Does Your Training Reflect Life?

I spent this weekend bouldering, hiking, and kayaking, and it reminded me of why I, and a lot of people, actually work out (or at least one big reason). We want to enjoy life. We want to be able to do things we love to do, and feel good doing them.
So how can we make sure our training will prepare us for life?
1. Connect your “chain links”. There is a time and a place for isolation exercises like bicep curls, and even machines. However, the fitness world needs to learn to use the right tool for the job at hand. When training for life, the training you do needs to teach the body to move as one unit, as part of a chain. If all you do is isolation exercises, then all you have are unlinked chain-links. When it comes time to use that chain, everything falls apart. The exercises you can choose to build a strong chain are nearly limitless, and will mostly depend on your goal or activity. But it is always a safe bet to stick with any exercise that can be considered a “full body” or “compound” exercise, and exercises that work your stabilizing muscles. Exercises that teach you how to apply and generate force are also invaluable as well – Twists, arch to hollow/hollow to arch, hinge or squat to jump, direction changes, locomotion, etc.
2. Train for the inevitable. When training, there seems to be a fear of never going out of your most stable position. “Never bend the spine, it should always be straight and rigid”, “Never let the knees go over the toes, in or out, or twisted” etc. The thing is, in real life, this is totally unrealistic. While I was hiking, there were rocks jutting out of the ground at weird angles, missteps, slips, and near falls. I wasn’t wearing hiking boots, and I had no ankle support. Someone who always trained in a rigid position, never allowing their body to deviate, probably would have sprained their ankle doing what I was doing, even in hiking boots. Building strength only in a stable position while leaving a glaring weakness just a twist of the foot away is a recipe for injury. That’s not to say you should train your unstable positions with the same fervor as your stable positions. I’m never going to load my inside squats like I would a back squat. I’m never going to perform twisting squats with the same high number of reps I might do lunges with. But I am going to do them regularly to make sure my knees and ankles have the mobility needed to hold up when the inevitable happens.
3. Let your feet breathe. Back to the subject of my shoes and hiking. If you’ve seen my shoes, you know that I could feel every single pebble on that hiking trail, though perhaps not as painfully as I would had I been barefoot. Why would I subject myself to that when I could slap on a pair of thick hiking boots and block out all feeling in my feet? Because your feet are sensory organs. They give you feedback about the ground you are walking on and help you adjust accordingly. What happens when you remove that feedback? Same thing that happens when you cut the whiskers off of a cat, except instead of running face first into a wall, you sprain an ankle. When you let your feet breathe, they might scream at you at first, because you’ve kept them in casts your whole life, but give it time and they will learn to love the freedom and they will help connect you to the world you are exploring. (Note: there are certain cases where I think hiking boots are necessary. Namely, extremely rocky areas. Sometimes you need a shoe with a monster grip and the ability to take a beating. I do not recommend scree running in minimalist shoes. Again, use the right tool for the job).
4. Develop Mobility. Without it, you will be fighting against yourself. You won’t be able to move efficiently. With it, you have more options, and your movement will be effortless and pain free. Bouldering in particular required a surprising amount of mobility from the hips. You don’t need the mobility of a gymnast, but you do need to surpass two thresholds with your mobility. The first: You need to be mobile enough to not have any pain or dysfunction. Second: you need to be mobile enough to do what you are asking your body to do. Work on your mobility and your body will thank you.
Now go outside and do something you love 🙂

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