A few years back, I realized that I wanted to be able to hike further, climb higher and adventure longer all while carrying myself, my backpack and my overnight gear with more comfort and ease. I also wanted to be able to think, feel and behave better while doing it. I knew that in order to do so, I would need to become a stronger, fitter, more optimal version of myself in mind, body and spirit.
I was already well underway on a transformational life journey of well-being and self-discovery that had changed me from an overweight, out-of-shape, sad sack-of-bones into a healthier, happier, curious human being who was now prioritizing movement, mindfulness and better consumption decisions. I was a work of art and a work in progress.
I came across the concepts of a man named Pavel Tsatsouline, who is responsible for introducing us westerners to the Russian kettlebell and its subsequent strength building capacities. Even though I didn’t have access to a kettlebell (nor did I intend to buy one), I knew I could still glean wisdom from his insights.
I decided to apply Pavel’s motto of ‘strong first’ to my desire for increased endurance, strength, speed, grit, mental resilience and the ability to enjoy all aspects of adventure (and therefore life) to my highest capability.
Since I had already begun incorporating more movement into my life in the form of walking, hiking and eventually trail running, I had been slowly building a base level of fitness. But now I was moving into a new realm of strength building, in which I was a total white belt. Somewhat intimidated (and admittedly, embarrassed) to be a total newbie at the gym, I decided to start my journey in the sanctity of my own four walls.
I started honing my physical strength through bodyweight exercises — movements that use your own body weight to create resistance against gravity. I knew that if I could create a fun, simple, sustainable approach to building the overall strength of my body, I would have no excuse for not executing on it and it would drastically help me in achieving my aforementioned goals.
As it turns out, I was right. Applying curiosity, consistency and excitement to my daily strength building routines translated into better overall fitness, mental and physical strength and endurance. I found myself able to run faster, hike further, cycle longer and feel and think better while doing it.
My overnight gear didn’t seem so heavy, my heart didn’t race as rapidly, my muscles didn’t fatigue as easily and they also recovered much faster, meaning I was able to get more adventure in more often. I found myself feeling more confident and courageous, and increasing my positive self-talk while reducing the negative. The more I showed up to become ‘strong first’ the better I felt about myself (and bonus points for the side effect that I even lost some weight)!
I didn’t need to pay hundreds of dollars for a monthly CrossFit membership or invest in a fancy home gym. Heck, I didn’t spend a penny on my gains. I just set a goal, put the time aside and moved forward on my progress. Some days I slipped off track, but I just did my best to shake it off, say ‘so what?’ and get myself back on the proverbial horse.
I know the realms of adventure-going and strength building can seem worlds apart, but I believe that they both inform each other. Creating a me that becomes stronger, fitter and faster during my workouts leads to an increased ability to enjoy my adventures, bolstering a positive feedback loop to get back on the carpet and push myself during those strength building exercises.
I loved the process, progress and outcomes that I created through the ‘strong first’ mentality so much that I ended up finding myself at the gym, lifting weights, increasing my stretching and strengthening routines, and further building my body and mind to be even more fit for adventure.
These are a few of my favorite body weight movements that I incorporated into my workouts in the beginning and that I still use today to continue becoming a happier, healthier, stronger me — inside and out!
It’s super important to have great form for all these exercises to avoid injury and get the most bang for your buck. I recommend tips and tricks from Kelly Starrett’s YouTube Channel “The Ready State” (formerly Mobility WOD).
- Stand with your feet parallel or turned out 15 degrees — whatever is most comfortable. 2. Slowly start to crouch by bending your hips and knees until your thighs are at least parallel to the floor.
- Make sure your heels do not rise off the floor.
- Press through your heels to return to a standing position. Start with a set number and do that for a week, increasing your reps every week.
- To add a fun cardio element and mix it up, I like to do jump squats which involve jumping up off the floor when I come out of my squat.
I couldn’t do one single push-up when I first started my strength training, so I opted for knee push-ups until I built my strength up. When I did my first full push-up, I celebrated myself and told everyone I knew! Now, I start everyday with 2 - 3 sets of ten push-ups (with ample rest in between).
- With your hands shoulder-width apart, keep your feet flexed at hip distance and tighten your core.
- Bend your elbows until your chest reaches the floor, then push back up. 3. Be sure to keep your elbows tucked close to your body. Repeat.
- Lay on your back with your legs out-stretched.
- Tighten your core and lift both legs straight up, 90 degrees.
- Slowly release them back down, stopping with your ankles a few inches off the ground. 4. Repeat.
- Lie facedown with your forearms on the floor and your hands clasped. 2. Extend your legs behind you and rise up onto your toes.
- Keeping your back straight, tighten your core and hold the position for 30—60 seconds to start and progress from there.
Remember to breathe deep. Sometimes I recite the alphabet or list things I’m grateful for to distract my mind.
Switching Mountain Climbers
- Start in the downward dog position, on your hands and toes.
- Keeping your core tight, bring your right knee across your body, driving it towards your left elbow.
- Return your right foot down and do the same with your left knee to your right elbow. 4. Switch back and forth, increasing the speed as you progress.
- Stand with your hands on your hips and your feet hip-width apart.
- Step your right leg forward and slowly lower your body until your left (back) knee is close to or touching the floor and bent at least 90 degrees.
- Return to the starting position and repeat on the other side.
- To mix it up and stretch your hip flexors, try stepping backward into the lunge.
- From standing, slowly rise up on your toes, keeping your knees straight (but not locked) and heels off the floor.
- Hold briefly, then come back down.
In & Outs
- Sit on the floor in a V-like position, with your legs pulled into your chest and your arms wrapped around them.
- Release your legs, extending them out in front of you (but not touching the floor) while your arms reach out to your sides.
- Bring your legs back in. Repeat.
Ali Becker is an adventure writer and narrative storyteller who shares compelling conversations about personal transformations, overcoming limitations, wellness education and adventurous situations. You can read her recent ramblings at thisisalibecker.com or follow her journey on social at @thisisalibecker