Up the (fake) creek

So the rowing machine at my gym is a piece of shit.

That’s not a commentary on the facility’s condition generally. I go to an L.A. Fitness that is pristine by big-box gym standards: it’s bright and clean with new equipment that is always in working order. The clientele consists of midtown professionals and polished residents of the surrounding gayborhood. The drinking fountains dispense ice-cold water. Really, who needs more than that from their gym?

I rarely find reason to complain, but today…well, there’s only one rowing machine in the building. And today, when I strapped my toes in and gave a tentative tug on the wooden handlebar, the screen spit out a mess of random pixels. Cue me trying to explain this to a front-desk gym person who was probably hungover from last night too, and didn’t really care about my cardio issues.

Anyway. In general, I’ve been digging the rowing machine as a quick-and-dirty cross-training device during this training cycle. Honestly, I’ve never been big on XT. Usually, it either:

(a) Takes too long. As in: cycling. I’m sure there are varying opinions on how cycling miles translate to running miles for comparative purposes, but going with what my college coach used (4 cycling = 1 running), I’d need to pedal for at least an hour in order to have a meaningful workout. Plus, I might hit a patch of gravel and fall over or get a flat tire or get hit by a car and die. Too much risk for not enough reward. I’d rather just run.

(b) Requires a whole mess of logistical effort. As in: swimming.  I don’t hate the act of swimming itself, but good lord, I have to practically pack an overnight bag in order to make it happen: goggles, cap, shampoo, conditioner, hefty moisturizing lotion to placate my dry skin, makeup bag with under eye concealer to patch up the mess left by the goggles. Ugh. I prefer a workout where I can take a 30-second rinse and blow-dry the sweat out of my roots, thanks. I’d rather just run.

(c) Is similar enough to running that I feel like I’m not really giving my legs a break from running. I’m looking at you, Elliptical. You’re just contrived, lower-impact running. Unless I am injured and looking for a gentler running substitute, I see no point. Assuming I’m healthy and just looking to give my legs a break, I’d rather do something that gets my heart rate up in a totally different way. If not…I’d rather just run.

So that’s how my butt landed on the padded saddle of my gym’s (busted, as of today) rower. Oh okay, I’ll admit: I was nudged by the devotion of Crossfit and similar style workouts to this machine. Obviously I’m not a Crossfitter (although I remain simultaneously humbled and skeptical, a la this post) but I’ll admit that CF workouts seem to be, if nothing else, highly efficient. And that is what I value in my cross-training.

Anyway. When I use the rower, I typically crank the resistance almost all the way up, and pull hard on that thing for like 20-25 minutes, which is usually about 3K. At that, I feel like I’ve gotten a great little burst of cardio and am all-over warmed up for my strength workout.

Of course, I could have just dealt with a wonky screen today. I could have set my phone’s timer for 20 minutes and pulled hard for that time, in spite of the lack of feedback on my strokes per minute (heh) and average stroke length (double heh) and all of that garbage that is just computer generated anyway because it’s not like this machine is on an actual river, right? It would be like running on a treadmill without knowing MPH. Or pushing up on a random loaded bar without knowing how much you were benching.

Um yeah, not appealing. One thing I like about gym workouts is having that feedback and information. If I wanted to exercise without parameters, I’d go for an easy run sans watch. Which I do fairly often. Because it’s fun.

So I headed to the treadmill (which I hated doing, because if I’d planned on running, I could have run outside) and knocked out two fast miles: the first at 7:45 and the second at 7:10. Efficiency on the brain, I guess.

Then I did an upper body weight circuit:

  • Bench press: 3 X 12 @ 75 lbs
  • Low row: 3 X 12 @ 75 lbs
  • Bicep curls: 2 X 15 @ 15 lbs, 1 X 10 @ 20 lb.
  • Shoulder press: 3 X 15 @ 15 lbs
  • Head bangers: 3 X 15 @ 30 lbs
  • Lat raises: 3 X 32 (4-position circuit) @ 5 lbs
  • Lat pull down: 3 X 12 @ 75 lbs
  • Push-up ladder, 10 down to 1, all on toes (yay!)

It was a good session overall, but I was most excited about the last one. This push-up ladder has been an on-and-off part of my routine for years, and being able to easily complete the whole thing without dropping to my knees at the end of a workout has always been something of a personal benchmark…for me, it’s like running a 6:00 mile. It means that I might not be in the best shape ever, but I’ve got something going.

(And believe me: I am not in the best shape ever at the moment. I’ve definitely put on a layer of fat since my boot-camp shape-up this summer. It comes and it goes, I guess. I’m okay with it.)

On that note, since this post lacks pictures, I’ll leave you with a glimpse of our first day of 2013.



This is appropriate attire for making a stay-the-hell-in-your-car beeline to the McDonald’s Drive-Thru. (Chicken McNuggets. With Sweet Chili Sauce. McAwesome. McAlways.)

Is the fast-food drive-thru attendant judging you? Yes, of course. Have they seen worse in the last twelve hours? Absolutely.

As for 2013 goals, I don’t really have any that I’m ready to share, but I’ll say this: I am absolutely looking forward to the first new year in several years where moving to a different state isn’t on the table. Staying put is a huge relief.

11 responses to “Up the (fake) creek

  1. The screen on the rowing machine at my gym has been broken for weeks. And there’s only one rower! I feel your pain.

  2. I have experienced this particular annoyance at multiple gyms throughout the years, and found that any “heads up” you give to the desk people doesn’t tend to filter through to the maintenance people… ever. In the past when I was training/relying heavily on the gym rowing machine, I eventually broke down and simply brought in my own batteries and screwdriver and replaced them myself, prepared spring sassiness on any gym worker who seemed grumpy about me messing with their equipment. (PS. Some machines don’t need a screwdriver at all; it depends on the model. And batteries vary too. But jeez, this isn’t in your job description as a gym-goer at all…)

    Perhaps you should go to the LA Fitness at Ansley Mall instead. I definitely replaced those erg batteries back in 2010. Maybe they’re still holding on.

  3. I feel the same way about cross training – too much work or too much risk of death. I’ll row for the same reasons, and then do strength work and pretend like I’m cross fitting without the ego of it.

  4. Former rower here (I did ten years…yes, that does sound like a prison sentence); nothing more annoying then a busted screen as I too cannot row blind. I need some data! Also painful – the rusted chain that has no return on it or the dirty slide that gives a bumpy ride. I’ve seen very few gyms that actually know how to take care of a C2 erg.

    My rowing friends and I still say 30 minutes on that thing is as good as an hour doing anything else if you really push yourself. As a rule I never row with it on 10, always 5-6. But if you’re just starting out and want to row at low stroke rates then 10 is probably okay. Also, the older the machine, the less likely that 10 is accurate anymore. There is a way to check the drag factor and just calibrate for that.

    Enough rowing nerdness. Hope you enjoyed the McNuggets. When I indulge in McDicks that is my go to choice as well.

    • I would guess that it’s an older machine. I don’t think it even has numbers for the resistance, just a round knob. I’ll definitely play around with using it lower though, thanks for the tips!

  5. I am not a cross trainer. Same reasons you stated. I like cycling (hardly called that with my Schwinn bike and the speed I travel at), but I have to go for at least an hour like you. I usually just run.

    My problem is that I am not training enough to require cross training, so there’s that. I have recently fallen into a gym membership once again, so the sky’s the limit. Just think of all I get to experience again OMGZumba! elliptical! d-bags curling in the squat rack galore! I can’t wait. 😉

    • I don’t know why you’d need a gym with a fancy squat rack when you could just curl one baby in each hand in your living room. :)

  6. I’ve been eyeing the rowers at my gym lately for all the reasons you just listed.But I guess I have that new machine anxiety that I’ll do something stupid and somehow end up tangled in the belts with my shirt bunched up around my neck.

    In my Will Farrell voice: Ooooh what’s a push-up ladder?!