Updated June 15, 2020
NOTE FROM SARAH: I originally wrote this in 2011. Now it’s years later, and a lot has happened since then, good and bad. My weight has gone up and down. Menopause hit hard, as did my business partner’s cancer diagnosis and subsequent passing, and becoming an empty nester. You know, life. I’m still rowing, SkiErging, and now BikeErging, but a little less. Now I also walk and lift heavy things.
Since I first wrote this I’ve gained real clarity about the physical and emotional cost of fat loss. Food and exercise shouldn’t run your life. The world needs your gifts, and it doesn’t care what size you are or how many squats you can do. That said, the world does also need you to be your best, most powerful, amazing self. The best version of you that you can be, at this moment.
“Wow you look amazing! How did you do it?”
Rowing for weight loss: My journey to 10 million meters and beyond
On October 28, 2010, I watched the monitor on my Concept2 indoor rowing machine as it ticked just past 10,000 meters. Surrounded by the women who have been my constant cheerleaders and companions throughout this journey I celebrated rowing 2 million lifetime meters. For those of you who are wondering, that’s 1,243 miles and more hours than I’d care to count over the course of a year and a half.
It was a momentous occasion, not because it was the end of something, nor because it was my biggest accomplishment on the machine (that came when I rowed a million meters in just a month and won the Concept 2 World Erg Challenge in my community).
Instead, it was a great symbol of what I learned along the way – that by releasing my inner athlete I could recapture the strong, healthy and happy woman who is my true self.
I’ve lost nearly 50 pounds in the last few years and transformed my body so much it looks like I’ve lost more. I often don’t recognize my reflection in store windows because I can’t believe that small person could be me.
My friends and family tell me that in addition to my physical transformation my attitude and outlook on life have become equally lighter, brighter and more energetic. And while this is still a work in progress, I have proven to myself that I am stronger and capable of a whole lot more than I thought I was.
rowing for weight loss: Indoor rowing was my “magic bullet”
Indoor rowing was my weight loss “magic bullet” in terms of exercise. It was the activity I found that I could enjoy and maintain, and that would give me the results I was looking for.
The combination of a workout whose intensity I could vary just with the effort I put onto the flywheel and the stroke’s meditative, rhythmic synchronicity was irresistible.
Once I built up to being able to work with good effort on the rowing machine I started seeing big changes, both in terms of losing weight and getting stronger.
I had already dropped about 20 pounds by the time the Rowing Challenge began, but throwing myself into that competition was the beginning of my real transformation. Since rowing is a total body exercise that works every major muscle with every stroke, I felt and saw myself getting stronger each day.
It wasn’t for the faint of heart: during the challenge I often rowed three hours a day or more to reach my meter target, sometimes by myself but often with other members of my team. The whole thing is a little crazy (and thank goodness it only lasts a month), but we supported each other and made it fun with silly themed activities like hat day, bring-a-favorite-treat day and movie night.
Sarah’s note: I still did the challenge this year (of course!) but my goals were more moderate. As I’ve gotten a bit older I’ve found I do better working harder for shorter intervals, incorporating weight training, and then making sure I get lots and lots of no-sweat movement in throughout the day. That said, there are still some long rows on the agenda. Gotta mix it up!
Solving the weight loss puzzle
Rowing is a great calorie burner, up to 800 calories an hour, so I was able to lose weight almost without thinking about it by rowing consistently while favoring healthy, balanced food choices and not depriving myself of the occasional treat.
As an inveterate emotional eater and a five-decade veteran of virtually every diet known to man, it was amazing to me that the formula could be so simple: break a good sweat every time you work out and do it often. Make mostly good food and drink choices, don’t obsess about food or use it to fill voids that aren’t real hunger, and let the rest take care of itself.
Six months after the challenge ended, rather than pouring myself once again into my fat clothes because I had regained the weight like every other time I had been down this weight loss road, I was instead re-buying my favorite little black dress, this time in a size 8 instead of the 16 I bought the first time.
I’m still working on losing my last 10 pounds, and with letting go of the fear that the weight will come back, but I have the gift of a stronger, healthier, happier me, and that is the greatest gift of all.
Sarah’s note: What with menopause, etc., I’ve now got a goal of losing about 20 pounds and I’m on my way to reaching it, using the principles we’re teaching in our ThROWdown rowing and weight loss course. I may or may not get all the way there, and I’ve come to peace with that. I believe strongly that you have to get clear on what PERMANENT changes you’re willing to make and let the weight chips fall where they may from there. Life is about more than the scale. SO much more.
Lessons learned on the road to 10 million meters
– “You have to be a little bit selfish.” My good friend and business partner said that often of what it took for her to be successful as an elite rower. For most of the rest of us, getting healthy and staying that way takes the same consistent dedication. Put yourself first by making challenging workouts and nourishing meals your top priority.
– Find physical activities you love enough to do them until you sweat, and do them often. Nobody ever lost a lot of weight without sweating hard, or by working out 4+ times per week (Side note: Most people will eventually need some strength training in there, too.). The human body is the only machine that breaks down if you don’t use it. Never forget that.
– Find a workout setting that works for you. The competitive, yet team-based environment of the rowing challenge was just what I needed to jump-start my weight loss and fitness. Experiment until you find the formula that makes you feel challenged, energized, supported, and most of all like you want to stick with it.
– Take the focus off food. I am not one of those people who sees food as just fuel for the body. I love to cook, I love to eat. But I have realized that I can be satisfied with a whole lot less on my plate than I thought I could. Eat good food, when you’re truly hungry for it, and let your stomach, not an overloaded plate, tell you when to stop. If you want to eat but you’re not really hungry figure out what’s missing and address it, don’t mask it by eating more.
– Give yourself a break. Losing weight and getting fit are hard work and both take time. Getting off course every now and then isn’t the end of the world, nor is it a reason – nor an excuse – to give up on yourself. One foot in front of the other, day by day, row on!
Would you like to have help to lose weight rowing – from trained coaches who are actively involved with you? We’d love to see you in the ThROWdown. join us!