by Kitt Doucette
One of the most physically demanding parts about my job as an adventure journalist is how different every assignment is in regards to the physical requirements and demands of a particular trip or adventure. From climbing mountains to surfing big waves, skiing steep couloirs, free diving, trekking, paddling, biking, sailing…the list goes on. Sometimes there’s a combination of these activities on a single day or within a week or two. To make it even more interesting, I’m often doing these trips with top tier athletes in their chosen discipline and I need to at least keep up with them. So for me, fitness is all about preparedness, and can vary a great deal depending on what the next assignment has in store. Of course a general base level of fitness and flexibility is the foundation, but starting between a month and two weeks before I leave on an assignment, I try to focus in on specific exercise routines tailored to the trip ahead. The following are a few examples that I’ve worked with the Zenergy trainers to create. No matter what you’ve got planned, it’s always a good idea to check with the professional trainers before getting started. At Zenergy, they’re some of the best in the business and can save you a lot of agony and pain while maximizing the results. The following are the exercises and routines that I do consistently, in order to maintain a strong base of cardiovascular fitness, flexibility, balance and strength.
I’m listing this first because I think it’s the most important thing I do. Ask any person 10-20 years older than you are what they wished they did more of when they were your age and the answer is always the same when it comes to working out. They all wish they stretched more. Increased balance, strength and flexibility are just the beginning when it comes to the benefits of a consistent yoga practice. Injury prevention is another big one. So is learning about how to harness your breath, which comes in real handy when fear and anxiety play a role in the adventure—especially when I’m surfing big waves or standing on top of a steep couloir. The ability to slow and deepen your breath pays huge dividends. Yoga is also something that you can do anywhere. Sitting in an airplane, in a hotel room, on the beach, in a yurt…I’m always amazed what 30-45 minutes of stretching, some balance exercises and slow deep breaths can do for my body and mind.
It always hurts, but if I want to get the most cardiovascular bang for my buck I head straight to the rowing machines. The explosive leg press plus arm pull that rowing demands forces your heart rate up and the precise distance calculators help me keep track of my progress and motivates me to consistently work harder. Sometimes a spin on the bike or a jog on the treadmill will suffice but 15-30 minutes on a rowing machine chasing a personal best time for a particular distance keeps me honest and keeps my heart rate up.
Body Weight Exercises
This includes push-ups, pull-ups, sit-ups, lunges, burpees, box jumps, etc. Again, I can do most of these reps anywhere with very little space required, and I feel like they keep me in tune with my body’s own unique structure and weight with minimal risk of injury when done correctly. I like the idea of getting my disparate body parts along with my mind and muscles to work together and, for me, body weight training does this well.
The last thing I want to be when I show up on some tropical beach when the waves are pumping is noodle-armed, limp wristed and out of surf-shape. Luckily the outdoor pool at Zenergy is beyond amazing and makes swimming an absolute joy even in the middle of winter. Here’s my crash-course to getting water ready. Three to five times a week before leaving for a surf/dive or water centric assignment like kayaking or sailing. I get in the pool. The first couple of times I’ll just swim a steady 1,000 meters focusing on technique and breath. From there, I work into interval training to build strength and stamina which consists of a 400-500 meter warm up at about 60% effort level followed by a series of 6x100m sprints at 90% effort with 30 seconds in between each 100. Then 4-8 25m sprints at 100% with my fins on before grabbing a kickboard and working with my fins for 300-500 meters and ending with a flat out 100% effort 100 meter sprint with my fins on followed by a gentle cool-down. It usually comes out to be right around a mile. The intervals build my paddling muscles, my legs get used to working with fins and by throwing in a few breath hold exercises I adapt to exerting energy with limited or no breath.
The Zen Masters is a great way to get into swimming so if you have the time I highly recommend checking out this fun group.
The Mountain Goat
Prepping for an assignment in the mountains is always difficult. Variables like elevation, cold temperatures or rapidly changing temperatures, the added weight of gear like ropes and extra layers, and the kinetic energy required to climb and descend all add up to raise the suffer scale. If the trip requires backcountry skiing, the most important thing I do pre-trip is strap the skins on the skis and start hiking with them. Logging time walking and climbing with the skins helps improve my climbing techniques, builds my fitness at elevation and in cold temperatures and also familiarizes me with my gear. You wouldn’t go on a multi-day back packing trip in a pair of hiking boots you’ve never worn before and the same goes for touring. Losing a toenail or getting a blister is one thing, but when that happens on a weeklong backcountry trip the level of suffering increases exponentially. In the gym it’s all about recovery and building strength. I spend a lot of time rolling out my IT bands, lower back, quads and hamstrings while trying to keep my hip-flexors open and strong through various stretches. I’ve worked with weights during this routine before but now find I still prefer body weight exercises like a variety of lunges and wall-sits. When the trip is a week away, I load up my backpack and hit the Stairmaster. I can play around with different packing techniques, make sure the pack fits correctly and carries the load efficiently while getting a workout and exposing my body to the idea of climbing with weight.