Wednesday, December 31, 2014

5 Tips for Successful Winter Break Training (*And no, it’s not too late!)

It's that time of year again: it's cold and dark out, you're on a break from school or work, and you are perhaps feeling like sleeping in every morning, eating Christmas cookies whenever you want, and maybe-just maybe-putting off today's workout(s) til tomorrow. (Or maybe that's just me...) Regardless, here are five tips to help you make the most of the rest of your winter break training!

1.   Set yourself up for success.

When you’re at school, work or not on vacation, you know what time you’re heading to the boathouse or gym, and (usually) have a general idea of what you’re going to do when you get there. You know where your running shoes, workout clothes, water bottle and iPod are. Look ahead at your schedule between now and the end of your break and see where those good time slots are – and then mentally and physically (use your phone alarm and calendar) to schedule them in. If you’re dressed for a workout and your alarm is going off, it’s easier to get out the door and get moving – even to the workout equipment in the unheated garage – than if you’re lounging in your new Snuggie on the couch and thinking about whether today should just be your rest day.

2.   Find a buddy for the hard stuff (and the easy stuff).

If you have a recommended workout plan for the break, chances are you looked at it and thought the cross-training/steady state workouts seemed do-able, but groaned when you saw the hard erg workouts. FYI: it’s much better to do these with a teammate/workout buddy if you can. When I’m home, I wake up before 5am and drive to my nearest teammate, 30 minutes away, so that I can get in at least the challenging part of the day’s workouts with a buddy. No, I don’t always want to get up early, but guess what? That’s what naps are for, and you get to take them, because you’re on break!

For cross-training off the erg, check out November Project – chances are there’s one near you that you can join for one to three weekly workouts while you’re home.

3.   Be realistic.

Individual training during winter break is not usually when you are going to PR on workouts. (Although if you do PR – awesomeness! Enjoy it!) Be realistic about what you are shooting for in each workout, whether it’s heart rate, split, dumbbell weight, speed, or attention to technique. You are far more likely to continue to move towards your training and racing goals by training consistently – being able to check off every workout – than by cramming many workouts together to try to make up for lost time, or by blowing it out on the workouts you do so that you’re forced to rest due to injury or fatigue.

Consistency isn't sexy, but it's what produces results. Set realistic goals for each workout and if you are feeling like you have more in the tank, get faster as you go.

4.   Don’t throw nutrition out the window.

It’s a time-honored tradition that the holidays are meant for indulging – big meals, lots of drinking, whipped cream as a part of the food pyramid, etc. If that’s part of what makes the holidays great for you – don’t give it up! But you will enjoy those indulgences more if you plan them, but stick to good nutrition the rest of the time. If you’re going to have several drinks on New Year’s, get your Dec. 31 workout(s) in early and eat right that day before going out. Plan your schedule so that Jan. 1 can either be a rest day where you eat right, or an eat-right day with an easier workout in the late afternoon. The huge holiday breakfast at your relatives’ house will be that much more enjoyable if you haven’t also stuffed your face every other morning that week!

5.   Get some good tunes!

Training mostly by yourself over the holidays can mean that you get sick of your music really fast – but you keep listening to it because you can’t stand the terrible tunes that are being blasted by the gym/the high school rowers at your hometown club/your parents.

To that effect, here are three new playlists to help you stay motivated through the rest of your break!

For logging miles:
See Ya Next Year Playlist

Everybody needs a little electro/house:
Ecstasy Erg Playlist

And now for a little throwback:
Music Make You Lose Control Playlist

And you can find more playlists here, here, here, here, herehere, here, and here. :)

Happy Training!

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

#GivingTuesday: Why I’m Encouraging You to Give Something that Isn’t Money Today

A challenging aspect of supporting a cause is that a lot of the time it requires you to make your fellow human beings a little uncomfortable. Think about the kids flagging you down on the street to talk about their cause. The cashier who asks you if you’d like to give a dollar to support the store’s charity as a line of folks wait behind you. The often plaintive pictures of suffering that accompany donation letters and infomercials.

Sometimes we’re uncomfortable because we know we’re not supposed to say what we’re thinking: “I already have plans for the time or the money that you’re asking me for.” Sometimes it’s because we know that although the idea of a cause might be good, we’re not sure how what we’re being asked to give is going to translate into the end goal.

Rowers and athletes succeed because we know how to sit with discomfort. We also succeed by seeing our end goals and seeing how our actions move us forward towards achieving them.

Today, on Giving Tuesday, I am asking you to consider giving a gift that fits in that uncomfortable category. It is also a gift that will unequivocally help save lives.

Be The Match is our national bone marrow registry. To register to be listed in it takes about 15 minutes and swabbing the inside of your cheek with a few Q-tips. That’s it.

What does the registry – and what do bone marrow transplants – do?

The registry works to match blood cancer patients with related and unrelated healthy people who have similar genes. If matched, the healthy people are then asked to make a donation – through either a blood donation or through a bone marrow donation, where a very small amount of marrow is taken from the donor’s hip bone – to the patient.

When a leukemia, lymphoma, or other blood cancer patient receives a bone marrow transplant, they receive more years of life and the chance at a higher quality of life for those years, whether the donation and accompanying treatment cure the cancer or not.

Registering is a big ask, even though only about 1 out of every 1,200 registry members will be matched to a patient in need. It’s uncomfortable to think about being asked to help support or save someone else’s life. It’s uncomfortable to think about the 70 percent of patients in need who do not find a donor in time. And it’s uncomfortable to think about how we would feel, standing in their shoes.

But we — rowers and athletes alike — are okay with feeling discomfort when we know how it will motivate us and inspire us to our goal. It’s how the daunting, the seemingly impossible, is achieved. We know how to believe.

So please consider registering today. You can sign up here and visit this page to learn more about Be The Match

In strength,
Esther and the Team Byron

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Get Lean and Strong: The Rowing Machine

Rowing machine. Rower. Ergometer. Erg. Whatever you call it*, the erg is your best choice for a full-body workout, whether strength, weight loss, or fitness is your goal.

Rowing is a "strength-endurance" sport - physiologically, it's like lifting a weight again and again and again. It's not pure strength – all those "reps" limit the amount that you can lift. But neither is it pure endurance – all that weight will put a cap on the number of reps. Because it's both – and because rowing is a full-body motion – you can use rowing to enhance a wide variety of training dimensions.

*FYI: the usual term for a rowing machine is an “erg”.

JBSC (Just Burning Some Calories): Rowing for Fitness

If calorie burn is your goal, rowing to lose weight is a great option. Rowing machines are used by many trainers (and are featured on shows such as The Biggest Loser) because training on rowing machines burns more calories per hour than just about any other activity. Three critical elements: rowing with correct form, easing into rowing as 100% of your workout, and adding variety so that you don't get bored.

Rowing correctly

Check out Concept2's how-to or (shameless self-promotion) my NYTimes Well.Blog video for a quick intro to the rowing stroke. Ideally, get a friend who knows how to row to show you how, or check out a class at a rowing gym for actual instruction. If you're using correct rowing technique, it should feel challenging, but not like you're going to die after two minutes. Aim to take between 20 and 24 strokes per minute and try to go at least 5 to 10 minutes straight before taking it easy for a minute. The "fan setting" on the side of the machine, if there is one, should be at around 4. (Setting the fan at 10 will not give you a better workout on the rowing machine!) Adjust the feet height so that the straps run across the widest part of your foot.

Easing into it

If you've never run for a long (or short) distance before, the smart thing to do is run for a few minutes, walk for a minute, and repeat. Eventually, you'll be able to take shorter and shorter breaks until you can run continuously. The same goes for rowing. Aim for consistency, good form, and simple, strong strokes. Start out aiming to get in 20 minutes of rowing with 5 minutes of "paddling", or easy rowing (total workout length: 25 minutes). Break up the 25 minutes as 1 minute paddle, 4 minutes rowing, and repeat. Warm up before and foam roll/stretch after. Your legs, back and shoulders will thank you for it!

Add variety

The erg screen/monitor (right) and what it means!
Especially once you start getting comfortable with longer sessions on the rowing machine, you'll want to mix it up. The two ways to do this are stroke rating -- how many strokes you take per minute, usually between 20 and 30 -- and power, which you can monitor through your split -- the time it takes you to row 500 meters. Try breaking up your session into pyramids of different ratings or power - or both. For example, row 19 minutes as 4'-3'-2'-1'-2'-3'-4' at stroke ratings 22-24-26-28-26-24-22. Go faster (decrease your time per 500 meters, that is, your "split") as you increase the stroke rating.

Them Backs Though: Power Rowing

Rowing helps with Olympic-caliber strength (David Banks, left) and more power and endurance in your WODs (right).

It's no secret that rowers have some pretty nice backs. And legs. And arms. And abs. Part of that is that aside from rowing, most competitive rowers incorporate a good amount of strength training and core work into their training plans. But the rowing stroke is a great way to increase your "pull" strength and complements many Olympic lifts and related muscle chains. The keys: form and power.

Correct rowing machine technique

Check out the videos above for a visual on form. Even if you're rowing for power and strength, skip the underhand or alternating grip. The idea is to compress with a supported, upright body towards the flywheel, and then drive out powerfully with your legs, layering in a dynamic body swing and the arms finishing the stroke. Think 60-70 percent legs, 20-30 percent body, 10 percent arms. Just like a power clean or a high pull from the ground, the arms are mostly important for connecting the work you started with your legs and your back to the bar (or in this case, the erg handle). On the "drive", the powerful part of the stroke, you should feel engagement in your quads, glutes, core, and lats, and mostly be feeling the contact points of your feet on the footplate and the handle in your hands (more than your butt on the seat).

Power rowing

Some of the muscles activated in the rowing stroke. Image courtesy of GymNomads.

To build strength on the rowing machine, focus on taking powerful strokes at a low stroke rating. You will be able to do this at ANY fan setting; the harder you work, the stronger the machine's resistance will be. Do sets of 10-30 strokes as powerfully as you can with correct form, then "paddle" to recover for 10 strokes. Aim for a total of 80-120 strokes to start.  This is a work-recovery pattern similar to that of football, rugby, lacrosse, and many other sports: short bursts of power followed by some rest. Power-focused rowing is a great addition to just about any lifting program.

Rowing for Endurance and Cross-Training

It's always a hot debate whether rowers, swimmers, or cross-country skiers are the fittest athletes of all. (It's rowers, obviously.) Besides burning calories and building power, rowing is a great way to improve your endurance, whether your end goal is more rowing or another sport entirely. Rowing for running? Rowing for triathlon? Rowing for Ironman? Rowing to help your 10K, half-marathon, or marathon training? Rowing because you are recovering from a sports injury? Rowing will get you fitter! The keys are: good technique and breathing.

Rowing technique

Because rowing is a full-body workout, it's a great training supplement and even recovery tool to help you get in good training and strengthen your non-sport-specific muscle and endurance systems. If you've tweaked a foot or other body part in your training, rowing may allow you to keep training while giving that a rest. Check out the videos above and descriptions of good rowing technique to get started.

Breathing while rowing

Don't forget to breathe!

Whether you use rowing for interval training or to log miles, it will improve your aerobic system. Your goal while rowing should be to keep breathing well by sitting up and supporting your upper body. Most rowers take two breaths per stroke. Take a breath, roll up to the "catch", exhale on the "drive" (which will help you engage your core), then breathe in and out as your arms and body come back up the recovery. Then breathe in again as you roll up to the catch. Timing your breathing to the stroke, just like running, swimming, and cycling, will help you practice relaxation and efficiency.

Rowing Workouts to Lose Weight, Build Strength, and Get Fit

Power Rowing

  •       Minute On, Minute Off. 5 minute warm-up: paddle, get loose, and take a few hard 10s (driving hard, get the stroke rating up between 25 and 30 for 10 strokes). Workout: 1 minute "on", driving hard at stroke rate 28, then 1 minute "off", paddling at stroke rate 20. Do 10 interval sets (20 minutes total). 5 minute cool down. PRO TIP: Try to match your speed or go a little faster each "on" interval.
  •       1, 2, 3 Pyramid. Workout: 3'-2'-1'-2'-3'-2'-1'-2'-3' "on", with one minute paddle between each interval (i.e., 3’ on, 1’ off, 2’ on, 1’ off, etc.) Do your 3-minute pieces at stroke rate 22, 2-minute pieces at 24, and 1-minute pieces at 26. PRO TIP: If you're worried about keeping track of what piece you're on, use the menu [Select Workout: Intervals: Variable] to set up the whole workout ahead of time.
  •       Rugby Workout. 5 minute warm-up: : paddle, get loose, and take a few hard 10s (driving hard, get the stroke rating up between 25 and 30 for 10 strokes). Workout: 1250m - 750m - 500m - 250m - 750m. All pieces are at max. Rest between pieces is 2'-90"-1'-90". You can also do this workout with a partner, where your work is their rest and vice versa. PRO TIP: Go for consistency as well as aggression - your fastest pieces will be when you hold one speed or get a little faster as the piece goes on.
  •       Partner 500s. Workout: 8x500m, as fast as possible. Your partner's piece is your rest. PRO TIP: Use your average speed from your first piece as your starting point for subsequent pieces. "Negative split" (get faster within each 500m piece) for maximum training benefit.

Rowing Workouts for Fitness and Endurance

  •       Playlist Workout (The Hook Brings You Back). Make a 20-, 30-, 45-, or 60-minute playlist. Press play and start rowing. Every time a song's hook or chorus comes on, raise your stroke rating 2-4 beats and "drop your split" (speed up) 3-6 seconds (i.e., from 2:15 to 2:11) and hold the faster speed and pace for the full hook/chorus. When the hook ends, transition back to your original speed and stroke rating. PRO TIP: Harmonica solo optional. Need to get started with a playlist? Check out the ones right here!
  •       2K Variety. Set the monitor for 2000-meter intervals with 2 minutes of rest (you'll do four total). Treat each piece like four 500-meter pieces. Alternate, so that Piece 1 and Piece 3 are stroke rates 20/22/24/22 per 500, and Piece 2 and Piece 4 are stroke rates 22/24/26/24. "Paddle" (row with zero effort) or stand up and stretch during your 2' rest. PRO TIP: Keep consistent speed at each stroke rating from piece to piece - your stroke rate "24" 500 on Piece 1 should be the same speed as your "24" on Piece 4.
  •       Miles for Miles. If you're looking to go for longer distances and times, still try to mix it up with different stroke ratings and speeds. To boost training, don't stay at any one stroke rating for longer than 1K to 2K (4 to 10 minutes). As you row for longer sessions, aim to keep your stroke rating between 18 and 22, and your heart rate between 130 and 160.

CFit-Specific Workouts and The CrossFit Open

  •       For a faster Jackie and help with CFit Open workouts as soon as they're posted, check out my awesome teammate Erin Cafaro's YouTube channel for Crossfit Rowing tips.
  •       Need help now? Tweet me: @estherlofgren.
  •       What other rowing questions do you need answered? Post to the comment section below!

Monday, March 17, 2014

8 Power Foods for Rowers and Athletes

Whether you're training for your very first rowing race or towards the Olympic Games, choosing great nutrition is one of the biggest ways to up your game. It's not always easy or convenient to have good foods available or incorporated into every meal and snack, but I pulled together 8 of the big ones that you really can utilize every day, along with some recipes that work for real life!

Rower Power Food: Berries

Bang for your buck, these are some of the most potent nutritional nuggets out there. Antioxidants and vitamins give berries high ANDI scores: they help protect against and process the damage you do to your muscles and body from hard workouts or a high-stress day at work.

Quick recipes:
  • Add your favorite berries (or whichever type is on sale at the grocery store that week!) to plain or vanilla Greek yogurt.
  • Add to ½ cup regular or gluten-free oats, add almonds and water or milk, and microwave for 1:30 to get a quick breakfast or pre-workout snack that will stay down but keep you fueled for hours.

Rower Power Food: Quinoa

I love this commercial. But...quinoa (KEEN-wah) can actually be really delicious, and for athletes, it's also 100% superfood. It is one of the smallest grains in the world, which is great because (getting all nerdy here) that means it has a lot of nutrient-dense outer casing compared to the amount stuff inside each grain. Translation? More proteins, fiber, and amino acids (including all 9 essential aminos) than just about any other food.

Quick recipes:
  • Following package instructions, cook quinoa on the stovetop with water or chicken broth. Add spices (I love garlic, a bit of onion, salt and black pepper). Eat as a side dish or a quick pre- or post-workout snack.
  • Cook quinoa with water and make a few cups extra. If you regularly blend pre- or post-workout shakes, add 1/2 cup or more of cooked quinoa to your shake for an extra boost of the good stuff.
  • This recipe (YUM!) for quinoa, kale, walnut and sweet potato goodness. Add some cooked chicken breast for an extra protein boost.

Rower Power Food: Nuts

Nuts (I’m partial to almonds and walnuts) and nut butter are awesome nutritional tools. Adding a small handful of almonds to a primarily-carb meal or piece of fruit will balance your blood sugar out and avoid hangry-ness for longer! They have good fats and protein, so a little goes a long way.

Quick recipes:
  • Buy the individual packages of raw almonds at Trader Joe’s or your grocery store, or make your own by bagging ¼ - 1/3 cup portions for a quick on-the-go snack.
  • This recipe for DIY all-natural gluten-free protein bars. If it’s a little plain for your taste, add a touch more honey or stevia, or go crazy and add chocolate chips. Delicious and nutritious!

Rower Power Food: Fish

Oily fish like salmon (fresh, frozen or canned) and fresh or frozen tuna are huge nutritional boosters because of their high levels of omega-3 fatty acids as well as lean protein. While canned tuna (I prefer water-packed, low-sodium white tuna) lacks the omega-3 boost, it is a tasty and convenient way to get lean protein cheaply and on the go.

Quick recipes:
  • Check out your grocery store selection of canned fish and try something new. My boyfriend, Jake, is often on the go, but makes a healthy lunch by crumbling gluten-free crackers into a bag of tuna. You can also try eating the mix in lettuce wraps, or mix it up and add something sweet or savory, like relish or black beans.
  • Broil a fresh or defrosted salmon filet with a couple of pinches of sea salt and a squeeze of lemon. Leftovers work well for lunch the next day on a spinach salad with balsalmic vinegar and olive oil!

Rower Power Food: Bananas

Bananas are nature’s perfect on-the-go snack. We went through so many in the Olympic Village cafeteria that the U.S. team staff had to go buy more boxes every day! Water and a banana with some salted almonds after a workout or for breakfast delivers all the food groups, plus the right balance of electrolytes—the natural potassium found in bananas and salt—to hydrate the natural way.

Quick recipes:
  • As is, plus some salted almonds or mixed into plain or vanilla Greek yogurt—balanced nutrition that tastes great!
  • I found out earlier this year that I have a food sensitivity to eggs. You can actually substitute half of a ripe banana for eggs in many baking recipes. Just don’t try to use them to make an omelette!

Rower Power Food: Beans

Beans are the secret way to add lean protein, fiber, nutrients and FLAVOR to your diet without adding saturated fat, found in many meats. If you are trying to limit your meat intake while being an athlete, beans are your friend! As a California girl, I love Mexican food, and you can use healthy bean options to make that cuisine an athlete-friendly option.

Quick recipes:
  • Fat-free refried or whole canned black beans, low-fat cheese, shredded chicken breast, salsa, and a big pile of spinach or shredded lettuce makes a delicious and healthy Mexican salad.
  • Plunking rehydrated or canned black beans, kidney beans, and pinto beans, a can of stewed tomatoes, some browned lean ground beef and onions, spices, and beef stock into the slow cooker all day yields a delicious superfood chili with leftovers you can freeze in single-serves and bring to work for lunch.

Rower Power Food: Greens

Whether you eat them straight, juice them, wilt them, or bake them into chip form, leafy greens (my favorites are spinach and kale) are unbelievably good for you. In fact, they get the highest scores of anything we eat on the ANDI guide! Besides great nutrition, greens also provide a great source of fiber. Shooting for at least two big servings of these a day is a great way to help boost your systems across the board.

Quick Recipes:
  • Switch out your regular sandwich bread for lettuce or kale wraps.
  • Try a green juice blend of kale, carrots, spinach, a green apple, and a little ginger. It’s a lot less sweet than the smoothies you can buy off the shelf, but it’s yummy and has a ton more nutrients!

Rower Power Food: Milk

Milk has recently gotten an undeserved bad rap. Yes, we can turn it into ice cream, butter or Brie cheese, but on its own, low-fat or non-fat milk is an awesome power food. Likewise, Greek yogurt (the low or fat-free varieties with no or little added sugar, like plain or some vanillas) and low-fat cheese can be great tools for getting enough protein without a lot of crazy extras. And chocolate milk remains one of the best recovery nutrition tools you can buy in your grocery store.

Quick recipes:
  • Try plain Greek yogurt with berries, a ripe banana, almonds, and/or gluten-free oats. Try making your own version of Bircher Muesli, a popular European breakfast.
  • A glass of low-fat milk with a handful of almonds or a banana is a great pre-workout or for when the afternoon drag hits in the office!
Fueling smart lets you keep training hard. Eat to win!

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Acupuncture: Healing and Getting (Un)Stuck from Injury


The #1 question I get when I tell people I use acupuncture as a healing and treatment tool is: "Doesn't it hurt?" We all have memories of being a little kid in the doctor's office as a nurse walked over with what looked like a foot-long needle and stabbed us with it. The agony that could not be calmed, even by the coolest Snoopy bandage!

Actually, acupuncture doesn't feel like that at all. Nor does it feel like getting your ears pierced. Nor does it feel like getting a tattoo. (Sorry, Mom...) The closest approximation I can give is a very localized feeling of using a stim machine--or of a slight electrical tingle--but in your muscles, not across your skin.

Before I finally tried acupuncture in 2011, my thoughts on it--in spite of hearing from some teammates that it was a great healing and injury prevention tool--were that it was somewhere between New Age-y weirdness and masochism. You're suggesting I get someone to stab a bunch of needles into my knotted, injured muscle? Thanks, but I'll stick to my ice packs and stretching and massage.

Acupuncture needles are tiny... 10 of them fit in a typical medical syringe!

And then I found myself racing in Germany on a chronically injured rib--and the only team who'd brought a physical therapist was Japan. A favor was called in and I ended up being lucky enough to be treated by their team physio, who was astounded that I'd never used acupuncture as a treatment option. was amazing. There was certainly no pain from the needles, which looked almost as thin as a human hair. Instead, the needles found some of the nerves that refused to relax, and I felt them "fire"--contract or flex part of the neighboring muscle--and then let go. I could actually feel the muscles around my injury calm down. After that, the physio was able both to adjust my spine (like a chiropractor) and do a smaller amount of massage that really made a difference, because the area was not on lockdown. It took exactly one session for me to become a believer.

A map of our nervous system. What's driving our muscles!

As athletes, as rowers, we focus a lot on our muscles, our lungs, our balance, our mental game. We don't think as much about how all of those are run and impacted by our nervous system. When I drive my legs as hard as I can, that is my brain telling the nerves in my legs to fire the right muscles in the right sequence. Although sometimes muscles sustain actual injuries and damage, it's my experience that many of the common "knots" that don't go away after stretching, foam-rolling, and a nap after practice are often caused by the nervous system being out of whack. Sometimes it's your body trying to protect an injured or weaker muscle or area; sometimes it's a muscle that's been twisted or overused. Either way, acupuncture is a very under-utilized tool that can directly tap into the nervous system and help get the recovery and healing process back on track.

The acupuncture map.

I've been lucky enough to be treated since by some of the best practitioners in the country since: Dana Harbison in Fort Washington, PA; Lili Gould in San Diego, CA; and Dr. Melanie Six as well as Dr. Yong Chen in Alexandria, VA. Definitely cheek them out if they're local to you! Also, check with your insurance--many policies now cover some or all of acupuncture treatments.

Don't write off acupuncture, especially as a tool to add to your healing and recovery arsenal. I'm so thankful I learned about its benefits!

Heal up and keep training hard--here's to hoping this extra-long winter is over soon!