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Just Keep Moving Forward

Updated: Feb 12, 2019

One of the constants in my life over the past 20 years has been activity on my Concept2 ergometer. For the uninitiated, it’s an exercise machine originally and primarily used by rowers to build speed and endurance while off water. A flywheel is its means of creating resistance which disciplines users to produce long, smooth and rhythmic stokes. When utilized vigorously by rowers, cross-trainers and common folk like me, the aerobic workout is unmatched while limiting the wear and tear on knees, calves, shins and arches that may come with pavement pounding. The number of large muscles used during a stroke brings a lot of benefits: improving core strength, producing a high caloric output and bettering muscle and joint mobility. It’s a full body workout, so much that the Concept2 has been integrated into CrossFit regimens and appears to have as prominent a role in the annual CrossFit Games as the burpee and peg board. I have often commented to friends that if “the workout is done right, there isn’t enough oxygen in the room for you when you’re finished.”

The erg has always been my preference because it’s a substantial exercise device that can be placed efficiently upright when not in use and allows for fast, yet meaningful workouts when I’m pressed for time. But what keeps me going is the LCD performance monitor that lets me gauge my performance not only with each stroke, but also how my overall effort (or at times, lack thereof) impacts meeting my exercise target. If I set a distance goal, less effort means more time to reach the end; if I set a fixed time and I lag for a bit, my distance in meters will be less that originally intended. And I can see this variance in projected outcome with every stroke because each stroke is distilled into a pace metric, a measurement of the time to complete 500 meters (for world class erg athletes and rowers it’s one minute and 30 seconds, reasonably fit civilians anywhere between 2:00 to 2:30). Watching the screen change with each pull is mesmerizing, almost like watching the random peaking flames of a campfire, albeit while you’re constantly moving to and fro. This bit of hypnosis has two sides: seeing my initial target climb is invigorating but on a bad day when my “500 meters splits” are on a downslide, it feels like a slog which is being extended with each pull.

But what happens when I stop in the middle of a workout? It’s an arithmetic principle going awry. Time is elapsing with no forward meters to show for it. My pace, i.e. the time needed to complete 500 meters, becomes infinite. And in the two decades that I have been erging, I have never recovered from it during a workout because there is no pace you can humanly set to make up for that stoppage time. Why? Because you have to “teleport” yourself – recover that lost distance in zero seconds. Can’t be done. A herculean effort will allow you to see that your average pace dropping for the balance of the workout, but you never get back to the level before your respite.

Whenever I think that I should just stop on some project or chore or process, I try to conjure up this erg analogy in my head as a prompt to just keep on moving forward -- because you can’t solve the space time continuum. You can’t make up for the time lost.

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