Rob MacDonald, Training Director at Gym Jones, comes up with some insane ideas for his clients. He makes them do 1,000 lunges in a row or a 1-mile farmer’s carry.
But this might be his craziest one yet.
About six months ago, MacDonald pitted two of his friends against each other in a 2,000-meter row showdown where they had to go as fast as possible. The showdown wouldn’t happen just anywhere, though. It would occur during the gym’s Advanced Seminar, where his buddies Jake Watson and Jarrod Sullivan were enrolled to earn a coveted Gym Jones instructor certification. The winner would get certified on the spot.
“I egged them on about the challenge for months. It was a shocking and inhumane campaign of psychological terror,” he says with a laugh.
Then, MacDonald added a twist. “I cross-wired the rowers’ computer screens,” he says. “Each guy couldn’t see how fast he was rowing, only how fast the other guy was rowing.”
That left Watson and Sullivan clueless about their position in the race. “They could only pull harder and hope they were going faster than their opponent,” says MacDonald.
That may seem cruel, but MacDonald did it for a reason. “Numbers often set limitations,” he says. “You think a certain number on the screen is the fastest you can go, so you don’t go faster than that even if you can. You pace yourself when you shouldn’t. You mind caps your body.”
But removing the objective feedback makes you vacate your own head. You’re free of numbers, so you can just focus on winning, he explains.
MacDonald has found that it’s common for people to nail a new personal record when they are unaware of their numbers.
You can try it for yourself. Grab a friend and crosswire the rowing screens. Or you can do it solo. Just throw a T-shirt over the screen. You can use that method on any device where a computer screen allows you to program a distance, like a treadmill, fan bike, stair climber, or SkiErg.
“Set a goal distance and then go as hard as you can. Once you’re freed of the feedback, you’ll only have effort to depend on.”
So did it work for Watson and Sullivan? Sort of, says MacDonald. The guys blew Gym Jones incredible standard of 7 minutes out of the water, but they didn’t PR.
“The key is to not go out too hard too early. (Watson actually covered the first 500-meters in an astounding 1:20.) In this case, neither guy got a PR because they both went absolutely all out in the first 500 meters and blew up, then just hung on and suffered for the other 1,500,” he says. “I might have hyped them up just a bit too much.”
This article originally appeared in Men's Health US.