National Eating Disorders Awareness Week: Signs + Symptoms

Previously: Introduction || Eating disorders defined + explained 

Similarly to yesterday’s post where I briefly described the different types of eating disorders, this post is going to list some of their warning signs and symptoms, as well as how your rowing is affected by them.

Due to the higher prevalence of and more readily available information for certain eating disorders than others, I’m only going to go over anorexia and bulimia. This is in no way meant to make light of the other disorders I discussed yesterday or take away from the seriousness of their complications though. These two disorders have much more severe physical consequences that directly effect rowers (and athletes in general) so that’s what I’m going to spend time going over.

Anorexia Nervosa

“A serious, potentially life-threatening eating disorder characterized by self-starvation and excessive weight loss.”

Warning signs

Dramatic weight loss, refusal to eat certain foods or abstaining completely from an entire food group (no fats, no carbs, etc.), frequently suffering from or displaying signs of anxiety, engaging in negative self-talk (we all do this, but in this case it’s taken to the extreme), having carefully calculated food rituals (obsessively chewing, pushing food around the plate, etc.), maintaining rigid exercise regimes regardless of weather, injury, health status, etc. (part of the reason why this disorder can be easily hidden amongst rowers is because most of us already do this), making excuses to avoid eating, increasing your intake of caffeine (since caffeine makes you have to pee, which leads to water loss), etc.

Symptoms

The body eventually goes into starvation mode due to malnutrition, hair and nails become brittle (multiple your standard dry hair and split ends by tenfold), your skin dries out (sometimes you can actually see scaly patches), you frequently get chills (due to the body’s inability to regulate temperature and from the lack of fat mass), energy levels plummet, vital organs are damaged (the kidneys can’t handle all the proteins being broken down or the lack of water, heart rate slows, blood pressure falls, the brain begins wasting away, etc.), electrolyte imbalances are exaggerated, the lack of and/or loss of calcium leads to weakening of the skeleton, you’re in a perpetual state of confusion because your brain isn’t receiving enough energy to maintain function, muscles are broken down for energy when there is no fatty tissue left, etc.

How this effects rowing

Anorexia (and other EDs) affect your rowing in all the obvious ways. Carbohydrates and fats are the main fuels we use during practice and races. If our glycogen and fatty tissue stores are depleted, the next thing the body is going to go to for fuel is protein, which is what our muscles are comprised of. If your muscles are being broken down, your kidneys go into overdrive trying to filter the proteins from your system, which can eventually lead to kidney failure due to the stress put on them. Not having any muscle mass is a huge detriment to rowers because, obviously, that’s where we draw our power from.

As the muscles begin wasting away, so to does our ability to maintain the amount of power we can produce. As we try to continue maintaining a high power output, we have to exert more and more energy to do so, which is hard to do when our energy levels are at rock bottom levels due to the lack of nutrients from not eating. Low energy levels + high power output = fatiguing fast. If your body isn’t getting any nutrients, your brain isn’t either which can lead to increased incidences of you experiencing serious bouts of confusion, dizziness, and fainting. I’ve seen people pass out on the water in the middle of a row (including some in my own boat) and it’s terrifying.

Another consequence of reduced brain function and low fat mass is the body’s inability to regulate it’s own temperature. Temperature regulation is very important to rowers since it’s very easy for us to become overheated quickly. With disorders like anorexia, the inability to regulate and maintain temperature tends to cause those suffering from it to experience intense cold chills all the time, which sucks to begin with because who enjoys being cold all the time, but it’s also dangerous when you’re out rowing in the fall, late winter, or spring when the temperatures are low.

Bulimia Nervosa

“A serious, potentially life-threatening eating disorder characterized by a cycle of binging and compensatory behaviors such as self-induced vomiting designed to undo or compensate for the effects of binge eating.”

Warning signs

Unexplained stomach pain(s), blood tests indicating electrolyte imbalances, withdrawing from friends, family, and activities (most often as a way to continue hiding their behavior), decay and discoloration of the teeth, swelling in the face (due to damaged glands in the cheeks), rigid exercise regime (similar to anorexia), evidence of purging (frequently leaving meals to go to the bathroom, signs and smells of vomit, finding laxatives and/or diuretics, or the less often discussed but still obvious sounds of purging – vomiting obviously, but the longer-than-necessary sounds of running water can also be an indication that something is going on), and evidence of binge eating (large quantities of food suddenly go missing in short periods of time, finding empty food wrappers hidden away), etc.

Symptoms

There are overlaps between anorexia and bulimia, but additional symptoms of bulimia include irregular heart rates, heart failure (leading to death due to dehydration and the lack of potassium and sodium), electrolyte imbalances, inflammation and/or rupture of the esophagus, development of gastric ulcers, tooth decay, acid reflux, etc.

How this effects rowing

The biggest detriments to rowing for someone suffering from bulimia come from the electrolyte imbalances and heart problems. Everything else is just an added layer of discomfort on top of what can already be an uncomfortable sport. Electrolytes “affect the amount of water in your body, the acidity of your blood (pH), your muscle function, and other important processes. You lose electrolytes when you sweat” and “must replace them by drinking fluids”. Electrolyte imbalances, as I talked about with anorexia, leads to heart and brain function problems. When we’re rowing at high pressure/rates our heart rates enter the red zone a lot. Having a condition where the heart rate is no longer regulated and you’re experiencing palpitations, arrhythmias, atrial fibrillation, etc. (which can and most likely will result from those imbalances) can lead to many things, including stroke and/or death.

Acid reflux, bowel irregularities, etc. are serious issues on their own but when you’re out on the water, they are a huge inconvenience and will make you miserable. How well do you row when you don’t feel well? Now think about being on the water, doing hard steady state, and suddenly having a stroke. Seriously. Imagine what that would be like for second.

A lot of the medical issues associated with bulimia are ones that are detected through medical tests (or a dental check up) but even though we routinely go through physicals, clearance procedures, etc. the root issue of the eating disorder itself can still go undetected unless you are specifically questioned on your eating habits.

If you go through your medical exams and it’s determined that you have or on your way towards developing one or more of these problems, hopefully that will serve as a wake up call that you need to make some changes but also that you should reach out to someone for help, particularly if you feel like you’re losing or have lost control over your habits.

Question of the Day

Can I just flat out ask my coach for a coxswain seat race? How do I go about asking such a question?

If you wanted to, I don’t see why not. Before directly asking for one I’d first talk with your coach to find out why you and the other coxswain(s) are in the boats you’re in. Assuming this is a “I’m in the 2V but wanna get in the 1V” type of situation, I’d get their thoughts on what they think makes you a good fit for this boat and/or what’s keeping you out of the other boat – i.e. what areas could/should you improve on that would make you more competitive and give you a better shot of getting in there.

Related: Hey I’m a novice coxswain but I have learned very fast and all the guys on varsity want me to be a varsity coxswain and I’m a really good motivator. But the varsity coxswain right now is a girl who has been coxing the same amount of time as me and who isn’t really good at all and it’s only cause she is a senior. How can I really prove myself to my coach? I am a junior. I’ve already showed him my recording and he said just to work on more technical stuff. What’s your opinion?

The key is to talk yourself up instead of talking the other coxswain down. Explain why you are the best person for this boat and why your coach should consider giving you a shot at coxing it. If you’ve been working on a particular skill and feel like you’ve made some good improvements, tell them. If you think you can get in the boat and make it faster because of XYZ, tell them … but also show them by doing those things with the boat you’re currently in.

An Introduction to Rigging, pt. 4: Rigger height and work through

Previously: Intro to rigging, spread, and span || Oar length, inboard, and blade profile || Pitch

Today I’m gonna go over the last two “technical” parts of rigging – the height of your riggers and the work through. I’ve also included two videos that show how to measure both of those.

Rigger height

What this refers to isn’t the riggers themselves but the height of the oarlocks and their distance from the surface of the water. This is an important part of rigging for a very simple reason – if your oarlock is too close to the water, you’re not going to be able to get the blade out of the water and if it’s too far above the water, you’re not going to be able to get the blade in.

When I’m coaching, especially with novices, one of the things I’ll have them do is sit at the finish and just stay there for a second while I quickly look at each rower and where their blade is. If someone has their hands too high or low I’ll have them adjust them to belly-button(ish) level and see what that does to the boat. The goal of all this is to find the spot that allows them to finish cleanly out of the water while still getting the maximum leverage from their oar. If adjusting that puts them in an unnatural finish position then I’ll look at the height of the oarlock to make the change.

Another thing that might indicate you need to adjust your rigger height is if your hands are making an abnormally large arc on the drive. This is usually an indication that your height is too high, which means you’ve got to lift the hands higher in order to get and keep your blade in the water. If it feels like you’re constantly digging the blade in, have your coach check it out.

To measure this you need a tape measure and a straightedge level. Place the level on the gunnels and the tape measure on the top of the seat. Measure the distance from the seat to the level before moving your tape measure out to oarlock. Set the measurement you just took on top of the level (so, if you measure 6 inches, put the 6 inch mark on the level) and look at the point where the oarlock intersects the level. I’ve read several “standard” height ranges so I’m not sure which one actually is standard but the most common one that I read was somewhere in the 6-7 inch range.

Now that you know how to measure it, you have to know how to adjust it. This is easily done by popping off the spacers and moving them either below the oarlock to add height or above the oarlock to lower the height. These things can be a pain to get off, especially if it’s cold, raining, snowing, etc. so it’s best that your coxswain carry a couple spares with them in case you lose one in the river (which is a common occurance).

Here’s how it’s done.

Work through

Work through is comprised of the tracks, foot stretchers, and location of the riggers and is defined as “how far a rower is rigged in front of or behind the oarlock pin or the location of the outside arc of the stroke in relation to the pin”. To keep this simple I’m going to defer to what row2k has written about it since it’s all fairly straightforward.

When reading about all of this, a lot of articles made note of foot stretchers as part of the work through but didn’t go into much detail on them. It’s pretty simple though and has to do with the angle they’re set at. Having them at too steep or too shallow of an angle would result in a lot of inefficiency with the leg drive so it’s not common to move them. Too steep of an angle would make it hard to get to full compression which would result in only being able to row at half to three-quarter slide whereas too shallow of an angle would cause you to drive more vertically than horizontally, which would press your weight down into the boat (making it feel heavier) instead of straight back towards bow.

Tracks

To ensure you’re not jumping your tracks you need to make sure they’re evenly aligned. Sometimes the screws holding them in place can come loose over time which can cause them to slide around a bit so if your seat is popping off check first to make sure they’re even.

Their positioning in relation to the pin though is the main thing to look at. Here’s what row2k said:

WHAT – The amount of track on the stern side of the oarlock pin.

WHERE – The distance from the front stops of the tracks to a perpendicular line through the oarlock pin towards the centerline determines the amount of work through in the rig.

WHY – To maximize the most powerful part of the stroke (mid-drive), the work through must be increased for faster shell classifications. First the tracks must be set to the desired work through, then the foot stretchers can be adjusted so that each rower reaches proper leg compression at the catch for the given work through.

HOW MUCH – Work through varies depending on hull speed, but averages from 0 to 2 cm for pairs, to 8 to 12 cm for eights.

HOW TO MEASURE – For a quick measurement of work through, measure from the center of the mid-drive knee (should be perpendicular to the oarlock rigger) to the bow end of the track’s front stop. It’s usually a good idea to place some tape next to the track to signify the location of the pin for easy reference.

Here’s a video that shows how to measure the tracks.

Rigger location

The last part is the location of the riggers on the hull itself.

WHAT – Instead of adjusting tracks to get the proper work through, some riggers can be shifted towards the bow or stern to get the same effect.

WHERE – Adjusting the rigger moves the oarlock pin in relation to the front stops.

WHY – To maximize the most powerful part of the stroke (mid-drive), the work through must be increased for faster shell classifications. First the tracks must be set to the desired work through, then the foot stretchers can be adjusted so that each rower reaches proper leg compression at the catch for the given work through.

HOW MUCH – Work through varies depending on hull speed, but averages from 0 to 2 cm for pairs, to 8 to 12 cm for eights.

HOW TO MEASURE – For a quick measurement of work through, measure from the center of the mid-drive knee (should be perpendicular to the oarlock rigger) to the bow end of the track’s front stop.

Next week: Rigging and de-rigging a boat

Question of the Day

My coach keeps undermining me as a captain. For example, the other day our squad was going for a run and a group of novices were mucking around and walking and got back 10 minutes after the next slowest group. I tried talking to them and said that they needed to take it more seriously and not muck around when we are training if they want to get anywhere this season. They then went and complained to the coach and he talked to me and said that “we aren’t a running club or athletics club and I have to let people complete things in their own time”. I feel like our novices have the wrong attitude towards training and rowing in general but every time I try to talk to them about it they complain to the coach who just undermines everything I say so I feel the novices don’t respect me as captain. Also, we aren’t going to achieve results with attitudes the way they are. What can I do?

You aren’t an athletics club … uh, what are you then? If we let people complete things “in their own time” 2ks would take about 10+ minutes to do. Sorry but that is one of the most bullshit things I’ve ever heard a coach say.

I think as a captain, you are upholding the responsibilities of your title by talking with the novices about this. I would have done the same thing, as I’m sure many other team captains out there would have and if I was your coach, it’s what I would have expected you to do. If their response to that was to complain to your coach instead of taking your words to heart and deciding to change their attitudes, then you have a bigger problem than just your coach undermining you.

Your coach is undermining your authority as, I’m assuming, a team elected official. I know in turn this will probably sound like you are undermining him but if you have an assistant coach you can talk to, I would talk to them about this. Part of their unwritten job duties is to reel the head coach back into reality when necessary so I’d explain to them exactly what you said here and how you feel like by undermining you in front of the novices it feels like he’s making it seem like it’s OK for them to disrespect you and not take things seriously. If you don’t have another coach to talk to, you just have to man up and go talk to your coach face to face (which you should eventually do anyways, but it’s nice having the buffer of someone on their level deal with it first).

I’d ask for a private meeting and then again, explain what you’ve said here. Things can go one of two ways. He’ll either realize what he’s doing and make an effort to fix it by telling the novices they need to start taking things a little more seriously and giving you the respect you deserve as a captain or nothing will change. I’m assuming that this isn’t your first attempt to tackle this novice problem so nothing changes going forward despite whatever efforts you make, I’d reflect on everything and ask if it’s worth staying in this role as team captain if you aren’t actually being allowed to execute the responsibilities of the position. If you decide it’s not, I’d talk with the other captains or team leaders and your coach and step down. It’s not worth the frustration if all it is is a title without any of the “power” to actually be a captain (at least, I don’t think it is).

I’d like to think your coach will recognize that what he’s doing isn’t just undermining your authority but also ingraining in these new rowers that mediocrity is acceptable. If you have fellow captains you can talk to, talk to them and see if they’ve experienced similar issues with your coach and if they have, perhaps you guys can all (respectfully) confront him together.