Author: Nathan Palmer

Personal Fitness Trainer, Seattle Athletic Club Downtown

Fundamentals of Rowing

Starts Wednesday, October 19th | 7:00am

Do you wonder how you can get the most effective workout on a rowing machine? Would you like to try rowing on the water someday but feel you wouldn’t know what to do?

Then join this six week class and learn how to use a rowing machine like the Rowers do.

In this 50 Minute class we will explore the Rowing Machine’s:

  • Stroke Rates
  • Using 500 meter splits
  • Proper use and settings of the “Damper”
  • Power Graph
  • Variable workouts
  • Rowing for Power, Cardio, Cross training, Core, & Coordination

*Minimum of 4 participants to run this program.

For more information or to sign-up, please contact Personal Fitness Trainer, Nathan Palmer at

Fundamentals of Rowing

Starts –  Thursday, February 4th |  12:00pm

Do you wonder how you can get the most effective workout on a rowing machine? Would you like to try rowing on the water someday but feel you wouldn’t know what to do? Then join this six week class and learn how to use a rowing machine like the Rowers do.

In this 50 Minute class we will explore:

Rowing Machine


  • Stroke Rates
  • Using 500 meter splits
  • Proper use and settings of the “Damper”
  • Power Graph
  • Variable workouts
  • Rowing for Power, Cardio, Cross training, Core, & Coordination



Program commitment of six weeks $165.00 per person. (Pay in advance, no prorating for missed classes. Minimum of 3 participants required for class to happen)

For more information, please contact our Personal Fitness Trainer, Nathan Palmer at

Inspirational Member of the Month – Tony Hansen


One of the great privileges of being a Trainer, Instructor or Body Worker at Seattle Athletic Club is the opportunity to work with truly decent and incredible people. Tony Hansen stands in evidence of this. Another great honor of being a Trainer here is that we get to work with colleagues (in the richest sense of the word). The wealth of knowledge and integrity of our Trainers is such that clients never have to feel bound to any single Trainer. Again, Tony can testify to this.

When Tony first came to Kathryn Reed (SAC Nutritionist) and me his goal was to lose weight and get into better shape. Soon however, it became clear that he was really committed to reclaiming his body, his confidence and his spirit. Tony was, from the beginning, very open and trusting to Kathryn and me; he trusted me to nudge him out of his comfort zones and into new realms of ability, agility, strength and belief in himself. Conversely, he gave me room to challenge my own comfort zones and become a more complete Trainer.

During the Holiday Season of 2012—nine months into our training—Tony told me of his annual strategy to find a single worded theme to guide him through the next year. He ultimately came up with “Emerge” for the coming 2013 year. And ‘emerge’ he did! His coordination development and his willingness to be challenged physically really started to become evident. More importantly, the possibility for confidence began to emerge too. As the next Holiday season began to approach he entrusted me as a sounding board while he sought out his theme word for 2014. Finally, he came upon “Embark” which, after he told me, seemed the only possible word. We continued to work together until it was time for Tony to face head-on his apprehensions around the weight room and all that it represented to him. Who better to work with than a three sport collegiate athlete and holder of several Division II football records; who better than the always positive, extraverted and insanely strong Jacob Galloway! In other words, who better to work with than Tony’s worst gym nightmare? Together Jacob and Tony have worked through those issues and Tony actually feels good going to work out in the weight room on his own. He feels he can ‘own his space’ and not feel judged, and more importantly bring its own deep compassion to others in there that may also feel intimidated. Tony and Jacob have become good friends with a deep mutual admiration for each other both professionally and fellow worker-outers.

Tony now proudly wears slimmer and better fitting jeans, is in terrific shape and is sought after as a distinguished Therapist to speak publically, participate in public forums, and present advice in governmental affairs about mental health issues in the work place.

Tony has emerged and embarked as a truly incredible and inspirational person and the world is a better place because of it. Personally selfishly Jacob and I are privileged to work with Tony and call him our Friend.

Learn to Swim Better by Learning to Share a Lane

Those of you who swim regularly are surely noticing that there are a lot more swimmers using the pool than ever before. Guess what, THAT’S A GOOD THING! Swimming is a great way to exercise and is such an important skill to have, especially here in the Puget Sound area.

Although more swimmers mean more congestion, which can be frustrating, there is a simple solution: Share your lane. Swim teams everywhere share lanes, regardless the pool size. A standard size pool of 25 yards x 6 (often narrow) lanes will accommodate very large swim teams with kids ranging in age from 6-18. Those kids learn to swim well in large part from the experience of sharing lanes. It is common during swim practice that six people will share a single lane, which translates to one swimmer every 8.33 yards in a single direction. It’s an opportunity: they get to learn timing, body position, spatial awareness and cadence, among other skills essential to good swimming and can only come from experience and practice. Swim Conditioning classes at Seattle Athletic Club cater to many members and they quickly learn to share a lane with at least one other swimmer.

Next time you come into the pool for solitary workout and that find that each lane is being used, please don’t just stand there and wait for a lane to open up; identify and swimmer whose speed matches yours, and ask if you can share the lane. Conversely, if you are the only person swimming in a lane and you notice people waiting to swim, be a good neighbor and invite them into your lane. Challenge yourself to do this—even if you feel like a novice—because the experience will help you get better! The better you become the harder and longer you will be able to swim and the more enjoyable it will be.

Finally, follow these easy steps for sharing a lane. If there are two of you in a lane, agree which side each of you will take and stay on that side of the black line. If there are three or more of you, begin to ‘circle swim’ or always stay on the right of the black line. If you are the fastest person in your lane, swimming slower and more aware of the others will help you with cadence and spatial awareness. If, on the other hand, you are one of the slower ones in the lane, swimming faster will challenge you to swim better and with more efficiency. Either way, these are all good skills to have.

Happy Laps!

Start Enjoying Your Swim: Focus on Your Exhale

Learning to swim, as an adult can be a terrifying proposition. After years of avoiding the water, all sorts of fears can settle into our psyches. And when we finally work up the courage to take the plunge, pent-up anxieties often manifest in a range of stress responses, including restricted breathing.


Recently, a client I had been working with for several months was beginning to steadily gain her confidence in the water as her skills were improving at a consistent pace. Then, as is of the case, some of the old anxieties suddenly started to creep back into her workouts, disrupting her breathing and causing her stroke to fall apart. She was losing confidence and nearly in tears!


Up to this point I had been coaching her, and several of my other beginning students, to only inhale enough air to get to the next breath. Many swimmers inhale too deeply, as if each gulp of air has to be big enough to get them to the end of the pool. I had been coaching my students to only take in enough air to get them to the next breath.


As I continued to work with my client, I saw that, although she was swimming better when she inhaled less, she was still showing signs of stress. Taking smaller, quicker breaths was helpful, but didn’t address the underlying problem.  I suddenly realized that her focus was in the wrong place: it was out of the water instead of in the water. She was still taking in too much air, which exacerbated her underlying anxiety. But the reason she was inhaling too much air was because that’s where her focus was: on the inhale, not the exhale. So I suggested she start focusing on getting to the next exhale and not worrying about the inhale at all. And it worked! Her breathing became smoother and more relaxed therefore her entire stroke lengthened out and became efficient again.


The point is not to worry about the inhale at all. Breathing in is an autonomic response that happens naturally. While swimming we physically set our head and mouth into position to take the breath; however, we don’t try or force the inhale: we simply allow it to happen. So the emphasis should not be on getting to the next inhale, but to the next exhale.


As a trainer and coach, I see too many swimmers just trying to get to the other end of the pool. They give the impression that they are just trying to be done instead of trying to get a challenging — and enjoyable — workout! This is sad and it is, more often than not, due to forced or labored breathing.  Try it out for yourself! In your next few workouts shift your breathing focus to your exhale; the inhale will take care of itself.

Swim Slow and Move Fast!

Do you ever see those swimmers in the pool who seem to go so far and fast but seem like they aren’t trying very hard? What’s up with that? How is it that they seem to be swimming slow but they are moving through the water like fish?

It’s because they are. They are allowing their entire body—from the arms and shoulders through the torso to the hips and legs—to join the fun. Many people swim with just their shoulders and arms and hope they can drag the rest of their body along without sinking first.

Rotation and glide is critical to a more efficient and effective stroke. In my experience teaching swimming, I find that the two biggest impediments to a well timed rotation and supported glide is awkwardness in the breathing and trying to balance with the recovery arm.

Breathing should always be calm and controlled, even in sprints! Inhale through the mouth and exhale though the nose. Take time to exhale completely before taking another breath. The amount of time you are inhaling should always be shorter than the time you are exhaling. (Click here to find out why.) You should be rotating your head easily and looking slightly behind you on the inhale. Wait for your elbow to extend past your head before returning your head back into the water. Start exhaling immediately and smoothly through your nose. This process should become very rhythmic whether breathing every second, third or fourth stroke.

The rotation should be full and done with your hips and torso, not the shoulders. Balance will come from your core. Your recovery (the hand that is traveling out of the water) should be just that, a recovery. It should be relaxed, free of tension, and placed into the water rather than thrown in. Practice leading you arm with the elbow and dragging your finger nails through the water during the recovery. If you can sustain that, you will be well on your way to becoming one of those swimmers who make it all look so effortless!

Just How “Full Body” is Rowing Really?

Do you ever get tired of hearing that just about every such-and-such an activity is really great because it’s “Full Body”? What does “Full Body” mean anyway?

If you consider that using multiple joints at a time in multiple planes of motion for a given exercise is probably getting close to “full body” then there really are a lot of activities that fall into that category. Golf, Horse Shoes, Tennis, Gardening, Swimming, Food Fights… you get the idea. The real question is not whether a given activity is “full body” or not, but how to do it well, with efficiency, balance, power and stability. Any body can throw food in the cafeteria, but few can do it well and even fewer can do well and cause someone else in trouble for it. And, really, that is the goal of honest food fighting.

So maybe mastering the art of full body food fighting isn’t on your top-ten list for the New Year. But I’ll bet that Rowing is! And guess what, its “full body!” It requires muscles throughout the body to be primary drivers in one moment and stabilizers in the next. It requires tremendous core stability to control the slide on the recovery and to connect all the powerful muscles of the legs, back and arms during the catch, drive and finish of the stroke.

Not only that, it also requires both anaerobic power and aerobic endurance to sustain a given workout or race. And, if done well, there is virtually no injurious stress on the knees and shoulders. The web site for Concept 2 has a great explainer of what muscles are used when and how. You can find it by clicking here and an even more detailed description by clicking here.

Seattle Athletic Club has very good Concept 2 rowing machines. Take some time to learn how to use them well and start to feel the “full body” benefit of this great sport. If you would like more information on how to use this machine in a true full body motion please contact personal fitness trainer Nathan Palmer or watch his YouTube video.

Meet Himanshu Kale – Ironman in Training!

Himanshu Kale joined Seattle Athletic Club at the end of July 2012. His goal: to complete a half Iron Man triathlon; his obstacle: he could barely swim! When we met that week for an initial complementary swim assessment, I found he had a lot of anxiety around the water. Like many with water anxieties, Himanshu did not trust that he could put is face and head in the water. However, I soon found that Himanshu had a lot more willingness to work through his fears and anxieties in order to achieve his goals. He was ready and willing to learn the fundamentals first: to start from the most elementary and foundational place: putting his face in the water practicing blowing air out of his body. Beginning with learning to breathe properly and gradually adding one technique on at a time, Himanshu has developed a technically strong freestyle stroke.

Many people who never learned to swim develop a fear and anxieties around the water simply because they’ve never been in it, making learning more challenging. Others have experienced traumatic events, leaving them with emotional scares of swimming. For all these people, learning to swim is such an act of courage. When they commit to this skill, however, the reward is a life changing shift in their entire perspective of their place in the world. Himanshu took on this challenge.

In November he ran his first half marathon. In December he started working out in my Swim Conditioning class and soon joined TN Multi Sports! There he is able to work on his conditioning and prepare for his first triathlons.

Now, when Himanshu and I meet, we focus on continuing to improve his technique, learn the other strokes and turns, and continue to work through any lingering fears that come up as we introduce new dimensions to his swimming repertoire.

Himanshu’s success is remarkable especially in such a relatively short period of time. I am honored to work with him and look forward to watching him reach his ultimate goal of completing a half Iron Man in June 2012.

Working with Himanshu has been an honor, making me especially proud.

Light Up Your Body Like a Christmas Tree with M.A.T.

By now you may have seen the massage table with the MAT poster by it in the lobby. Many have seen me working with clients but don’t really understand what it is that I am doing with them. Is it massage? Physical Therapy? Chiropractic manipulations? No, I’m not doing any of those things. I am doing Muscle Activation Technique and here is an analogy that might help you understand what’s going on.

Muscle Activation Technique is like your Christmas tree lights. Every year you pull out the same strands of lights and plug them into the wall to check if they still work. Inevitably there is at least one strand that has only half the lights working. Are all those lights really burned out? Perhaps, but it’s more likely only a few of those lights are causing that strand to not be spectacular. So you methodically pull out one light at a time until you find the ones that are worn out. You replace it and PRESTO! The whole strand magically lights up again. Just like new!

Using the Muscle Activation Technique, I test your individual muscles to determine if they are firing or not, just like those LEDs. Except I don’t replace the worn out muscles with new ones: That would be illegal (which would not be good). Instead, I have the client do a specific series of light isometrics to reengage the muscle until it can fire without hesitation.

Rowing Machine: Using the Best Resistance Levels for Most Effective Workouts

Rowing Machine (ERG)Do you ever wonder what about the resistance levels for the Rowing Machines (aka: Ergs)? Do you set them to the highest level to get the hardest workout? Or do you set it to the lowest levels because you don’t want to work that hard? Let’s unpack this.

The most effective use of the erg is to replicate the actions and rhythms used to row on the water (even if you’ve never crewed before and don’t intend to.) To that end you want to set the resistance or Drag Factor to what you would experience in the water which for the average adult (male or female) is around 115. Generally, that is between 4.5 to 6.5 on the resistance setting; however, every machine varies so it’s a good idea to calibrate the drag factor each time you use the erg to work out. To do this, follow these simple steps:

  1. Sit on the erg and prepare to start rowing.
  2. Turn on the Concept 2 computer by pressing the Main Menu button
  3. When the list of options appear, choose More Options
  4. Choose Display Drag Factor
  5. Start rowing as you normally do; when you get a consistent number adjust the resistance up or down to 105 – 125. (I am 6’ 5”, weigh 220 pounds and generally row at 120.)

The drag factor is designed to replicate the kind of boat you would be rowing. The smaller sleeker shells will have less drag in the water and will therefore glide further with less force applied by the oars. Big, old, and beat up shells (like what are used for beginning classes) will not glide through the water as fast or as far thus they will cause considerably more drag in the water. So when you are lifting that resistance lever to the highest level understand that what you are really doing is getting a slower and shorter recovery, or glide time. If you want to work on your power and strength focus instead on a long, even, and hard push with your legs, a smooth engaged lean back with your torso and an even clean pull with your arms. Then reverse that pattern two times slower on the recovery slide.

Rowing at the highest setting does not equate better strength training; it can promote poor technique which can lead to injury, especially in the back and shoulders. Conversely, rowing at the lowest setting can be a really useful tool for developing core control and stability. Many coaches will have their rowers do drills at the lowest setting to develop those areas.

The best way to develop your strength on an erg is to focus improving your stroke rates and times while increasing distances per stroke traveled. I will be getting into these details in future posts.