Overcoming adversity - How wearing an ECG for 6 months redefined my life and propeled me to victory
When you pour your heart and soul into something you're passionate about every day for months and years, it becomes a part of you. It becomes a part of your life, your identity, your sense of self. You can't imagine life without it. So when it's taken from you, suddenly, and without warning, life as you know it ceases to exist.
My former life...
In a past life many years ago, my passion was powerlifting. Anything that involved strength and power has always fascinated me, and I gave everything I had to pushing my limits, every single day for months and months. Powerlifting is a strength sport that involves the squat, bench press, and deadlift. In competition you get 3 chances on each event, and your best lift for each is added up to get your total. If you squat 400 pounds, bench press 250 and deadlift 450, your total would be 1100 pounds (500kg). The person with the highest total in each weight class wins.
Before powerlifting, my experience in the gym was something most people can relate to. I'd be motivated for a few months and see progress, and then hit a plateau, get frustrated, and take some time off. After losing everything I had worked so hard for, I'd be motivated again and would get back into the gym. Over and over this viscous cycle continued until one day in 2011, when I fell in love with powerlifting.
What I loved the most was it's simplicity and instant feedback. I was either adding weight onto the bar every week and getting stronger, or I wasn't. There was no tricking myself or rationalizing that I was improving when I wasn't. It was black and white. I loved everything about it.
Hundreds, and possibly thousands of hours went into my workouts, my meal plans, research, and everything possible to be the best I could be over the next year. After solid progress, I took a leap of faith and entered my first competition. I was nervous and excited all at the same time. When it came time to walk onto the platform, in front of a crowd of spectators, the rush of adrenaline was like nothing I'd ever experienced. I was stronger than ever that day, and set a personal best with a 415 pound squat and a 445 pound deadlift, which flew up so fast I couldn't believe it.
After the competition I began planning my world domination of powerlifting, and then...
A lower back and knee injury that destroyed my world
I'll spare all the details, but multiple lower back and knee injuries over the next 12-18 months really slowed me down, made it difficult to workout, and kept me stressed and depressed on a regular basis. I wasn't making progress despite all my attempts and all the advice I sought. Every time I thought I was healing, another set back would keep me spiraling down into darkness. After 2 years of trying to fight through the pain and pursue my passion, I had to concede. It just wasn't meant to be. At least not right now.
For another year I was lost, and had little motivation to workout. I'm competitive in nature and without something to challenge and motivate me I was just going through the motions. One fateful day, at the end of a lackluster workout, I sat down on a Concept 2 rowing machine and my life was changed forever.
From hating cardio to embracing it
I've never liked running, crossfit, or much of anything that requires a ridiculous amount of endurance. I like being able to breathe, it's a great feeling. It's comforting. It makes me happy.
After my 3 minute workout on the rowing machine, my legs were on fire and my lungs felt like they were about to explode. It was terrible. But for some reason, I got on it again the day after, and the day after. I started tracking my times and seeing progress. It was strange, but I almost kind of liked it.
After doing some research I learned that there was a state indoor rowing competition close to where I lived. The distance was going to be 2000 meters, the same as in the Olympics. The Concept 2 rowing machine at my gym is also the kind used by most Olympians to train, and would be used in the competition. It felt like fate. The only issue is that it was 6 months away, and I'd be competing against people who have been rowing for years. So I poured my heart and soul into my newest passion and did everything possible to win.
There are two things I had that gave me an edge. The first of those was...
I wore a portable ECG 24/7 for 6 months straight
ECG's are commonly used in hospitals and other health care facilities to measure the electrical activity of your heart. Using them to improve your athletic performance is a new and exciting concept and now that I've used one extensively, I can't imagine training without one. The one I used is made by FirstBeat, and it tracked a wealth of data 24/7, and interestingly, some of the most useful data was recorded while I slept.
Some of the things the ECG tracked were:
- Heart Rate Variability
- Stress and Recovery
- Energy Expenditure
- Fitness Level (VO2 max)
- EPOC (Excess Post Oxygen Consumption)
- Aerobic and anaerobic threshold
- Training effect
After every workout I could take the ECG off my chest and plug it into my laptop to upload all the data from that day. It's amazing to see such a plethora of data from the moment you wake up until the moment you fall asleep that can be used to see how difficult your workout was, how much your endurance has improved over time, how much you've recovered from day to day, and so much more. It was truly eye opening to see how my workouts, quality of sleep, and lifestyle impacted my progress and future training.
Everyone at the gym thought I was crazy. Everyone I worked with thought I was crazy. Although the ECG is small you could visibly see it through my shirt, so it was no secret that I had something attached to me, but I didn't care. I couldn't stop. I had to keep going. Limits are met to be broken.
The other thing I had that I felt gave me an edge was the proper mindset.
This is one of my favorite motivational quotes, and something I reminded myself as much as possible. I believe that our thoughts create our realities, and what you believe is the most important thing in the world.
Early on in my training for the rowing competition I had reached out to a handful of coaches to see if they would help me with technique, training plans, etc., and all of them turned me down. No one wanted to work with me because I was so new to the sport, and because from a physical standpoint, I wasn't the prototypical rower. Most successful rowers are extremely tall, and I am not. Basically everyone I talked to thought I had no chance to excel, especially in a short amount of time.
Instead of letting that get me down, I used it as motivation. I thought about it every time I was in the gym, and every time I wanted to stop a workout early. I was at the gym almost every day for those 6 months, and have never worked harder at anything in my life. I had to lose 10 pounds to make my weight class, and I had to get much, much faster at 2000 meters.
When it came time to compete, I had no regrets. I had given everything I had, and done everything possible. All the darkness I had felt was replaced by joy, happiness, and gratitude when I took 1st place, and became the state indoor rowing champion.
I say all this because I believe that everything happens for a reason, and it's how we react to adversity that shapes the life we live. To anyone feeling down or struggling currently, I implore you to use anything you can as motivation to persevere.
*All pics were taken from my iphone, except for the physiology pic, that comes from a phenomenal book called "Training and Racing with a Power Meter"
They certainly do! Hopefully I've seen my last for a while...