Nature: The original gym
So there I was, inches away from executing a one rep groin snap that would render me worthless and on the side of what would be classified as a green circle slope, or whatever the most innocuous run at a ski resort would be. Thing was, I was in the backcountry of Colorado’s Never Summer mountain range, a half hour ski to the yurt where we were staying, another 30-minute ski to the car and an hour drive to cell phone service. The only person around was my girlfriend, armed with a camera, at the top of the otherwise untouched run we climbed using alpine touring skis with skins.
Thankfully everything stayed intact and I was able to lay in the snow and laugh at the clumsy turn that became a forward lunge of nightmares.
I love using earth as my training ground. Not in a badass Navy Seal or extreme sport minimalist type way, but in a just ordinary guy who wants to be in shape for the life he wants to lead, sort of way. I’d rather put on a pack and hike a mountain than hit any machine at the gym. You’ll never find me on a treadmill. The last time I was on one of those things, I stepped on the side and the next thing I knew my nose was in the instep of my foot. That was years of flexibility ago.
Anyway, as an active dude in his mid 30s, I’ve figured the most important thing is to match your workout to what you want to do. If you want to look good at the beach, go for it. If you don’t want to tear a groin while skiing, then do exercises that might prevent it.
There is nothing routine, predictable, or stable about hiking mountains or, as I have been finding out, skiing. Your engine is tested going up, and the brakes headed down, but joint stability is so important on the mountain. All the little stabilizers that keep you up when rocks slip, land breaks free, weight shifts or fatigue cripples, are the difference between a safe return and potentially calling for help. It also hopes that you’re not immovably sore after the trip in, so you can enjoy the trek out. Things tend to be a little more fun when they are difficult and challenging, not traumatic.
So I’ve been doing a lot of kettlebell work with single leg loaded exercises because I’ve never done a squat in the wilderness, outside of the initial lift to get an organic meat-filled pack on my back. Things like reverse lunges with single arm kettle bell presses, suitcase carries bringing the knee as high as possible and holding it before lowering it, etc. There are so many great exercises out there that are perfect for the those of you looking to get outside and be prepared for that grueling hike up your state’s highest peak.
Better yet, go to your local gym or box and talk to the trainers. Tell them what your goals are and ask how you can be better prepared for them. Tell them what is sore when you are sore. Are your hips sore after hiking? Quads? Hamstrings? Lower back? Address those things specifically and have a lot more fun this spring when your workouts take you outside.
Jeff Lund is a freelance writer and high school teacher in Ketchikan, Alaska.