Why Extreme Workouts Matter: Strength = Freedom = Happiness
Being strong is being free. The fitter we are, the more freedom we have. The more freedom we have, the happier we are and the closer to self-actualization we get. The most important question is not always, “Should we?” In order to push our limits and see who we are, we must sometimes ask, “Can we?”
Why should anyone exercise outside the gym? Why should anyone put him- or herself into an uncomfortable situation to work out? The gym has everything you need: weights, machines, treadmills, Bosu balls, and plenty of dumbbells, right? The problem I see with all of this is that these things are only inside the gym. How do we apply our fitness outside to make our lives better?
Everyone has the story of his or her own epic day. Maybe they got caught on a high alpine ridge during a thunderstorm, got lost hiking, or were swept out to sea in a rip tide during a tropical surf trip. Maybe it was getting lost in a foreign city, an out of control campfire, or a close call on the freeway. In all of these situations, there is a real possibility of death. The great Italian alpinist and climber Reinhold Messner said, “Without the possibility of death adventure is not possible.” This quotation often gets confused as directing people to act recklessly in order to prove themselves. However, I believe that in challenging and testing ourselves, we achieve a mindset that puts into perspective the most important elements in life.
My Epic Day
I’d like to share a short story. It took place in Glacier National Park during the fall of 2009. I was a firefighter at the time and had not yet had the chance to summit one of the park’s beautiful peaks. I checked the weather - a “slight chance of snow” - and headed out on a twenty-mile quest. After several hours, I was high on the mountainside and the hovering storm had moved over me. I could only see a few feet above me and had no idea where the summit was. Then the whiteout started. At this point survival instinct took over and I turned back.
But easy rock scrambles had transformed into icy death falls and visibility was no longer measurable in feet. I remember one point where all depth perception had vanished and I experienced intense vertigo. It felt like I was going to fall off of the mountain. I finally reached relatively easier ground on the ridgeline, but was still miles from the trailhead. After a short celebration, I looked down and saw footprints in the snow and was completely elated - for about two seconds. The prints that I thought were mine were actually that of a large grizzly bear, and based on the heavy snowfall and freshness of the tracks, the bear was extremely close.
There is a very distinct feeling when you become aware that you are no longer on top of the food chain. Where my mind journeyed from that moment has always been interesting and insightful to me. I thought of the people I loved, my parents and good friends. That was it. All I wanted was to be home and to talk to these people again. Then my adrenal glands kicked in. Adrenaline is a beautiful thing. I was able to run several miles, find the trail, avoid hypothermia, and get back to my truck before dark. Fitness saved my life that day.
The Lesson Learned
I see this as an applied fitness story versus a mountaineering tale. I wanted to get out and do something physically challenging. I wanted to be in a beautiful place and I chose to go, knowing there was inclement weather. You know that you can go to the gym and complete your routine. You know it is safe. You know if it gets hard or uncomfortable, you can stop and go home. You also know this can get really boring.
I have done workouts in the middle of desert snowstorms, sunny mountaintops, secret rivers, and alpine meadows. No one is there blowing the whistle, holding the stopwatch, or making sure you complete all your reps. You are 100% accountable for yourself. You know you do not have to do anything and that you can stop at anytime. You choose to journey onward and you finish that day a better person.
On October 22, 2013, I did a workout using my invention, monkii bars, while suspended underneath a hot air balloon. I was up there for a little over an hour and did as many pull ups, muscle ups, dips, and front levers as I could. I was excited, I was focused, and I was definitely gripped. I did the hot air balloon workout to help prove the idea that you can work out anywhere. It is easy to tell people this and the idea often goes unnoticed. However, no one ignored us on that day.
Summer is approaching. What can you do? Hike a mountaintop, run a Tough Mudder or Spartan Race, enter your first CrossFit competition? Actually do it. And somewhere along the way, be sure to stop and get a few pushups or squats just so you know you can. Share with us what you're going to do in the comments below.
Photos courtesy of Shutterstock.