The Amazing Benefits Of Training For A Full Ironman On The Concept 2 Indoor Rowing Machine

Ever since Jack Nunn could remember he wanted to follow in his father’s footsteps as an Olympian. Jack Nunn’s father, John Nunn won a bronze medal in rowing at the 1968 Olympic Games held in Mexico City. He was also the Head Coach for the Men’s Olympic Rowing Team for the United States in the 1976 Olympic Games held in Montreal. Jack Nunn began his athletic adventure while playing almost ever sport imaginable. Jack had a taste of what it was like to be on an Olympic Team while rowing for Cal Berkeley from 1998-2001 alongside former Olympic rowers from across the world that were recruited to UC Berkeley for rowing. At one point Jack was the only American born rower to be on the Varsity rowing team out of eight guys. He ended up winning 4 Pacific-10 Championships and 3 National Championships in 4 years on the rowing team. When Jack was invited and competed on the US National Team in rowing he had immediate success and won a silver medal at the World Championships his first year on the team in 2001. From 2001-2005 Jack won multiple US National races and competed all over the world including England, Austria, Germany, Japan, and Canada. Jack was an Olympic Hopeful for many years but after a few knee surgery’s the priority of making an Olympic Team and pressure became too much to handle. He decided to move on to his next adventure, The Ironman Competition!  Jack decided to sign up and go abroad to do his first Ironman after only doing one Olympic distance triathlon. Something that is not traditionally done with triathlon athletes but Jack was up for the challenge. He decided to compete in the Nice, France Ironman which is considered to be one of the toughest courses out of all of the current 30+ Ironman’s held across the world including Kona, Hawaii because of the huge mountains you have to climb during the bike ride. Jack said that along with training on the National Team and being an Olympic hopeful in rowing…. ‘completing an Ironman was a lifelong dream!’ Jack was in and come June 2008 he finished the adventure of the Ironman race and heard those amazing words with a thick french accent “Jack Nunn…You Are An Ironman!” It was the most amazing feeling he had ever felt in the last mile of that race. So many emotions poured out of Jack and it was the most incredible experience of his life. After the race Jack said “I don’t think I’ll ever do that again.” After Jack got home there was a couple of things his father told him which he felt good about. John first asked Jack if he was on steroids, which he thought was hilarious because he really didn’t think I could swim or handle the bike ride and that he needed them to get through the race. Jack was laughing as he completely frowned upon using drugs in any form. Later, John wrote Jack a note saying how proud he was of him and admitted that he too wanted to do an Ironman but he couldn’t fathom the distance and didn’t have enough time for him to train and accomplish that race. Coming from an Olympic Medalist that was very cool:) Almost exactly one year later Jack decided to race for charity and put even more meaning into his Ironman adventure. Jack competed in Ironman Florianopolis, Brazil on May 31st 2009 and raised $5000 for charity with money earned from his rowing members at his Roworx Facility in Long Beach, Ca in order to build schools for children in Brazil. 

The indoor rowing classes on the Concept 2 rowing machine and the use of indoor cycling classes at Jack’s new Roworx facility consisted of nearly 90% of his total workouts leading up to both of his Ironman’s. Jack did only a few ‘brick’ (cycling/ running) workouts and almost no swimming practice. Due to the muscles used in rowing and the muscle endurance in the latissimus muscles from rowing Jack was never tired while swimming and pulled his way through the swim in just over an hour. Jack practiced his swimming in the protected waters around Naples Island in Long Beach which is ironically 2.5 miles (the same distance as the Ironman swim section of the race). Jack challenge in the swim was learning how to breath and the rhythm of swimming while trying to steer a straight course. Focus and persistence are totally involved at the the start of any Ironman due to the large volume of Ironman athletes that start at the same time. Rowing and cycling long distances has taught Jack how to harness that focus over long periods of time and overcome many challenges that the Ironman had to deliver.  Over the years rowing and cycling has enabled Jack to work on his muscle endurance in order to handle the grueling challenge of completing 2 Ironman’s. Jack figured it was all about putting in the hours during the week of hard cardiovascular training. Combining the use of the H.I.I.T. (High Interval Intensity Training) workouts, Jack averaged 15 hours a week has allowed him to get into the best shape of his life. Rowing uses nearly every part of your body and if you can find the right routine and workouts on the rowing machine it will be one of the best training tools you can use for triathlon training.

Since rowing is not a very well-known motion and/or workout here are some things to think about when approaching the use of the rowing machine.


3 Most Common Mistakes When Using The Concept 2 Rowing Machine:

1) Feet should be tied in with the straps going almost across your toes, where your toes bend. Most people tie in way too high and that causes your knees to be high which then causes you not to be able to hinge forward over the knees at the front of the stroke. Have your feet tied in lower so that you will have an easier time to get over your knees and be able to breath easier at the frontof the stroke.

2) Damper setting on the side of the machine should always be turned to settings 4-6. Not 10! A massive mistake that is always noticed is that the machine setting ‘effort level’ is always on 10 because people want to feel the machine work you. However, with the rowing machine, you must work the machine. The better your technique gets, the more resistance you will get out of the machine. If you turn the setting to 10 (which we never really do while rowing on the machine during Olympic training) you are setting yourself up for a possible back injury due to more load or heavier gear your are setting. Find a setting somewhere in the middle from 4-6 and use the quickness of your leg drive during the stroke in order to drive thise Watts higher. Be patient and learn the technique before you pound away at the rowing machine without learning how to use it. If you know how to do a proper power clean while wieght lifting then you are already on the right path for learning the stroke in rowing. Remember… legs! Legs! Legs! Upper body pull in rowing accounts for only %20 of the total power is coming from the arms. Compare that with nearly %80 that comes from the legs/back swing.

3) Refrain from using your shoulders and squeezing your muscles in your back when you finish the rowing stroke. You must relax the shoulders and back and not squeeze the rhomboids like you would when lifting weights. Remember that rowing is mostly legs and the upper body is just an extension of the legs work. The arms are nothing compared to your legs strength during the rowing stroke. Use a mirror and drop your shoulders and let them relax and drop down as you approach the front of the stroke. As you push the legs down make sure you swing the back while keeping the shoulders low and use the momentum to finish the stroke not trying to pull with the upper body.

Reccomended Daily H.I.I.T. Rowing Workouts:

On the Concept 2 rowing machine with a PM3 or PM4 Monitor press ‘Menu Back’ then ‘Select Workout’ then ‘Custom List.’ Here is where you get a pre-programmed list of amazing workouts from Concept 2, the leader in rowing fitness and the only rowing machines that are approved by National and Olympic Rowing Teams worldwide.

Make sure to press ‘Change Units’ to Watts in order to see the power that you are creating into the machine. A good goal is to reach your own body weight in Watts on the Monitor. If you are hitting your body weight already then try to double your body weight and so on. To give you an idea of how fast and powerful Olympic Rowers are they can usually hold three times their body weight in Watts for over 6 minutes!!! Try to do this for the shorter distances. Make small goals and go from there:)

The 3 best rowing workouts for your daily routine are:

1) The ’30/30/30′ listed as :30 / :30 on the custom list on the monitor. Described as rowing :30seconds on then :30seconds off times 30 intervals. Row as hard as you can with the best technique you can at 28-32 stroke rate rating and then on the rest time work on breathing, ab crunches while tilting to the side of the machine at the back of the machine while still holding the handle, and grab water to hydrate from time to time. Get ready and repeat!

2) The ‘Pryamid Workout’ listed as ‘V 1:00 1:00 … 7’ is approx. a 32 minute workout. The machine is pre-programmed to begin with 1 min on and 1 min off of rowing going up to 4 min and then back down to one minute. Try to see how many meters you can row in each segment and remember that the higher your strokerate goes does not necessarily mean that you will go faster. Rowing is all about technique and the efficeint, powerful, quick use of the legs while pushing as hard as you can off the footboards.

3) The ‘140/20 Workout’ listed as ‘1:40 :20 … 9’ is a rowing workout that provides a maximum amount of time to row with minimal rest in order to produce the ultimate effect in High Interval Training and give your heartrate and endurance an amazing challenge. This workout is 20 minutes and has 9 intervals with a 2:00 minute rest after 5 intervals. Try to row a consistant High-Watt output for the entire workout. A good goal could be to hold an average Watt output of double your bodyweight.

Jack was also inspired by this Three-time Olympic rower, Miroslav Vrastil of the Czech Republic that has taken his love of competing to a new level. Vrastil, 58, plans to break a world record by completing 22 Ironman triathlons in one year and the father of five has already begun. Vrastil started rowing when he was 12 years old in Olomouc, Czechoslovakia. For 18 years he competed in rowing while representing his country up to the age of 35. After competing at three Olympic Games (1972, 1976 and 1980), Vrastil was diagnosed with a cancerous tumour in his leg.“I was not sure if the doctor was telling me or somebody else,” says Vrastil. “I could not believe it and my hands started shaking. I was only 30. Their final diagnosis was a necessary amputation of my right leg. I made my decision of not having my leg amputated even if that meant living for three months only or less.”Vrastil received no cancer treatment, opting just for surgery to remove the tumour. He estimates he stepped back from training for just six months.” Then triathlon entered Vrastil’s life. After more than a 20-year period of doing very little physically, Vrastil was persuaded to try triathlon. His first race, a duathlon, is memorable in his finish.”The result was horrible for me, in fact I was nearly the last out of 130 competitors of all age groups. It was there (in 1988) that I decided to change it and go for it with all that it takes,” says Vrastil. ”My rowing experience and sports experience in general have helped me in life. To strive, to compete, and not to give up, and that reflects in triathlons too,” says Vastil. Then along came the idea to beat the world record of doing 20 Ironman races in a year. Vrastil has set a target of 22 races and his list includes races around the globe. An Ironman consists of a 3.8km swim, 180km cycle and a 42.2km run and to reach the target of 22 Vrastil will be doing two, sometimes three, in a month.

Here is Hywel Davies at a Q&A Triathlon Show 2012. He has finished the Ironman many times and is a 4-time sub 9 Hour Ironman Triathlete. Hywel explains the importance of the Concept 2 rowing machine on his cross-training regiment for triathletes and other ultra-high endurance sports!

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Jack Nunn

Jack Nunn is the head trainer and owner of Roworx. Jack is a former national team rower who has competed in more than 100 triathlons, including 9 full Ironmans. He has created a system of rowing that prepares the whole body for both competition and fitness longevity.