Exercise is honest. Are you?

“I never try anything I just do it. Wanna try me?”

You can, or you can’t. You will, or you won’t. There is a point in every hard workout where I contemplate stopping early. Eight hills are plenty for today. You don’t feel great. You didn’t sleep well. It’s OK to back off a bit. Twenty minutes in the gym is good enough. Fifteen pushups? Not this set, let’s stop at ten. The discipline to say yes to more is definitely not automatic. It’s not a born trait. It’s not genetic. Your behavior is cultivated through repetition. Therefore, you become predictable, in a good or bad way, successful or unsuccessful, with each and every decision you make. Do you look for solutions, or seek a way out?

Comfort zones stagnate. Time, distance, weight, repetition, rest, etc. all play their respective roles in progressing you towards improvement. Each element is adjustable. Each adjustment either increases or decreases difficulty. Staying at a consistent stimulus, or working within the same parameters, causes stagnation. A new normal is continuously being defined. As you adapt to stress, via exposure and absorption (rest), you grow. This growth is both physical and mental. The mental aspect is key. Once it’s been done you know that it CAN be done. And done by you, not merely another human being. Physical growth comes during the period of rest or recovery (period of easy movement) that follows a new stress stimulus. A little faster, a little further, a little higher, a little more resistance, a few more reps, a couple more sets. Choosing one, or a few and agreeing to “go there” is making a decision to improve. You’ve planned to expose yourself to something new. When the moment arrives and you follow through, you’ve just expanded your world. That one small present-moment decision changes everything.

Schedule (plan) these opportunities for yourself to improve. Place them in your schedule often enough to build decision making confidence and success. As always, things take time. These “growth days” are green light opportunities for your mind and body. Understand that your success cannot be rushed. Callouses form with repeated exposure. Revealing yourself to the effort and demand not only callouses the body but it hardens your mind as well. Through this process, you gain the ability to accept more (load, repetition, duration) and in turn, give more the next time.

Personal Story: The year is 2012. One week prior I completed the challenging Leadville Trail Marathon. A 26+ mile run beginning and ending in historic Leadville CO, which sits at over 10,000 ft elevation. Almost two miles high! Living in Albuquerque, at relatively high elevation (5000 ft), the altitude factor was not something I worried about. Having no prior experience with physical effort at altitude, I was soon to find out its effects. The race went surprisingly well. I finished in 6th place out of 500+ runners. Not a bad day on trail by any means. The following week is when the event exacted its revenge on my body. I was exhausted, hungry, and sore… all week long. Knowing I had the 50-mile race a mere two weeks after the marathon, I had to listen to the wants of my system while also looking ahead to the big event on the horizon. Thus, one week after the marathon, and one week before the 50-mile race, I set out to run a 25-mile loop in the Sandia mountains. The idea was to harden up the legs and callous the mind to the effort and elements. You see, Albuquerque in July is hot, windy, and incredibly dry. Often times the forests are closed due to fire danger. Meaning humans are not even allowed to recreate in them. Those three elements (heat, wind, dry climate) are a dangerous combination. Nonetheless, I set off with two water bottles and a few hundred calories of sports drink and energy gel. I chose a route that would take me up the iconic La Luz trail. A rugged, beautiful climb from roughly 6,000 ft elevation to over 10,000 ft in 7-miles. It presents a nice challenge amidst a long loop in the mountains. My plan was to re-supply with water at the top and if my body was not up for that length of a run, to take the tram down, shortening the run from 25-12 miles. Early on in the run, I went to close one of my water bottles by hitting the cap on the bottom of the other bottle. Just as I did this I heard a pop and saw all of my fluids quickly draining out. I had punctured the bottom of the bottle with this action. Now, I was down 16 ounces of fluid and one bottle. Surely I would shorten the run at the tram and cut my losses. I had plenty of fluids to get me to the summit and consumed the calories I had, figuring I may as well keep my energy stores topped off. My spirit was good and legs felt OK. Cresting the summit and reaching the tram I saw a sign posted. Closed due to high winds. Hmmm… that’s not good. At this point, I am almost out of water and calories. With an almost empty bottle of water, 100 calories and a couple of salt tablets on hand I had to make the trek back to the vehicle. The day was beginning to heat up. Add that factor and it was bound to be a character building experience. 90-minutes later I found myself descending a familiar trail, coming to a spot where I had always seen water pooling. It was a spring in the mountainside. Now, I’ve always been cautioned to steer clear of any water coming out of the ground for fear of giardia, which wreaks havoc on your GI system. Undeterred, I stopped at the trail and filled my water bottle. I downed it. Then I cooled my head, arms, and chest with the cool water. It felt amazing. Filling the bottle one more time, I tightened the cap and continued descending. My pace was slow, my steps a little unsure, but my resolve was strong. Mile after mile I kept moving until finally, I broke free from the dense tree cover into the exposed foothills. With close to two miles to go, it was now a full-on assault in the mid-day sun. I finished the run. Exhausted, depleted, yet satisfied. I’d did probably the hardest thing I had ever done in my life up to that point and did it solo. What’s fascinating is that to this day I can pull from this experience and use it to push through difficult endurance events. I did not know what it meant to endure until this moment. A week later I finished the Leadville Silver Rush 50-mile Trail Race. Coming in 10th overall I again exceeded my expectations. As predicted, the race brought many ups and downs. It reinforced the idea that the mind is primary. Once the mind has been exposed to new stressors and overcomes the desire to quit, stop, or feel sorry for itself, your potential is now greater.

How do you know until you know? You don’t. Create opportunities. Adapt to challenges. Broaden your experience. Create new definitions for both your capability and possibility.

Exposure. Environment. Execution. Expectation.

Emotion in Life and Training

Emotion in Life and Training

Focus your attention on the link between you and your death, without remorse or sadness or worrying. Focus your attention on the fact that you don’t have time and let your acts flow accordingly. Let each of your acts be your last battle on earth. Only under those conditions will your acts have their rightful power. Otherwise they will be, for as long as you live, the acts of a timid man.

Don Juan, Carlos Castaneda

I talk a lot about lifestyle fitness. This idea of fusing our health, habits, hobbies, and activities into a symbiotic relationship that becomes who you are in the physical element. A general enjoyment in your fitness regiment makes the likelihood of repeating it, no matter where you are in the world, more likely. Thus, you become what you do. You become a runner, an athlete, a cyclist, swimmer, exerciser, etc. Making an emotional connection with movement becomes your grounding element in life. This creates the passion that becomes your lifestyle. Common examples I’m sure you are well aware of are alpine skiing, surfing, mountain climbing, rock climbing, and trail running. Being a participant in these activities not only connects you with others, but it connects you with your environment. It connects you with nature. Your individual style is expressed by the passions your hold both on the surface and deep down at your core.

In training I seek to instill emotion in the exercises I assign. The rep count, or number of sets is arbitrary and inconsequential if there is no presence or bond to the exercises. Planning and programming are helpful in providing structure at the remedial or introductory level, but in the future, beyond the first 12 weeks of fitness training, your success is more closely tied to the enjoyment you associate with the activity. Creating that bond is crucial and it takes patience. Adopting an active, physical lifestyle will change who you are. If a client is of high stress, type-A personality, it is my job to work to change their approach, not to modify their exercise protocol to fit that personality. We work together to change the behaviors that have created chaos in their health and wellness. The act of exercising, and the emotional response to it, is a very therapeutic, healing process.

  • Therefore, my prescription of movement may be very open-ended. General Example:
    • Monday: run/jog for 30 minutes, focusing on posture, breath and awareness of your environment at a relaxed conversational pace.
    • Tuesday: perform 100 deep bodyweight squats, 75 sit-ups, and 50 push-ups in any set/rep/circuit combination you’d like.
    • Wednesday: AM: light stretching, deep breathing. PM: walk for 30-60 minutes before or after dinner.
    • Thursday: perform 100 squat jumps and 50 pull-ups.
    • Friday: run 30-60 minutes with a focus of being light on your feet. Every so often pick up your pace for 1 minute to a challenging effort level. Sit in Asian squat position for 5 minutes to open hips and groin.
    • Saturday: 100 Squats, 100 Pushups, 100 Situps in any set/rep/circuit combination you’d like.
    • Sunday: Rest. Or move…

Creating this emotional connection is a process. Where the mind goes the body will follow. We must be so consumed with our fitness and health that we forge an unbreakable bond between living and fitness. My hope is that you see this connection between happiness in life with happiness in health and exercise.

When you move, be mindful. Exercise is your practice. Repetition brings mastery. Perfect practice, makes perfect.

Take infinite pains to make something that looks effortless.

Michelangelo

Greater Realities of Physical Fitness

Fitness can be an attempt to go beyond the ordinary human experience. It begins with exploring the limits of the body, and it then explores the limits of the mind. Ultimately, it explores the limits of the whole person. One discovers from hand-to-hand combat with the self—or through a transport to indescribable areas of the soul—that there are indeed other and greater realities.

George Sheehan, Personal Best

To most humans that participate in an exercise program, it is simply about how to get the most “results” in as little time as possible for the least amount of money. Looking at it from a purely functional standpoint this is all any of us should really seek to invest. These should be the parameters for decision making when it comes to which path to take to fill the physical fitness, health requirement of life. The practical approach if you may.

On the other hand, as you know or may have heard, there is a large and growing population that is increasingly drawn to more committed pursuits of fitness. This ranges from multi-pitch rock climbs, peak bagging, summit pushes, triathlons, marathons, trail runs, thru-hikes, ultra-marathons, and multi-day swim/bike/kayak/run events. This transformation is not immediate, often taking many years of varying experiences and participation before finding true passion and play in our physical selves, becoming how we see, experiment and ultimately enjoy our lives.

For some this starts with athletics at a young age and continues. For others, a void is filled later in life out of either necessity or desire. A person may try many forms of exercise before one takes a firm grip on our being. It is at this moment that we’ve found our play. The rest of our lives will be enhanced because of this discovery. Physical activity is the one positive we can add to our lives that requires just doing, and not subtracting or stopping some negative health behavior. Discovering that you can run or jog is a powerful feeling. I remember packing my running shoes on a trip to San Francisco several years ago and setting off on a early morning run, hoping to run across the Golden Gate in the early morning hours. That day I experienced something transcendental. Finishing that run I knew that running was my play. Running would be the physical activity that I could not live without. First and foremost I am a runner. All other labels are descriptions come secondary to this elemental fact. I have found my play.

Fitness can be as simple as doing as jogging for 30 minutes, 4 days per week. Put in the basic minimum and you will enhance your life. But allowing yourself to find joy in movement will change your life. Passion, adventure, fear, excitement, travel, exploration, experience, and competition all blossom when we begin to explore our perceived limits. Opening up your soul to the experience of self-propulsion and you may never look back. The athletic soul seizes the moment in each day. A powerful display of the human spirit.

The best example I can give you is of myself. I’ve always been obsessed with fitness. At a young age I found that by working my body I could change my appearance. The more time I spent exercising the more my body changed. This newfound control of my outward appearance was powerful. It felt good to be different than my peers. I liked the commitment, the isolation, and the rewards of daily practice. Fitness had become my “play”, whereas for others fitness was either completely lacking from their life, or it was a necessary requirement, another thing to be checked off the list, done but not experienced. During this period I was often told I was missing out, spending too much time in the gym, too much time garnering knowledge and information, and neglecting the social, group dominated behavior of our teenage years.  What I came to realize is mediocrity likes to keep everyone on the same level. The outliers usually remain that way as people can only judge and comprehend what they have direct understanding of. I liked this distinguishing fact that fitness gave me.

For many years I mainly did what I liked to do in the gym. For me, this was weight training. Time was not a worry, thus I was not rushed to get out of the gym and onto the next thing. You could even call it traditional “bodybuilding” training. Isolating joints, muscle groups, movements became the theme. This lasted until I experienced the first major transition in my adult life, college student to college graduate. This change brought with it a geographic shift as well. Moving from the Midwest to the Southwest. As I met new people and experienced a new way of living my enthusiasm for life and fitness massively shifted. During this time I learned the term “functional” and how that applied to fitness training. Through a friend, I was exposed to gymnastic, suspension training, and body leverage techniques. This new form of building strength was enlightening. Instead of moving a weight I was now moving my body. Suspension training is all about establishing a solid mind-body connection, learning and mastering movements while displaying control (or lack of). This black and white, can or can’t was eye-opening. I loved it. Improvements and accomplishments came slowly. Practicing difficult movements that don’t give you the instant gratification of success that others dish out in large doses takes a serious amount of dedication. I found that willingness was a rare commodity in the gym scene so I often trained alone, after business hours, or with a friend in the isolation of our garage.

Evolving. Over time I found you can only take gym-environment fitness training so far, and I took it about as far as I could. After a few years I began to supplement the strength training with trail running. Instead of running 3 x week and strength training 4 x week I was doing the opposite. Trail running allowed me to experience my surroundings at a visceral level. I was beginning to learn how to relax while training. As with anything new the challenge came with a steep learning curve. Developing aerobic fitness and efficiency takes time. To run for more than 45 minutes is a learned talent. Endurance athletics is passion driven and definitely not something you can force. In order to come back week after week, seeking micro improvements, the activity must be enjoyable. Along with the positive physical feedback trail running gave me, I enjoyed being away from the city’s smells, sounds, distractions, and conveniences. Trail running was becoming my elixir. My way to escape, explore, and be exposed to the elements of my environment. It soon transformed into a way to test the fusion of my training techniques (strength, flexibility, endurance, mental) in competition. The added element of competition, which for me was the missing link in other forms of fitness training, gave structure and significance to every training session I engaged in. Competition or racing provided purpose to the process training. The race became a test and an opportunity to see what I could do… what kind of effort I could give over the course and terrain. It also gave feedback as to what areas I needed to work on, improve in, or prioritize to have more success, or compete better next time.

Remembering that fitness must be enjoyable is key, even suffering and pain, when welcomed with knowledge that it never lasts, can add excitement to your weekly training. This is why I race. Racing is a unique option to endurance athletes as it is so readily accessible. In most places you can find a race, or multiple races to choose from every weekend. The choice is always yours as to how easy, mellow, mild, or hard you want to compete. Once the mind is set on a course of action the body is either restrained in pace, or set free and unleashed to discover new physical limits.

The challenge never has to cease or become dull. Today there is so much variety, so many choices and race types, and hundreds if not thousands of ways to keep it fresh and keep the mind and body interested in the activity or sport.

My challenge to you is to jump into your training. Make a commitment to pick up an activity you enjoyed in the past… learn a new training technique, learn how to swim, how to ride a road or mountain bike, or run with a relaxed mind and attitude. Let the activity and your enjoyment in the process of learning, and being a beginner, keep you coming back for more. Set short-term goals, read about this new “thing” in your life. Find a mentor. Read the sport journals and find inspiration in those that have mastered and taken their skill in the activity to the limits of perceived possibility.

When I run all things feel possible. All of my goals in sport, business, and life feel achievable and within reach while I run. The glory of a completed run leaves me feeling relaxed and complete. My breakfast tastes better, I eat slower, and the cold water I drink cleanses, refreshes, and satisfies my deep thirst.

The uncertainty of the next challenge or race keeps me on edge, not in a bad way, but in a way that connects me with the naivety of the inexperience and anticipation of my youth.

Find your trail. Seek out an active lifestyle. Be forever in anticipation of the challenges that lay ahead.