Break ALL the cardio things!

This post is somewhat of a spiritual successor to a post I made a few years back. But the story goes something like this:

There I was, minding my own business…

As part of my 101 in 1001 endeavor, I’ve chosen this month (of all months??) to complete #55: rowing 50,000 meters in a month. As of this morning, I’m now just under 13k shy of my goal, essentially two workouts away from knocking off another item. I’m not fast by any stretch; during these workouts I usually spend the first 10 minutes warming up, averaging around 2:10 / 500m. That amasses me around 2200-2300m during that warm-up. Definitely a slow-poke, particularly compared to anyone who rows competitively.

But there are two rowing machines at CMU’s University Center cardio room. And when I was just concluding my warm-up, the second one was taken by somebody I’d become familiar with over the years of working out.


I don’t know him by name, only by circumstance: this guy is a cardio freak who is literally incapable of using the machines as they were intended to be used. He’ll pump so hard and fast on the elliptical–at admittedly impressive speeds–that all you can hear is the CLANK CLANK CLANK CLANK CLANK of the rotary arms slamming against their containing joints because they weren’t designed to go that fast.

Anyway. Back to this morning.

So he jumps on the erg next to me as I’m finishing my warm-up and shifting into high-gear. I recognize him immediately, and smirk at the prospect of being entertained for the next 20 minutes of my workout. He starts yanking on the erg and rowing with all his might: he’s hammering out 33-34 strokes/minute at speeds of 1:55 / 500m.

I decided to have a little fun with him. Following my warm-up I was cruising around 2:00 / 500m, so I start drawing a bit more from my legs to push that pace down to match his, right at 1:55. However, because I’ve spent a significant amount of time in the company of people who have rowed competitively, I understand the concept of the “catch” and “recovery”. As such, even though I’m rowing at the same speed, I’m only cranking out 23 strokes/minute. 10 fewer strokes every 60 seconds translates to significantly more efficient use of energy.

Also relevant.

He noticed this after a few minutes. So he started yanking even harder to up his speed to 1:50 / 500m, coming in around 35 strokes/minute. The chain connecting the handle to his fan is smashing against the enclosure on every single stroke. No control, no concept of proper use (even though the instructions are RIGHT ON THE MACHINE).

I should mention: he was doing some sort of an interval workout, so after completely abusing the machine for a few minutes at his ridiculous pace, he’d slow down for a few minutes before repeating the whole process. So he wasn’t continuously achieving his 1:50 pace for the 20 minutes he was on the erg.

I was closing in on the last 10 minutes of my work out, so just to continue trolling him, I too upped my pace to 1:50 / 500m, while still maintaining my 23 strokes/minute, occasionally flickering up to 24. His machine banged even louder on each stroke, though his pace stayed at about 1:50, with around 35 strokes/minute.


And the lesson, children, is this…

  1. Learn how to use cardio machines correctly. There is literally no excuse for failing this item. If your machine is making regular clanking noises, it’s either broken or you’re doing it wrong, and either way you shouldn’t be using it. Most machines have the instructions for use printed right on the damn things, so show everyone you know a thing or two beyond the weight room and READ!
  2. If you’re going to use the rowing machines, learn the proper form. In my completely informal observational survey, I’d estimate about 1 in 10 people actually use the correct form when rowing. If you’re not using the correct form, you’re both wasting energy and not getting a good workout. Plus you might be damaging the machine. Take a minute to talk to someone who knows what they’re doing.
  3. Repeat steps 1 and 2 ad nauseum. If in doubt, look at what other people are doing. HAHA funny joke, but seriously go find somebody who works there and ask them how to do it correctly. Chances are everyone currently on the machines will tune in because they were too shy to ask.

At any rate, I think this picture is pretty awesome:

About Shannon Quinn

Oh hai!
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3 Responses to Break ALL the cardio things!

  1. eksith says:

    …so just to continue trolling him…
    Aaaah, the good times! See this was pretty much my entire highschool gym experience.

    In my case, it was the stairmaster. Imagine a row of Speedy Gonzaleses burning up the machines with no resistance and one skinny kid in the middle going slowly with the resistance turned up… still getting a better workout.

    I really don’t get the aversion to RTFM. I mean really; what’s the worse that could happen? The only thing worse with not knowing something is going along without trying to learn.

    I’ve been told that there’s a mindset to rowing, especially in a race (I saw this mentioned on Mythbusters once). When the blade is in the water during the drive, it’s “dark and violent thoughts” and in the recovery it’s “calm and serene”. Does that really help with keeping momentum or is it just during a race? I tried this when I was on a rowing machine the last time and all it did was give me a headache.

    • magsol says:

      Hahaha, that’s great! You reminded me that I’d forgotten to mention something similar: the resistance on my erg was set to the maximum, whereas the resistance on the other guy’s was at about half. Yeah it’s harder to pull, but you also get more distance out of each stroke and hence you don’t need to row nearly as quickly to go farther and get a good workout. Just like your stairmaster experience!

      I don’t really get it either, though my suspicion is folks who have no formal training with cardio machines / weight training will simply watch other people and try to imitate them. The problem is, this breeds ignorance of the finer points of “why” as well as completely glossing over whether or not the person you’re imitating also has any formal training. It does help to have played sports in high school / college, but even if you haven’t you can still ask anyone who works at a gym to give you a few pointers; that’s what they’re there for! So given the latter: like you said, I don’t understand the aversion either. Unless it’s just pride, in which case…gtfo.

      That’s a very interesting rowing mindset! I can’t say I’ve heard it before; though you are indeed supposed to more or less “rest” on the recovery, at least relative to the drive, in terms of how much effort you put into those steps. So in that regard I can somewhat see the metaphor. But yeah, I can easily imagine getting a headache from trying to actually visualize that during the process 😛 I’ll have to run that by my rowing friends!

  2. Pingback: Tuesday, February 14, 2012 | theatre of consciousness

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