A Mind for Rowing
Mindfulness is suddenly big news - and it's only taken around two thousand years to get a mention in the press :0) And it's mainly because the world of medicine has become interested in the health benefits of learning the skill of being in the moment. It can help reduce, or completely eliminate the effects of stress and hypertension, lower blood pressure and improve breathing - and I'm sure more benefits will become known as more research is carried out.
But if you think mindfulness is all about sitting quietly with crossed legs, think again. It's possible to be mindful (or in the moment) even in the most vigorous activity, and this obviously includes rowing.
So what exactly does 'mindfulness; mean? I've already used one of the alternative terms above - 'being in the moment', I also think the state that many sports people refer to as The Zone is also about being mindful. For me, it's about being focused and aware on the activity in hand without being distracted by other things going on in your life. Or for that matter being too concerned about your performance - this does sound counter-productive seeing that you're rowing to get fit and improve. But if you're fixed on the time or distance covered, this can actually take you out of the moment and lead to an inefficient and poorly executed technique (see below).
So why should mindfulness be a benefit when working out? In my opinion, being focused improves the quality of movement by reducing undue muscular tension that impedes coordination. For example, have you ever pulled a muscle or felt a nasty twinge when suddenly twisting or rushing to do something? But when you're totally focused and relaxed you're capable of similar movements without the undue tension.
Here's a few tips I use to be mindful on a rowing machine:-
I believe this helps to prevent injury, improve performance and even make the activity more enjoyable and, as a result, more rewarding.
So why not give it a go. Set yourself a time limit - say two minutes. Cover the display on your rowing machine and use your phone or stopwatch to bleep at the end of the two minutes. Then start rowing and focus on some of the points I've listed above. Stay relaxed, enjoy your row and be aware of the movement as you row.
When you reach the end of the time trial, check the distance. How does it compare to your usual performance? Is it that much shorter? I bet you'll find you'll get pretty close without trying as hard, and you'll probably enjoy the whole experience a lot more! It's a paradox that many sports people describe their peak performance as being the easiest and feeling like a lot less effort than a poor performance - odd isn't it. But I believe if they're getting into the Zone and experiencing the full benefits of being mindful of their activity.
You can read more about my views on this in my book, The Peak Performance Zone.
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Roy Palmer is an athletics coach, teacher of The Alexander Technique and a rowing fanatic.