Ghost in the Machine:
Essays on the Art of Coxing

Kevin C. Murphy, Ex-Coxswain,
Harvard Varsity Lightweights '93-97

(Copyright 1997-2013, All Rights Reserved.
(Originally appeared at, 1997-1999)


(originally appeared at Rowersworld, 10/7/99)

Submitted Question - Bourby Norman, Imperial College Boat Club, UK: Any tips on dieting would be great. I am currently trialling for the GB National Squad (womens). Only problem is, that until now I have coxed men so losing the extra 5kg is a real pain. I'm bored of veggies. Got any ideas?

Ask 100 coxswains and I guarantee 95 of them will say dieting is the worst part of the sport (the other 5 are already suffering from malnutrition). As I'm sure you know, there are countless weight loss plans out there in the world, from eating while standing on your head to rereading Kafka's "The Hunger Artist" each morning. I'm not a trained diet specialist, but I play one on the crew team. So here's what I've found in my own research and experience:

1. Eat less and exercise more. Of course you've heard this before, but it's still the age-old mantra of weight loss. Try to think of minor and creative ways to minimize your calorie intake and maximize your calorie burning. Walk to class or work. Forego elevators. Go dancing on the weekend (one of my personal favorites). If you do exercise, try to do so in the morning, which keeps your metabolism revved all day. I know it never helps to hear this old saw again, but eating less and exercising more is quite simply the best way to lose weight.

2. Avoid salty foods before weigh-in. Salt will cause your body to retain water weight, which is not where you want to go.

3. Rather than eating one big meal a day and starving yourself the rest of the time, try to eat 6-8 snack/meals a day. This will prevent you from eating too much at one time and will keep your metabolism up and running all day. If you don't eat, your metabolism slows to a crawl and impedes your ability to lose weight.

4. A common dieting mistake: Fat grams aren't the issue so much as calories. Yes, you should monitor your fat intake and keep it low, but in fact a little fat will give you the energy to exercise and may make you feel fuller. In other words, it's better to eat a 250 calorie ham sandwich than 800 calories of low-fat Ritz crackers.

5. If you run to lose weight, it's better to run fast for 15 minutes than jog for 45 minutes. Studies have shown that faster running means faster burning, during and after exercising. Slow running is helpful, but not that helpful (hence, the depressing sight of the portly jogger). A good running regime would be to go as fast as possible or run intervals for 30-40 minutes 2-3 times a week, and then run a slow jog for 60-90 minutes once a week.

6. Coffee. Coffee (or tea) is a coxswain's best friend, for many reasons (stay tuned). In this case, coffee acts as an appetite suppressant. If your stomach is growling before practice, grab a steaming cup of joe. It will make you more alert and less hungry.

7. Finally, DON'T GET RIDICULOUS. You're not doing anybody any good if you pass out in the boat or you're seeing spots where you should be seeing buoys. Any crew will allow you a few pounds if you're on top of your game, and any coach will tell you that your weight is much less important than your steering, leadership, and concentration (of course, you may feel differently if you ever lose a race by a bowball.). Lose weight, but don't let that become your be all-end all.

Hopefully, something here will be of use. When you're talking about dieting, it's sometimes hard to get around the platitudes. At any rate, good luck at trials.

I. The Coxswain
II. The Eyes Have It
III. Karaoke Time
IV. Zen and the Art of Coxing
V. Back in the Saddle
VI. Bring Me the Head of the Charles
VII. 8 Minute Bones: Dieting Tips for Coxswains
VIII. From the Vaults: Racing Skillz
IX. From the Vaults: Steering
X. From the Vaults: Coxing 101 for Novices and Journeymen
XI. From the Vaults: Dancing Around the Monolith
XII. From the Vaults: Potpourri
XIII. The Winter of Your Discontent
XIV. Staying In the Mix

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