Exercise bikes in a long neat row, mirrored walls with nautilus and weight machines, aerobics, zumba, a lap pool, and Hans—the mountain of a man sweating amid stacks and racks of free weights—are all sights many associate with getting into shape. But you don’t need a membership at your local club or a gym full of fancy equipment to get yourself in shape. What you do need is a plan and a willingness to stick to it. Add in quite a bit of sweating, and you can get yourself in shape in no time.
Milo of Croton had a plan. Milo was an ancient Greek wrestler; kind of the Hulk Hogan of his day. Milo’s plan was simple. While working on a farm, he would take a newborn bull calf and lift it up and carry it around every day. And as you might deduce, as the calf grew, Milo became stronger. It is said that Milo could carry a four-year-old bull across his shoulders.
While I’m not saying you need to carry a cow around all day, I am saying you should make a fitness plan. There are three areas of fitness you should consider when drawing up your personal fitness plan. They are strength, endurance and cardiovascular capacity (cardio). All three need to work together for a complete package of fitness. Strength is how much work a muscle group can do, endurance is how long it can keep it up, and cardio is how well the body can keep supplying oxygen and nutrients to the muscles to keep them going.
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The basis of any off-grid fitness plan should revolve around a strong central core. This core is your back and abdominal muscles (abs). These muscles hold you upright and do most of your work; they are also easily neglected. If you have ever had your back go out, you know how important they are. Off gridding with a sore back is no fun; everything kind of grinds to a halt when you are hobbling around. Surprisingly, the best way to strengthen your back is to strengthen your abs. Strong abs take much of the work load off of your back.
A simple way to work on your endurance every day is to push yourself into doing just a little more. Turning over the garden by hand and need a break? Do one more row before you take that break. Splitting firewood and need a break? Split five more pieces before you take it. The key is to push yourself. You hear it in weight lifting all the time: “no pain, no gain.” It’s true; push through the pain and make your gain in fitness. However, sharp pain should not be ignored—be smart.
You can also build your endurance by doing interval training – working hard for a short time to get your heart rate up and then resting for a short time, then working hard again. The rest period should be just long enough for your heart rate to recover.
More and more Americans have become console commandos and are paying for their lack of cardio fitness with higher rates of cancer, obesity, and cardiovascular disease. Cardio fitness involves getting your heart rate up (but not too high) and keeping it there for fifteen to thirty minutes. This can be done by something as simple as walking for thirty minutes, a minimum of three times a week. You should check with your doctor to decide what is a safe level of cardio exercise for you. We’re all different; remember that.
If you are off grid, you can even hook up a generator on a treadmill or stationary bike to squeeze a little juice out of your pursuit of fitness. Most times these are written off as trivial or novelty power sources, but if you are going to be exercising on them anyway, why not get the extra benefit?
Planning/Exercises for Balanced Fitness
When setting out to plan your fitness regimen, remember to keep a balance of strength, endurance, and cardio. An example of an unbalanced approach would be the marathon runner versus the body builder. Imagine either one in the other’s milieu, and you can see the problem of concentrating on one aspect of fitness while ignoring the others. A person of a balanced fitness level can complete a marathon and give a good showing in the weight room.
Knowing what you are training for is also something to consider. Homesteading, farming, hunting, trapping, woods running, and woods running all take a little different balance to be in the best shape for each. For homesteading and farming, you need strength and endurance for daily chores. If you are a hunter, woods runner, or a trapper, you will need endurance for long treks. If it is big game you are after, you will need to work on strength as well for those times when you are successful. If you plan on hunting in the mountains, you need to build your cardio so you aren’t panting and shaking when you top that ridge and your game of choice jumps up out of its bed.
Training for survival is a balance of all three categories, as you never know what you may be facing. This is the recommended approach: a balanced attack is usually the best, as it doesn’t overemphasize any one area. Take a clue from the military for their fitness schedule. They use a combination of calisthenics, running, and various obstacles to bring recruits to their top fitness level. If at all possible, you should add some form of weight training to increase your strength.
A fun and interesting way to get in shape that loosely follows the military obstacle thinking is a par course or fitness trail. Essentially it is a trail with exercise stations set up along it (chin up bars, step up logs, balance beams, etc.). Each station can be walked or jogged to, and then some form of calisthenics can be preformed. Setting one up in the back woods is easy as pie: a walking path through the woods with jumping jacks at the maple, sit-ups at the oak, balance along the downed ash for twenty feet, hands on hips and hop over the log in the trail. Of course, your back woods will determine your obstacle. Use your imagination. It’s your health.
Calisthenics are good for strengthening the core and should include various forms of crunches, knee lifts, leg lifts, and sit-ups. Core exercises can be done daily and should be done in large sets (fifty to one hundred) to increase endurance. It takes just a short time and commitment to get into the habit of daily calisthenics.
If you have a solid core or at least have a plan to get one, look next at where you are weak. For many it is cardio. Running or jogging is another good way to build endurance and cardio. The best way in this modern era of computers for the beginner runner is to check out the Couch to 5K Running Plan. I know a few people who have started this way and have knocked themselves into shape very quickly. If you are starting from total couch potato, this program is one of the quickest and best ways to get into some semblance of shape. In nine weeks, it takes you from sitting on your butt to running a 5K. Once you are hooked, it’s hard to stop.
Yes, rest is an important part of fitness. In my former life, I once worked with a professional-class mountain bike racer who trained hard year round. At one race he was talking to one of the elite guys and was complaining about his slow improvements. He said something along the lines of, “I train all the time, and I don’t see any progress.” The elite racer looked at him and said, “You’re training during the race season? You don’t do that.”
When you exercise, you break down your body in little ways. You need periods of rest for it to repair itself. You can get a total body workout just by doing some of your daily chores. Bucking bales or cutting and splitting firewood come to mind. If you work hard at it, you can improve your fitness level. Don’t over do it. Don’t wear yourself down to the point that you become susceptible to injury or disease.
Setting up an exercise plan is not difficult, regardless of where you may live. Keeping a balanced plan for fitness will serve you well, no matter what gets thrown your way.
©2012 Off the Grid News