Empty the Tank!

This statement will not come as a surprise to anyone. I love CrossFit…and yes, I will fully admit Im slightly obsessed with it. Fear not this is not going to be a propaganda blog post about the glories of CrossFit…I’m saving that for one day soon. It just so happens that in addition to getting a lot stronger physically I’m learning so much mentally in these WODs (workout of the day).

Jim McDade of CrossFit212 rowing back in the day

Last week I had a major “lightbulb” moment in a workout. This particular workout was pretty simple in design, but a BEAST when trying to perform. Jim, who is the owner and head coach of the box I go to (CrossFit212) was an elite rower…do you hear the Jaws theme music yet? Anyway, we do quite a bit of rowing on the rowing machines in our WODs. This workout was a 5,000 meter row…not TOO bad right?? Well, the kicker was the women had to complete it in under 22 minutes. Now, if you’ve ever spent time on a rowing machine you know that is FAST rowing for a long period of time. Now you understand my slight panic. If you didn’t complete the distance in the time frame then the penalty was 1 double under (YouTube it) for every second you went over. Whew. I was going to be there a long time paying the penalty.

Jim immediately sensed my panic & sat with me to discuss what my strategy would be. You all know me enough by now to know that this immediately made my inner “Type A” jump for joy!! The plan was that I would row at 27 strokes a minute & keep my splits below 2:10…a very lofty expectation, but I love a challenge. Ok, so I had my plan & although I was still about to pee my pants I was off rowing. I’ll tell you the hardest part for me was to keep things consistent. Funny enough when I got tired I wanted to chuck my form & just go fast. Jim continued to coach me through stage by stage keeping me where I needed to be. It was right around 4,000 meters in that he stepped in front of my rowing machine and simply said, “Ok, Olivia…at 4,500 meters you are going to sprint & completely EMPTY THE TANK!”

WHAT????? Empty my tank??? No, no, no, no, & NO!!! Immediately, I went to that very “Olivia Place” in my mind…you know the one…the control area. Well, let me tell you she was not happy…What if I started “emptying the tank” & I ran out of gas too early? What if I couldn’t finish? What if I emptied my tank & it still wasn’t enough? Meanwhile, I’m rowing closer & closer to those last dreaded 500 meters. Before I could even really protest I was there…time to sprint!

It was in those last 500 meters that I completely “Emptied the Tank” for the first time in my life. It was the most amazing feeling when I crossed that finish line…AND, I crossed it at 21:27…no penalty…33 seconds UNDER time.

This really got me thinking…what was I saving my gas for all the time??  Really, if you think about it what good does a semi full tank do for you when the workout is over?   I learned what it really feels like to leave nothing on the table & just go for it!!  I’ll tell you what…I left that day feeling the best sense of emptiness EVER!! Sounds weird but it was awesome.

I know now that I want to “Empty my Tank” and give it ALL in every workout…no matter what it is!! I want to encourage you all to explore this idea.  What are you holding back on?? Or, does it come naturally for you to “Empty  the Tank?”. If so, I want tips!! Let’s chat in the comments…see you below.

xxoo Olivia

25 replies on “Empty the Tank!”

This is EXACTLY what I needed to hear today! The other day when you tweeted something like “when you feel the burn, hold on to it and don’t let it go because that is where change happens” – I totally embraced that mentality in my workout today (Bob’s “Pure Burn Super Strength” video – love it!) and just went to a whole new level! I think what holds me back from “emptying the tank” is that I am so afraid of getting injured or getting so wiped out that I can’t finish the workout – but if I saved that mentality for the last couple minutes of the workout I won’t have that excuse anymore!

Thanks so much for the motivation! I really wish I could try Crossfit! Do you know if they put out exercise videos or anything like that?

Olivia…I was on the freshman crew team in college so I remember doing those crazy sprints both on the erg and in the boat! Insane! I cannot even imagine doing that right now at my weight. Sad thing is I didn’t keep up with rowing after freshman year because I hated the running that we had to do during our practices. I love the “empty the tank” concept…I don’t know that I have done that yet…BUT every time I feel like quitting or slowing down during a workout I just picture you or any other BL contestants and how hard you guys worked and I am inspired to finish strong! 43 lbs down and around 80 to go!!! Thanks for the fitspiration!

I am guilty of never being able to break through and “empty the tank”. My biggest problem is that I get so nervous that I will have nothing left to give for the rest of the workout. That fear of being on E for the rest of my workout stops me from emptying myself at any point, which is so not the point. Thank you for this post! I have been thoroughly fitspired, and I can’t wait to get home and work out. 🙂

Appropriate that this would show up as I’m trying to psyche myself up for heading to the gym. I’m going to run a 5K on June 24 — the first time I’ve run a 5K, or participated in any kind of run for that matter. I’ve been training at the gym on the treadmill, which I realize is very different that running outside — but I like the treadmill because I can control it. And I can finish knowing exactly how far I ran and how far I walked and at what speeds and so on. Anyway, the first time I timed myself with 5K, it took me about 42 minutes. On Saturday, it took me 35:51. (28 minutes running, 7:51 walking). When I start running (I’m now running 7 minutes, walking for 2, running 7, walking 2, etc.), I always think “maybe I should just drop the walks today”. I haven’t yet dared. But I guess that’s what “emptying the tank” would look like for me right now, with running. I’m going to have to try …

Good luck on your 5K. I ran my first ever race on May 26,2012 and out of 230 plus people I placed 144. I am running a 4 mile race this upcoming Saturday and decided this past Saturday that I have to push myself.
You can do your 5K without walking, just try it one day and also do it on a track or outside. It will amaze yourself.

Ahh…great reminder! I definitely need to push myself and “empty the tank” during my workouts/runs! I was a runner for years and remember my coaches always saying to leave it all on the track when we were racing or doing workouts. Thanks for the fitspiration before I leave work so I go home and get a great workout in tonight! 🙂

LOVE IT! Such a great reminder. So many times I go to the gym dreading a workout because I am afraid of something…not sure what it is, maybe the getting out of the comfort zone thing. I have become too comfortable and want to continue to push myself.

I am 85 lbs down and I am just tweaking and trying to get another 10 off, but it is going to require me to Empty the Tank and not get comfortable.

Thanks for the fitspiration! I needed to hear this.

You are SO right – its a total mental thing – pushing yourself to fully empty the tank. On sunday after bootcamp we had to do an all out 1 minute sprint on the airdyne (or the devils tricycle or a preview of hell). I let go – didnt look at the clock and pushed and hit a new PR – 26 calories. felt horrible and amazing – i am sure you know the feeling. the key was to turn off my brain and thoughts and just go for it. I talked myself up right before thinking, all I do is talk about my accomplishments in the gym, time to stop talking and just do it, its only 1 minute of hell!

Hi Olivia, I was wondering how you figured out how many calories you need? I am doing P90X for my daily workouts, and I feel pooped and empty before I start my workouts. I am eating about 1400 calories a day, I’m 5’4″ and 130 lbs. Any advice?

I’m too afraid to “empty the tank”. I ALWAYS feel like I need to reserve some fuel and I know I don’t push myself to my full capacity in my workouts. I’m not quite sure how to break through this fear – the thought of pushing myself to the point of being empty is so uncomfortable and terrifying to me. Bums me out!

I TOTALLY hear you! Last week was my first experience. I have been training for my first 5k since high school and completed it in 42mins (ran the whole darn thing! at 90lbs overweight!) Now, two weeks later, I’m trying to train for a 10k at the end of July and I have been working through tempo runs – so 60sec FAST and 90 fast walk for 20mins. It’s really pushing my cardio and I love it. Then last week I thought, what am I holding back for… I can go faster. Typically, I walk at 3.0 and run at 4.5. So, in the speed runs I’ll put it up to 6.0!! Which at first I thought would be crazy, but I did it! So near the end I said to myself… LET’S DO IT!! I hit my minute mark and put the treadmill up to 7.0!! I did it! (I think my arms got a good pump workout too!) But I did it! I felt almost the same high as crossing that 5k finish line!! So this morning, I thought… if I can do 7.0 in the last min, what can I do to challenge even more this time! So in the second last min, I put it to 7.0 for 30sec then 7.5 for 30sec. In the last minute interval, I…. holy cow… put it up to 8.0 for 30sec and 8.5 for the remaining 30sec!!! I did feel like I was going to die at the end…. but I was so excited that I did it! I was still able to do my walking cool down for another 5mins at 3.5!! A-MAZ-ING!!!
I fully believe in setting a spot in whatever you’re doing to push push push beyond what you think is capable!! You WILL always be able to do it! I’m learning more each day that my body can do WAY more than I give it credit!! (Especially after many years of treating it like crap!)

Agreed!! I find it so much easier (comparatively) outside than on the treadmill as I can completely control my pace… Speed up when I have extra energy and slow down when I need too. I hadn’t finished my 5k training and didn’t think I was ready. But I put my mind too it and kept a steady pace the whole way to be able to run! There were only 40 runners in my race and I came in last, but I SO WON by beating myself with running the whole thing! You can do it! Again, you’ll be amazed at what your body can do! (just got to control your mind games – that we all play!)

This is our WOD for tomorrow, thinking about a plan now! Crossfit scares me to death, only being in week 3, but the fear is liberating too! Thank you so much for all your inspiration!

Oliviaaaaaaaa!!! U R such an inspiration!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! YOU GO GIRL!! you are so strong and you got this!! I am soo proud of you!!! I was gonna go try a CrossFit class but backed out cuz I was so scared what kinda hell is awaiting me.. but now with reading this I am def gonna go try it! Thanks for everything! You and Hannah are my Bob and Jillian via twitter, facebook and your blog! Wish I get to meet u someday already!! is it at all possible??!
BTW Oliva, what company is your black wrist watch? I love it!

always and forever
your step sister

(I rowed last night and 22 minutes took me 4084 metres. 5000 metres would be SO. HARD.)

I’ve been thinking a lot about this issue lately! I’ve been working out religiously for over a year now. I’ve lost the weight I wanted to lose. I’ve started running 5Ks and taking classes I never thought I’d be able to finish before, but I still feel like I have so much more potential with my workouts. I recently started using a polar heart rate monitor to track calories burned and of course, my heart rate, to see just how much I really am challenging myself during these activities. My heart rate is just not getting as high as I would like it to, yet my body is physically dying and my heart rate feels out of control (but clearly it isn’t). I wonder if this means I’m not in as good of shape as I think I am or if I’m losing the mental battle? Your post really makes me start thinking it’s the latter. Maybe I’m not pushing myself enough. So I’m going to start doing that and hope I don’t pass out or vomit! lol

Great post, Olivia!

I just saw this and you inspired me to jump on my rower today. Last summer I lost 25 lbs, I’ve maintained that through my first year of teaching and I’m now working on the next 25 of 100 total to lose. I have not worked at all out for the past 5 weeks. It took me 31:45 plus 6 30 sec breathing breaks to do 5000m. I sprinted that last 500m and thought I’d die right there during the last 150m! But once I finished I felt great, not sure that I emptied the tank completely but I was definitely spent and breathing HARD when I hit 5000m.

Olivia and Hannah, now that I have the summer off I want to do my own BL here at home. What was the ratio of steady cardio to interval cardio when you were on the ranch? And also what was the ratio of cardio to strength training?

Thanks A TON for the inspiration today!!!

This translates so perfectly into running! What good does it do me to still have a few more miles left in me when I cross the finish line?! I definitely need to work harder on “emptying the tank” with my running!

I was a rower for 4 years throughout HS and a coxswain for 2 years when i got to college. I had this exact same ‘aha’ moment when i was rowing, except for “empty the tank” we called it “dropping the hammer.”

In rowing, as i’m sure with most other distance exercises, there comes a moment when you hit the dreaded ‘wall,’ where you think you can’t go on any more, can’t take another stroke. But that’s just it, you ‘think’ you can’t, but your body actually can. its about pushing through, letting go of everything, and breaking through. the feeling when you do break through that wall, when you empty the tank, drop the hammer, and just let everything go is one of the best highs in the world.

My mantra that goes along with emptying the tank, that i heard from my coxswain and passed to my rowers and now to my own personal exercise is ‘NO REGRETS.’ Never finish an exercise thinking i could have done more, i should have pushed harder. finish and know that you are EMPTY!

Emptying the tank. Yes. What am I saving energy for? You are so right. Thank you for writing about this and bringing it to light. I will do this.

I have been thinking about this every since I read it… When I first started getting serious about fitness I was a runner so I learned about regulating my energy to get through long runs. CrossFit is SO different! The last 2 WODs I’ve done I pushed myself hard. I wanted to quit, say I was done and couldn’t do anymore, but I kept going. I for sure am learning how to Empty the Tank!

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