When I started following the Dark Horse Rowing Crew I was desperate. Desperate for structure for my training and help with my rowing. What I found was so much more than help with training and rowing technique. The program is set up to make you better rower, polish your technique, and increase your power and endurance. As with many program, it will also challenge you mentally along the way. And surprisingly, I found the mental aspect to be where I found the most growth.

Every Dark Horse Rowing program starts and ends with a test. The goal is to perform your absolute best in the beginning, trust and follow the programming as prescribed, and finish with your absolute best at the retest. Your target numbers come from the first test and carry you through the following 8 weeks.

It is a supplemental program to your existing training and when you sign up you need to commit 2x a week to focus on rowing. It will take about 2 hours of your week; that is, 2 extra hours of training.

Not every training day is the same. Your sleep, stress level, nutrition and other training are all part of the equation when it comes to performance. There are times when you can gut out a harder training session, but there are days you just can’t hit the assigned target or can’t hold an assigned rate steadily. It happens with all of us; the question is how we handle it when it happens. We can fail, but we also have the opportunity to fail forward. Through the Dark Horse programs, I learned how to win workouts even if I fell short of the targets.

Prevent Failure

Failing to hit the desired target can be frustrating and discouraging. In those moments, most of the time we are not thinking of why is it happening — we are just ready to give up.

Eliminate the stress and distractions by starting your day with rowing. You can concentrate your focus on the workout and nothing else. I personally like to train fasted, but I also learned that there are harder intervals where I need some energy otherwise my performance drops and all I can think of is food. I suggest to study and plan your workouts accordingly and choose the days when it can fit in your training volume.

Don’t Let Fear Make You Fail

In our program, the workouts are not designed so you can fail doing them. Some of them are harder than others, but none of them are setting you up to failure. All of your numbers come from your initial test so all we ask is that you to perform your best in a given workout. Best doesn’t necessarily mean max effort, but you need to attack every workout with the intent on performing at your best. You shouldn’t be afraid because every workout is customized to you and your capabilities and all of them are designed for you to be able to conquer.

Your Mind Will Challenge You First

There were many workouts when throughout multiple intervals my mind was telling me halfway through that “it was enough”. Focusing on technique, the next rest or easy pedaling break or where you are at in the workout can help you tremendously. Counting strokes, or focus breathing is another way to take your mind off quitting or giving up.

Trick your mind into making a hard piece easy. Work a little harder in the first half of the interval and gauge the second half. I’ve learned throughout many sessions that doing better than the target can actually hurt me in the long run so try to be as close to the assigned numbers as possible. Don’t over achieve, just perform according to plan. The more “wins” you have over your mind, the less it can challenge you.

If You Can’t Win All of it, Win Most of it

Not every day is perfect. Some days your body is not 100%, you are too stressed, your sleep and nutrition are off, and life gets in the way. Maybe you are like me, someone who tries to find an escape in physical activity, and you start the workout with the intent of conquering it. The warmup felt good and the first half of the workout you hit the target, but then you start getting tired. You have multiple intervals left and you almost failed the last one. That is when you sacrifice one interval to recover, to get some more rest with light pedaling. You may only need to give up on the 500m pace and keep your stroke rate target, but you give up something to finish strong. You may need to give up 1 or 2 small targets to win the rest of the workout. Was it perfect? No, but you learned from it. Maybe you got better by pushing yourself in a far from ideal situation.

You Don’t Have to Win Today

There are going to be days when you have something unexpected come up, or all you want is skip training. Perfectly understandable and you don’t have to set yourself up to failure. Our 2 workouts a week is scheduled on a Monday and Thursday basis, but you can do them any day of the week. If you are overwhelmed with other things in your life you don’t have to do the program on the day it’s posted. Focus on what’s important and postpone the workout to another day with the intent of absolutely crushing it.

In the era of fitness trackers, performance optimization devices, endless offers of online fitness programs, people training at home, or just choosing to putting in extra work at the gym —  failure still happens. Learning how to deal with it and how to push beyond our own boundaries can help us become a better athlete and a person. Rowing workouts will make you face your fears, challenge you both physically and mentally and teach you how to focus better –in rowing and in life.

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