recovery work the same way? For many of us, making every day the same simply is not practical because of work or family demands and changes day to day.

And then there are the Spanish, working all week during the day but socializing much of the night on the weekends (or so I understand - plan to visit and see for myself next month). (Or compare the use of the siesta/resting afternoon and later nights with the US 40-hour week on a 9-5 schedule. And when the French went to the 35-hour work week, what was the effect?) Obviously, the body is able to work with such changes and/or on different schedules. But, just as we counsel against the weekend warrior syndrome (no exercise during the week, followed by intense/peak efforts on the weekend) as counterproductive, is there a downside to changes in the 24 hour schedule?

Is there an ideal schedule?

Circadian Rhythms

Row daily. Your body recovers while you rest. Your body responds and becomes stronger based on how you stimulate it.

The medical community knows much about our daily rhythms.  And they are studying it to understand it better.

Is it an internal clock? Or is it a response to the 24 hour cycle of daylight? It appears a little of both. No question something is going on - just exactly what and how is subject to study.

And is it a 24- hour thing or a long-term thing - consider that one cycle of the rhythm probably only makes sense in the context of a longer whole, a series - in this case, weeks and months.

You do not have to understand the 24-hour clock or bodily rhythm to use it to your advantage. You can do your own study.

Row, lift weights, cycle, run, swim, do something physical that gets you out of breath for an extended period of time.  Then, over time, try missing some days and see how your body responds. Try rowing every day and compare how your body responds. Try rowing more easily or more firmly and see how your body responds.

Row a day for a year (with or without gaps to test the practice) and see how you feel. More on that coming. . .

Older Marathon Runners

Planning to watch the NYC Marathon?

It is becoming more common for older runners to participate.  Not just runners in their 50s, but runners in their 80s and 90s.

This participation by our peers and parents may not be common in the sense of numbers; they are relatively few. But we are beginning to learn and appreciate that continuing to exercise can help us stay active longer. Much longer.

What do they know that we did not know when we were 30 or 40 or 50?

What can we learn from it that we can use to enjoy life longer - not just live longer?


The Pleasure of Breathing

How many ways can we enjoy breathing?

It is a simple pleasure to be able to breathe automatically. No need to pay attention. The diaphragm moves; the lungs inflate; oxygen transfers to the red blood cells and waste products and poisons leave with each exhalation. Most of the time, we are not aware we are breathing.

Surface from a dive underwater and take a breath. Turn the head to the side while swimming and take a breath. It is nice to know at the air/water interface that it is possible to breathe.

Food caught in the throat or temporary spasm or closure of the throat and it feels like you cannot breathe. Does it help to breathe in through the nose and out through the mouth? It is a great feeling for the throat to relax and the air to pass, in and out. Not feeding the body but keeping it alert and alive.

In yogic breathing, you may breathe in and out alternately using one nostril and then the other. Fast and shallow. Slow and normal. Either way, what is the experience?

Rowing and warming up, the breath will deepen. The diaphragm will move downward and the gut out more fully, the lungs filling more deeply with air. The number of breaths per minute and per stroke may change. Settling in with your 'second wind,' you may experience a calming of the breath even as you continue to work.

Rowing harder, you reach a point where you are winded, breathing hard, feeling a desire to slow down. That can still be comfortable and yet signal the time for rest  - or least the time to ease back somewhat - is coming.

Rowing harder day to day and week to week, you find you can work harder and still breathe comfortably. You find you enjoy the feeling that, although rowing while somewhat out of breath, you can continue this indefinitely. You are comfortable. You have reached another plateau in your fitness.

Asking the Right Question

We all want to exercise efficiently. If we work hard, we want to see results. If we take a long view, we want eventual progress.

Sometimes people ask questions about the best way to train. Then the discussion focuses on answering the questions. But are we asking the right questions? Or are we getting distracted?

The 9/30/2014 N.Y. Times has a short segment on the following question: If you are going to do some weight lifting and some aerobic/cardio work on the same day, which should you do first? People disagree. They cite a study that says to me, someone is not asking the right question.

For many of us, weight lifting is a resistance exercise that does not rise to the level of heavy, muscle-straining work. For many of us, when rowing or doing other aerobic/cardio work, we do not stretch our limits at the anaerobic threshold.

Isn’t the right (or first) question to ask when considering doing both weights and rowing in one day, “What do I hope to achieve?”  Answering that question involves considering the type of workout I will do. If I plan to row 6k at my absolute limit to the point of exhaustion, I agree I should not lift weights afterwards – I should be in full control when lifting weights. On the other hand, if my row is essentially a warmup for weight lifting, why not do it first.

Similarly, if I intend to lift 3 sets of 10 reps of heavy weights that will take me to the limit, I would not want to attempt a serious row afterwards. On the other hand, an easy row after weight lifting could help my body recover from the tightness and pain resulting from the weight work.

That is a long way of saying, consider what works for you based on your level of fitness and your goals and practices. The experts have many issues to study and some of their work is helpful, but think twice before applying it to yourself.

What is a Moderate Level of Exercise?

To some, the term ‘comfort zone’ sounds like it should involve only minimal activity, perhaps with snacks or hors d’ouevres and a glass of wine. Consider in the context of moderate exercise that the term is used for a range of exertion you would want to repeat the next day rather than fear or avoid. The ‘comfort zone’ can mean many things:

  • I am rowing as hard or as easily as I want to at the time;

  • I am comfortable according to whatever measure I am using, whether that is my breath or wind, my pulse, my feeling of fatigue, how readily I recover, whether I am enjoying myself, my ability to continue indefinitely, etc.;

  • I do not feel a need, a physical pressure to stop;

  • I can speak comfortably (or sing along with the music?) while rowing;

  • It feels like taking a walk or riding a bike to relax;

And so on.

            The comfort zone can accommodate a wide range of effort. It will not include rowing all out and trying to keep going at that pace (except for the very few and very fit whose goal is to do just that on the day in question). But your comfort zone may include rowing harder than normal for a relatively short period – i.e., doing short intervals with adequate rest between the hard intervals. It may include rowing much harder today than you rowed or could have rowed six months or a year before. It could involve developing so much better wind that it is pleasurable to row out of breath because you know you can keep it up without pain or discomfort. Perhaps most importantly is that the comfort zone for moderate rowing can include rowing hard for those who wish to do so. And that can lead to a dilemma for us as we age:  Can we continue to row as hard as we used to?  Can we maintain the same intensity? Or will we necessarily ratchet back as our bodies age or weaken?

Certainly pay attention to your health and your doctor's advice. And let's compare notes on what works to keep a comfortable level of effort going and what we may need to add to our training regimens to maintain strength and speed.


Death Row, Duluth Style

On September 14, 2014, the Duluth Rowing Club will host a 25k race titled the Death Row.  Now there is an aerobic fitness training event!

According to the  DRC web site ( ), the winning times in prior years have ranged from just a few minutes over two hours to less than two hours, with other boats finishing with times over three to three and one-half hours.

It looks like anyone can enter, from singles to eights and canoes and kayaks, as well.  But that is a long distance to paddle facing forward!

See you there?

The Perfect as Enemy of the Good

I don't feel like rowing hard, so I will skip today.

I can't row every day this week so I will wait until the weekend.

I only have 30 minutes to exercise, so I will wait until tomorrow.

I missed yesterday so I will skip today.

It is raining, so I will wait.

I am hungry so I will eat before I row.

I am full, so I will wait.

I want to row early in the morning, so I will wait until tomorrow.

I feel too tired to row hard, so I will take the day off. . . and around in circles we go. . .


"In Times of Extremity"

In notes a the end of "Unbroken," Laura Hillenbrand describes the stories she is drawn to by saying, "In times of extremity, ordinary individuals must reach into the depths of themselves, and there they find the true content of their character. Some find . . . wondrous virtues - courage, resourcefulness, self-sacrifice, daring, ingenuity, the will to solder on when will is all they have left. These are the virtues that turn history, and these are the virtues that enable individuals to prevail in the supreme trials of their lives."

A rowing race is a time of "extremity," a time when competitors push their limits, perhaps to the point where "will is all they have left." When we watch sports on TV, we often forget that we are seeing not only a display of skill, but also a display of stamina and will to persevere. When we watch a rowing regatta, the same is true - it is almost impossible to imagine the extremities of fatigue and wind that the competitors are experiencing in the boat as we watch from a chair along the shore.

Is the faster crew winning because of natural physical endowments such as greater size? Or is it more skillful technique? Or is their speed in the second half of the race due more to trained fitness and a highly developed will to persist?

Any rower will tell you, you have to put in the miles on the river in order to have speed in a race. But it is not just miles rowed; it is also the level of effort, the experience of being winded and accepting it and going on regardless. It is experiencing the desire to stop or slow down and developing the mental toughness to continue in spite of that feeling. It is the experience of the mind and guts being stronger than the doubts and fears, and of training through former weakness to a higher level of functioning.  It is training the body and using the body's incredible natural reaction to healthy demands, resulting in increased capability.

Exercise or Just Recreation

When you take a walk is that simply recreation or is it exercise?   What about when you go kayaking? Canoeing? Bicycling? Swimming? Gardening?

Anything we do physically may be beneficial if it puts a demand on our bodies. That stimulus creates an automatic response. And, since the body's response to healthy stimulus is to strengthen the body, to empower the body to do what we have done more easily, the response is usually healthy and supportive of an active lifestyle. But are your activities providing you a helpful stimulus?

I have pointed out that doing pushups is less advantageous than rowing.  Pushups use a limited set of muscles. We do them briefly (not for 30 minutes). Doing pushups rarely gets our pulse up or causes the breath to become deeper for a prolonged period. Doing pushups differs from rowing in these ways and, as a result (I would say), is less positive for health.

At the same time, when you or I hold our body in position to do pushups, we are essentially doing core work at the same time. That is positive and supportive of overall bodily health in a different way than the muscular effort to lower and lift the body. (See section of the book on core work.)

So if we garden or kayak and do not break a sweat or breathe more deeply, it may be that what we are doing during that physical activity is not as efficient or as productive for our health as rowing the same amount of time. But it likely does have positive benefits. What are they? Are you happy with the results as well as the process (what you are doing)?

How do you decide what to do?  To the extent you have time, do it all. Do the chores and simple things that provide enjoyment and some benefit. And then row each day to round out the benefits. Spend some time breathing more deeply and watch how your rowing supports your other activities over time and perhaps the reverse will be true, as well.

Canoe Marathon July 26

As a rower, I tend to think less of other water activities like canoeing and kayaking and stand up paddle boarding. They are nice but less rigorous, etc., I think. They are good for the arms (and core) but do not use the strongest muscles in the legs as rowing does.

But there is a 120-mile canoe marathon you may want to know about, the Au Sable Canoe Marathon: .

The course starts at Grayling, Michigan (center of the state) and goes east to Oscoda on Lake Huron.

The 67th running of the race begins at 9 PM (yes - PM) this Saturday, July 26, 2014, with pre-race events and time trials starting the 22nd.

Many of the 80+ two-person canoe teams will finish at Oscoda between 11 AM and 4 PM the next day (current record 13:58:08). That is a lot of canoeing!

There are professional entrants and categories by age group and gender.

Learn more at the web site (above).

What events do you know of or participate in?

To Use - or Not

I have often ordered books on It is an easy way, for example, to search for new books on rowing.

But the dispute between online ordering and the book industry is in the news. I have not studied the issues. Some people may prefer not to use Amazon, however, given the appearance of heavy handed dealing.

"Row Daily" is also available online through If you know someone who is interested in the book and they prefer not to use Amazon, let them know they can find the book there.

The other alternative is to contact me through this site and I can mail a copy.  But that is probably not the fastest way to get the book.

Masters Nationals Regatta, Grand Rapids 2014

Each year one of the major summer regattas, the Masters Nationals, occurs in a different location, hosted by a local rowing association. This August it is in Grand Rapids, Michigan.

Come to Grand Rapids. Compete or help with the regatta or simply be a spectator and meet more members of the rowing community.

I plan to have a table at the regatta. I hope I will have a chance to meet you.


Rowing to Recover

We live in the woods. I spent a day cutting up logs and moving them, bending over to lift and then carrying heavy items in the yard, doing other physical labor. I was tired, my joints felt stiff and my muscles were sore. While many people would want to sit and rest at the end of such a day, I like to row to recover.

Rowing when the muscles and joints ache can help the body recover. On the indoor rower, you are no longer straining or twisting (nor need you be in a boat, but you do have to contend with balance, wind and wave on the water). Instead, you are repeating a relaxed motion that stretches out tired and sore muscles to allow them to let go of the tension of the day. The muscles, small and large, that tightened with physical labor can relax as you row. 

Also while you row, you are getting the heart pumping, but not with the extreme exertion of lifting a heavy log. Instead of causing your pulse to jump dramatically for a brief time, you raise the pulse slightly from a resting rate and let the heart work moderately and consistently as long as you row. During that time, the heart pumps the blood evenly through the body to cleanse the muscles and nourish the organs. Waste material from cells passes into the blood stream and your deeper breathing expels more chemicals the body needs to be rid of than if you simply stop moving to rest. If you row hard enough to break a sweat, the shower afterwards is even more refreshing.

Rest dynamically.

And then you can still have that glass of wine when you are done!


Thinking While Rowing

One of the nice things about rowing indoors is that the repetitive motion in a safe environment allows you to think without having to pay attention to your environment for safety. While you can think about your technique or focus on your pace, you can also let your mind wander.

Unlike running, there are no curbs or loose rocks to be wary about. Unlike cycling, there are no cars or other moving bodies that can collide. Unlike outdoor rowing, there are no waves to contend with or fishermen or other rowers to watch out for. The indoor rowing motion repeats and you sit, tied in, in your own environment.

Some rowers enjoy focusing on their row, their pace, their technique, the feel of the parts of their body working in coordination. Certainly, if you are training to improve your pace, then thinking about what you are doing - or, as has become current - being mindful of your rowing can help you achieve more.

But a 45 minute row can also be a time to work through a problem mentally. Or to get over an annoying or troubling incident in your day. Rowing can be almost meditative in the way it allows you to let thoughts and emotions come and go. This aspect of rowing may explain another aspect of the feeling of being refreshed you have when you are done rowing. You breathe more deeply and get the blood flowing, waking up and restoring the body; and you let the mind restore itself, as well.

Driving Digestion

A recent article on weight and diet suggested that being overweight may drive us to eat more. Perhaps there is something about the body's storing food as fat that takes nutrition away from places it is needed for energy, thus creating a feeling of hunger.  Certainly, experience shows that eating based on 'comfort' rather than need can have that effect.

A different perspective may also be useful to consider. That is, exercise can stimulate appetite in a positive way. Some worry that exercising will make you hungrier; they fear you will eat more and gain more weight rather than losing it as a result of exercise.

Focus for a moment not on the process of eating but on digestion. Exercise can drive your digestion process along. As you exercise, you breathe more deeply. That deeper breathing presses on the organs and intestines, massaging the digestion process along. Being too full in the mid-section can also have the effect of making it harder to breathe as deeply as you want while exercising. It may tend to make you feel out of breath prematurely. The flip side of that coin is that exercising and breathing more deeply will remind you on a physical level of the need and desire for space inside your abdomen - space for the diaphragm to move for deeper breathing.

It is not uncommon for someone who exercises to feel less hungry upon completing the exercise. At meal time, you may well be more hungry because of the work you have done.  But watch for the positive reduced hunger outside of meal times. Watch for the positive effects on digestion of your exercise, the feeling that all you need is a good drink of water.

One famous saying suggests you exercise on a full stomach to get heavier, on an empty stomach to lose weight. Try the latter and see how much more energy you have and how hungry (or not) you feel after you exercise.

Strengthen and Stretch the Lats

When we row with relaxed shoulders and arms, hanging on the handle as the legs do the work, we are using the lattisimus dorsi muscles (the 'lats'), a wide swath of muscles that connect under the arm pit from the upper arm across the middle to lower back.

If you do pull-ups like you row, you can get your body moving largely using the lats. It is not just an arm exercise.

As you row, over time you will discover that your back will strengthen, in part as a result of the response of the lats to their use in every stroke. This strength is a good thing, helping the body to maintain good posture and giving it support for daily activities.

Since you use the lats, consider stretching the lats. A set of a dozen lats stretches is in the works.  In the meantime, try these:

  1. Lie on your back, knees bent and feet flat on the ground. Hold the arms straight up from the shoulders. Set the lower back against the floor. And slowly bring the arms, holding them straight, in an arc over your head back to the floor so that they are in line with your back (the 'above your head' position, but you are prone).
  2. Squat down comfortably and hold onto a weight machine or door frame or something else that will support your weight (could even be an exercise partner doing this in mirror image). Holding on with arms straight out in front of you, let your body settle backwards and feel the lats stretch.
  3. Stand up straight and raise your arms over your head.
  4. Hold onto a chin-up bar and hang.

You will like the way these feel.

Exercise Helps the Cure

It is well known that exercise can help avoid illness and assist with the recovery from illness. It often is, for example, a part of cancer survivors' regimens.

I just saw an article about exercise and scoliosis or curvature of the spine (NY Times, May 13, 2014). The article discussed research concerning the Schroth method, an exercise, breathing and stretching method developed in Europe a century ago. With some patients, the Schroth method can "improve[ ] patient outcomes and  reduce[ ] the need for surgery." One 15 year old was "out of pain for the first time in five years" in only three days of using the method.

The summary of the research was that the method when used in the right situation "can change the chance of curve progression."

The body adapts to training. What else can we do?

Happy Mother's Day!

Many now understand that "exercise is the closest thing there is to a fountain of youth" but too many people still do not realize the validity of this simply biological fact.

While there is no guarantee of health, and exercise is not a 'cure-all,' it can help everyone have more energy, better health and longer life with the muscle mass and flexibility to enjoy it.

Does your mother understand this?  Does she get regular exercise?  Or are you struggling with a way to encourage her to change her habits?

It can be a huge challenge. No one likes to be told what to do. And many are sensitive about their fitness and the effects of aging.

Love her. Lead the way with your own lifestyle. Let her know you want her around for many years to come. Let her see articles and books on healthy aging. Let her make her own choices.