Book Breakdown: Rowing the Atlantic

Title: Rowing the Atlantic: Lessons Learned on the Open Ocean
Author: Roz Savage
Genre: Non-fiction/ Memoir
Grade: B

Roz Savage has written 2 books about ocean rowing. I decided to read her account of rowing across the Atlantic since I had just watched a documentary about rowing the Pacific.

I really enjoyed Savage’s account of participating in the Atlantic Rowing Race. I didn’t know this event existed, but my timing was fantastic because I got to follow the end of the 2017 race while reading this book.

It is a journey of self-discovery and reflection. The deepening relationship with her mother was especially touching. I also enjoyed the layout of the book and how she tied the emotions she felt while rowing to different people and events that led her to the middle of the Atlantic.

Rowing across an ocean seems agonizing, and like it or not Savage shares gory details about boils and sores that the documentary I watched glossed over. It’s also very dark in some places which made me wonder why anyone would want to do this to themselves. The challenges she faced toward the end of the race were particularly gut-wrenching. The anticipation of being done mixed with the frustration of yet another obstacle must have made the finish all the sweeter.

The Clouds of Anxiety chapter was my least favorite because it goes into the details of her divorce. Who am I to judge another person’s journey? It is an important part of Savage’s life, so I’m glad that she shared the memories in the book. I also liked that she thanked her ex-husband in the Acknowledgements which made it seem like a happier outcome for all involved.

A short, exciting read that I would recommend to anyone looking to delight in a second-hand adventure.

If you’d like a chance to win a copy of Rowing the Atlantic: Lessons Learned on the Open Ocean like this post to be entered into the drawing!

Rowing Right

There are all kinds of wrong ways to row. Since I’m doing a repetitive exercise every day I need to focus on my form so I don’t injure myself. I also researched the benefits of rowing to ensure I key in on the right metrics.

This instructional video posted by Zain Khan does a wonderful job of breaking down the rowing stroke and explaining some of the common mistakes beginners make along with how to correct them. My favorite parts explain how improper technique could lead to specific injuries, and the impact those movements would have on the water.

Watching a variety of videos on proper technique has helped me to feel more confident in my stroke. Every warmup I do starts with the stroke breakdown and an easy row to make sure I’m doing things in the right order. I’m sure taking a rowing class with an instructor will do wonders for my technique, but I want to build up more endurance before I pay for a class.

Improving my cardio health is the main reason I decided to pick up rowing. According to the Mayo Clinic, aerobic exercises can help you lose weight, strengthen your heart, and even help with your mood. Because rowing is low impact I feel like I have made greater strides than when I tried different running programs.

A rowing machine is also a combination machine. It allows you to build muscle while getting in a great cardio workout. Setting the resistance on your rowing machine at 4-6 is supposed to mimic the drag you would experience on the water.

I was intimidated about rowing every day because previously I worked out about once a week, but I haven’t experienced any major issues. I think pacing myself has helped a lot, and I am still seeing progress gains.

Please let me know if there is something I missed in my research. I’d love to hear your feedback in the comments below.

Inspiration & Implementation: Workout Wednesday

Workout inspiration abounds on Pinterest. Below are the top links I have pinned to my Workout Wednesday board that are helping me to build this rowing habit.

1. Rowing Technique

I watched this tutorial video at least 10 times when I first started rowing. It does a wonderful job of breaking down the stroke, which I use as my warm up every day. I really think it is important to focus on technique since it is such a repetitive motion.

2. 14 Rowing Machine Workouts

The great thing about Pinterest is all the infographics! This list of rowing machine workouts pulls together easy to follow workouts. I enjoy the variety it puts into my daily routine, and I have tried a new workout every other day since I started.

3. 5 Big Rowing Machine Benefits

The infographics also provide a lot of information on why rowing is so good for you. I like this article the best because it covers a lot of ground. Rowing is a full body, low impact exercise that is great for cardio. What’s not to love?!

I have also added a number of inspirational quotes and images to my Workout Wednesday board. Staying motivated to workout every day is hard. On the days I find it especially difficult to get on the rowing machine I take time to look up new quotes to get me in the right frame of mind.

I don’t always feel motivated to stick with my habits, so I have taken to saying, “determination over motivation!” I know we’re all trying to stay on track so please share any inspiring words or images in the comments below.

Movie Madness: The Boys of ’36 & Losing Sight of Shore

I’ve heard great things about the book The Boys in the Boat: Nine Americans and Their Epic Quest for Gold at the 1936 Berlin Olympics. When I saw that Netflix was streaming a documentary about the same team I thought American Experience: The Boys of ’36 fit perfectly in my action plan.

It’s a somber story that focuses on the unconventional backgrounds of this elite rowing team. I enjoyed the black and white footage of the team and that they interspersed the narration with newer footage to highlight techniques. I had never heard the term “swing” in regards to rowing, but it sounds like an amazing experience and makes me want to join a team!

The director doesn’t go into the background of each of the rowers but mostly focuses on the hardships that befell Rantz, Hume, and Moch. I would have loved more context on the other six rowers. There wasn’t enough gravitas in this film for such an epic story. The soundtrack was uninspired and the ending abrupt.

That’s what I get for trying to take the easy route. It’s still a moving story, so I plan on picking up the book at some point.

Since my first choice was a bust I perused Netflix and found Losing Sight of Shore. It’s amazing! I was immediately invested in these women and got goosebumps when they started their journey rowing under the Golden Gate bridge.

The cinematography and editing really connected me to the team. Their dejection at failure is your dejection and their elation when they hit milestones is your elation.

This movie has inspired me to attempt to row for 2 hours straight. I think on my next free Saturday I am going to row while watching this movie again. If I rowed for the whole movie I would still have another 28 mins to go to match one of their shifts. And I would need to do 1,541 more shifts to get across the Pacific. Even the math is daunting.

I would highly recommend this movie to anyone with some free time today! Seriously, go watch it right now, and then share in the comments how much you loved it.

Workout Wednesday – The Start

All I wanted for Christmas was a rowing machine, and Santa-Clayton delivered!

Habit: Row for at least 10 minutes every day for 66 days

Start Date: Sunday, 01/21/2018

Projected End Date: Wednesday, 03/28/2018

Action Plan:

  • Attend an indoor rowing class
  • Create a Pinterest inspiration board
  • Read 2 books about rowing
  • Research the benefits of rowing for improved cardio health
  • Try 5 different rowing workouts
  • Watch a documentary about rowing
  • Watch 5 instructional videos

Incentive: 3 private rowing lessons on the water with iRow Fitness!

Lofty Goal: Being healthy enough to enjoy the fruits of my labor.

The main reason I want to build this habit is to improve my cardio fitness. I actually started prepping for this habit in December because I knew I wasn’t going to be able to row every day right out of the gate. As a beginner, I started with The Mirror workout for 10 minutes every other day. I’ve progressed to 20 minutes, and as I try to build up this habit I will continue to do the mirror every other day while I incrementally add in different rowing workouts. I don’t want to burn out or injure myself so I am starting small, but building consistency.

Rowing is an activity that I have always found challenging and fun. Since I travel so much for work there will be times I am away from my rowing machine. On days I don’t have access to a rowing machine I will count a full body work out as an equivalent exercise toward my daily goal. I’m glad to have a contingency plan up front, and I am so stoked about getting out on the water I know it will keep me on track throughout this challenge.

Please share your favorite no equipment full body workouts in the comments!

Strummin’ Saturday – The End

Thanks to some renewed inspiration I’m finally wrapping up this banjo series. I hit my 66-day goal back in November, but since this action plan deviated from the template I decided to keep going with my posts. On to the stats!

Action Plan Progress:

  • DONE – 3/3 TED Talks watched
  • DONE – Created a Pinterest inspiration board
  • DONE – Posted list of pro-tips for practicing
  • DONE – 15/5 banjo lessons
  • 8/11 weekly Saturday posts

Grade: B

Incentive: I already cashed in my incentive for this habit. I didn’t want to lose momentum by suspending my lessons until I hit the 66-day mark. I did scale back my lessons to biweekly but went well past the initial 5 lessons I purchased.

Lessons Learned: Getting a teacher was the best thing I did in building this habit. Ken has been very encouraging and the pacing of my lessons was great. He deserves every star on his Take Lessons profile.

I travel a lot for work, so I purchased a hard case and started taking my banjo with me on business trips. Traveling with an instrument is difficult, but I found I made a lot more time for practicing when I was on the road. There isn’t much for me to do in the Midwest in winter, so I was glad to have my banjo when I was stuck in a hotel room. These challenges taught me to add some flexibility to my process because not everything I want to accomplish is going to fit easily into my daily routine.

Putting on my own holiday recitals and making my family listen to all the songs I learned this year was also a lot of fun. I’m on my way to pleasing myself with my banjo skills! For your viewing pleasure here is my last progress video:

Stay tuned for my next habit kicking off this week!

Book Breakdown: Earl Scruggs

Title: Earl Scruggs: Banjo Icon (Roots of American Music: Folk, Americana, Blues, and Country)
Author: Gordon Castelnero & David L. Russell
Genre: Non-fiction/ Biography
Grade: B

I’m learning the bluegrass style of banjo playing which is often called Scruggs style. I wanted to read more about the man who has influenced so many artists.

It’s refreshing to read about such a talented man who also seemed like a genuinely nice person. Many of the people who knew Earl Scruggs commented on his generosity as much as his skill with the banjo. And Scruggs path to icon status shows the impact he had on the world of bluegrass.

The book certainly has a bias in favor of Scruggs. They don’t go into a lot of details around the negative aspects of his life like band break ups or some of the personal issues he faced. However, it is more of a memoir about his banjo playing rather than a full biography so that makes sense.

The last chapter called The Influence of Earl Scruggs was dry and formulaic just listing quotes from people who were directly or indirectly influenced by Scruggs. Since most of the people were mentioned throughout the book it seemed repetitive. A sad last note for an otherwise fantastic book.

This is a great read I would highly recommend to anyone with an interest in the banjo. I’m glad I read it after I started learning the banjo because there are a number of passages where they discuss Scruggs specific technique that would have gone over my head without some knowledge of the instrument. Another tip to enhance your enjoyment of the book is to listen to one of Scruggs instrumental albums while reading. It really brings it to life!

Bonus Material: Check out this fun video mentioned in the book of Flatt & Scruggs on the Beverly Hillbillies!

Practice Pro-tips

My banjo teacher has been very patient with me and guided my learning. I’ve also gotten tips from people I know who play other instruments. As it turns out, you can get plenty of advice when you talk to people about your goals. Below are the most useful tips I’ve been given so far.

General Tips

  • Buy a stand so your instrument is easy to get to and pick up when you have free time.
  • Learning to read music is important.
  • When learning a new song, break it up into small chunks and play that perfectly before moving onto the next part.
  • A drum beat is a lot more fun for staying in rhythm than a metronome.
  • Practice, practice, practice…

Banjo Tips

  • Buy a strap so you can walk around and practice your rolls while doing other things.
  • You can slide your polishing rag under the strings to muffle the sound to be less annoying to the family.
  • Remove the resonator to be quieter when practicing.
  • It’s easier to learn songs you’re familiar with so I started a Banjo playlist on Spotify.
  • Playing the banjo is fun! Try not to take it so seriously or get nervous when people ask you to play for them.

These tips have helped me a lot through this process. It takes a lot of patience to learn an instrument, but there are few things as satisfying as playing a new song all the way through for the first time.

Please share any tips you think should be added to the list in the comments below!

Book Breakdown: The Banjo

Title: The Banjo: America’s African Instrument
Author: Laurent Dubois
Genre: Non-fiction/History
Grade: B

The title of this book jumped out at me when I was searching for books on the banjo. It has great reviews on Goodreads so I thought I would give it a shot.

I didn’t realize there was enough material to write a biography on a musical instrument, but the banjo’s history is extensive. Dubois explores the earliest writings and images of the banjo to piece together how it traveled from Africa to America and the different groups that embraced and changed it. Strife shaped banjo music and some parts of this book were horrifying. I reconciled my continued interest in classic banjo songs and the twang of the instrument by realizing it’s always better to know the truth no matter how brutal.

An added bonus, Dubois introduced me to a number of different banjoists (and the word banjoist). I am now obsessed with the Carolina Chocolate Drops, even though they seem to have all moved on to solo careers. I started a Banjo playlist on Spotify so that I don’t lose track of these great artists.

I would highly recommend this book to anyone with a passing interest in the banjo. You’ll get a lot more than you bargained for. But keep in mind it’s an academic work. I’m glad I read it on our Surface so I could easily look up all the words I was sure Dubois was making up.

Follow me on Goodreads to keep up with my Planned Preoccupation reading list.

Strummin’ Saturday – The Middle

This habit has been very challenging for me, so it’s a good time to stop and reflect.

Action Plan Progress:

  • DONE – 3/3 TED Talks watched
  • DONE – Created a Pinterest inspiration board
  • DONE – 6/5 banjo lessons
  • 36/66 days of playing the banjo
  • 3/11 weekly Saturday posts
  • Started a running list of pro-tips for practicing

Grade: C

Lessons Learned: The biggest challenge so far has been figuring out how to practice daily when I am traveling almost every week for work. This problem presented immediately, and I decided to modify my goal to 66 days of practice rather than 66 consecutive days of practice.

I’ve been struggling with the issues of traveling with my banjo.

  • The cost of a hard case
  • Checking the bag or carrying it around with multiple layovers
  • Where to practice when I’m in a hotel
  • The amount of time I will have to practice when onsite with a client

After weighing my options the choice came down to traveling with my banjo or stopping my banjo lessons. I enjoy playing way too much to give up now, so I decided to buy a hard case. I will be traveling every week for the next 2 months and I will use the rest of my time building this habit to find out if traveling with my banjo is sustainable.

I LOVE playing the banjo, and I’m glad to be taking steps to play more!

Take a look at the below video the see my progress!