In the fall of 2018, I found myself in a situation that is unfortunately all too common—being in a caregiver role for a loved one. For those who have ridden the roller coaster of having a sick partner, family member or loved one, you know all too well the deep lows and heavy days that can come along with that. We can never put ourselves in another’s shoes or compare our stories to theirs, but I hope we can empathize with anyone who finds themselves in that role.
While I can't state enough the importance of support from friends and family, I found fitness to be key to my physical and mental health during my journey. Recently, I was looking at my Online Logbook history and it reminded me of just how much time I put on the ergs through the fall of 2018 and into the spring of 2019. I was fortunate to have the RowErg, SkiErg and BikeErg, and was able to mix up and chase various goals on all three pieces of equipment. I racked up 1,000,000 BikeErg meters, nearly 600,000 SkiErg meters, and about 300,000 meters on the RowErg. I chased PRs on the BikeErg and SkiErg and was determined to make the SkiErg Million Meter Club. I also dedicated myself to training for the SkiErg World Sprints, and pulled out a 1000m effort I don’t think I could repeat but am so proud of.
In times of uncertainty, or even in times when life feels pretty good, I’ve found exercise to be a great grounder for my mental health. It says a lot about my personal growth that years ago I felt shame the first time I saw a therapist, to now being hopeful in sharing my story. Hopefully it resonates and helps someone. Exercise can’t be the only answer for anxiety, depression or clearing one’s mind, but we know a lot of our community finds it immensely helpful. I know that a 10k on the SkiErg isn’t the first enjoyable activity that comes to people’s mind, but I found that I would focus so intently on what I was doing that those 40 minutes would fly by. There can be something rhythmic and euphoric about an erg—ranging from focusing on rowing an exact stroke rate or creating perfect split charts—that gave me a goal and intention for each workout.
In addition to making the SkiErg Million Meter Club, I also chased PRs for seven different domains ranging from 500 meters to 60 minutes on the SkiErg. I found inspiration in trying to improve, but I also recognized that just going hard wasn’t going to do it. Some of the sessions that were best for my mental health were working on "screens of perfection." These are PM5 screens of equal splits, equal stroke rate, equal meters, on repeat, whether it was for an interval session or a longer piece. I created games. Could I add 1 spm every split, while simultaneously dropping 1 second off my split? The concentration in trying to control your strokes to be nearly identical for 5, 10, sometimes 30 minutes, is remarkable (in my non-clinical opinion) for the mind. These sessions tend to push you away from just trying to PR every workout, and allow your body to recover a bit, as it’s not ideal to be redlining day after day.
It’s hard for me to share all the benefits of exercise (indoors and outdoors!), what it gave me then and continues to give me now. I’m not a mental health professional, and this is not medical advice, but I find the balance of regular exercise and taking care of yourself in other ways so important for the mind. The importance of creating routine, having goals, being a part of something awesome like the Concept2 community can’t be understated.
Each person’s mental health journey is their own. You may not be in a place to chase PRs, or try and get a pretty PM screen, but if you’re moving your body (on or off the erg) and finding benefits, I encourage you to keep doing that for yourself, and to share your journey.
For so many of us at Concept2, the positive effects of a good workout go beyond the purely physical benefits. During Mental Health Awareness Month, we're taking the opportunity to talk about how taking care of our physical health can also improve our mental health.
Related: Team Shut Up & Row Goes the Distance