Wednesday, March 25, 2009

The Fitness

One of my challenges in transitioning to an active lifestyle from a period of relative laziness, is balancing the activities I love with the activities I need. I've gone through phases where I cycled for fitness, worked out at a traditional gym, dabbled in jogging. Most of these lacked the fun factor to keep me motivated (with the exception of cycling, another story). Lately, love of climbing, hiking and skiing has made motivation a non-issue. What has become an issue is finding a balance between those activities and other fitness pursuits that can improve my overall fitness and conditioning.

The great thing about climbing, is it so fun that you just ache to go to the gym on a regular basis. Any climber will tell you that time off leads to a mighty itch to go climbing, but regular gym climbers can measure that itch in a matter of hours. As someone who works full-time, with a long commute, gym nights are nearly the only way I can regularly maintain and improve my fitness for weekend activities. Climbing is invaluable for the desire it instills for physical improvement, and the mental improvement necessary to control the head-game.

Crack climbing at Spicer Terraces

Unfortunately, at 5'10" 220 lbs., climbing alone is not working well to trim the fat. Additionally, I feel that I'm coming to a place in my climbing where losing a few pounds could be really helpful on some of the harder climbs, especially roofs and overhangs. Amber and I have been working more and more cardio into our routine, but it's difficult to maintain, especially when, some days, you just want to climb.

So we've beet trying to rotate through 3-4 workout variations to mix it up. One is a relatively long, high-intensity cardio, sometimes with no climbing at all. Another is a medium-intensity cardio, followed by a low-to-medium-intensity climbing session. Sometimes we cardio just long enough to warm up before climbing and some days, when we want to be ambitious on the wall, we do no cardio at all.

Great Western Power Company

I read somewhere that you don't want your cardio exertion to cut into your climbing recovery, and vice versa. Ideally I'd have 3 days for cardio each week, 4 days for climbing... and a 5 day weekend. If only this were the case!! The other downside to the "work out every single day so you can shampoo gain strength and condition" is diet. Spending time at the gym in addition to work and commute often strips away the time needed to cook and eat a healthy dinner. Gym night meals are often a compromise and I need off days to eat healthy and help control my uptake.

So far our plan seems to be gaining some traction. I feel an improvement in my energy levels over previous routines, but am yet to see any weight loss. We do factor in weekend activities as well. I especially love cross-country skiing since I can keep my heart rate up and burn calories all day long while feeling joy, not the boredom of a chore. Hopefully I can translate some of this into new energy for hiking, and do some shorter but higher-intensity days in the hills around here.

Cross Country with Amber and Kenneth in Bear Valley

Sadly, the new cardio focus has cut into the time we used to spend doing strength training on the side, or various core/stability exercises. I guess for every thing there is a time and a season, and eventually we'll work it back in. I'm looking forward to reporting back as to whether or not I am able to produce any results from mixing more heart exercise in with my climbing. I'm also interested to hear how you find balance between your beloved activities, general fitness, and off-time!


Kenneth said...

i recall when i was but a lowly gym rat and not a climber; i came to realize that the body could only be pulled in so many directions at once... in my case (at the time) strength training and cardiovascular exercise came to work against each other when i pursued them both aggressively; going on an Atkins diet ALSO didn't help. exercise science is wacky. balance is key!!! but i believe you've already got the idea =)

Eric said...

I took Sports Nutrition in college. Heavy exercise + Atkins seems like a recipe for making your body angry...

jb said...

Good post, Eric.
I will start this post by confessing that I am a moron. Yesterday afternoon I decided to do a 3 hour run in the Nevada desert without having eaten lunch. I brought water, but no electrolytes in my camelbak. The first two hours were fine, but the last hour was one of the worst of my life. Nausea, shivering, and dehydration. Anyhow, I guess my point is that, as althetes, we just don't get the same kind of leeway as normal people to slip up. We need to eat!
Anyhow, dietwise Atkins is awful when you are athletic. That said, a high carb diet doesn't work well either. When I had an office job, I packed breakfast (yogurt and berries), lunch (salad with chicken) and snacks (string cheese, cut up veggies, almonds, etc). That seemed to work well.
When I am training a lot, I do treat myself with all the things I never eat when I am training moderately. I definitely earn my french fries and chocolate milk.
I used to want to be skinny, but a few years ago, I decided that skinny is stupid. You can smoke cigarettes and drink redbull all day and get skinny. Looking and feeling fit, even if that means you are a little wider than the next girl, is awesome.