Fitness as Preparation, Not the Goal

parents and kids fitness

Fitness isn’t just about finishing a race. Be fit to be prepared for what life gives you!

So it’s been a while. I’ve run a couple of races this year already – the Tough Mudder Kentucky and the Mud Ninja, both of which I will have posts up on in the near future.  But I wanted to touch on something today that has been bugging me a lot recently, and it’s a response to an attitude that I pick up pretty frequently. And that attitude is one that belies a lack of preparation.

As an obstacle course racer, I frequently find myself exhorting my friends and family to come join me at a race.  And yes, I totally realize that it’s a sport that isn’t for everyone. It’s muddy. It’s gross. It’s uncomfortable. It pretty much goes against everything that modern marketing throws at us via TV, social media, radio, etc.: “buy this to get more comfortable.”  That’s a tough thing to get past, and I get it. A big part of what I do is fighting it, but I do understand – it can be hard to get past all that mind-programming.

But there’s another attitude that I want to talk about today. Frequently you’ll hear from people that “oh, I’d love to try that, but I don’t have time to get in shape for it.” And a lot of folks do use an OCR as a goal for which they want to get in shape.  That also makes perfect sense.

But at a certain point, I think it’s not a great thing to always use some race as a reason to get in shape. Sure, as an initial get-in-shape reason, or as a get-in-shape renaissance, it’s absolutely wonderful. But right now, I’m going to pull out the example of a friend of mine who I’ve run a couple races with.  We’ll call him Ronny.

Preparation as a lifestyle

Ronny is a guy who is always in shape.  He doesn’t really seem to have so much of a fitness regimen that he pursues, rather he has a lot of various activities he does regularly that keep him in shape. He does Brazilian Jujitsu, for example. He rock climbs. He does Crossfit in bursts as he feels he needs it. He does a lot of outdoor work – chopping wood, yard work, etc. He keeps busy constantly with his activities and has a lot of fun doing it.

And when it’s time to do a Tough Mudder or something, Ronny doesn’t have to “get in shape for it” because he’s already got a good level of fitness that he just keeps up with through his activities. Sure, there are obstacles that he’s better at and worse at, like anyone else, but his base level of fitness means that he doesn’t have a huge gap in his abilities like some of us have (AKA me and my ongoing grip strength lack).

If you’re a serious, elite-level athlete who is going after trophies and prize money and the like, then yes, it completely makes sense to have a serious training regimen specifically for OCR (which is a wide-ranging enough sport that it’s not going to get you too fit for only one thing, like most sports).  You’ll want to instill some periodization in your regimen and work power for a while, strength for a while, endurance for a while, etc.  And you’ll want to be organized and planned to the day, including rest time and such.

But for everyday folks who just like getting out and doing OCR as one of the fun things they do, just keeping yourself moving with lots of varying activities is completely awesome and functional. You don’t have to have an OCR-specific class you take, or hire a personal trainer specifically to get you ready for your next Spartan Race (unless you want to – not going to tell you not to do that). But find a bunch of activities you like that more or less work you in different ways. Here are some easy ones:

  1. A 2-3 times a week yoga class
  2. Weekly bouldering or climbing gym sessions with friends or family
  3. Nightly walks with your spouse and/or kids
  4. Having a garden and working in it regularly (you can also get free healthy food out of this one)
  5. Take a martial arts class with your kid
  6. Parking a mile away from your job and walking the distance every day (two miles a day of walking!)
  7. Doing a few wind sprints once a week or so while the kids are playing at the park.

Do you see where I’m going with this? There are a ton of things we can all do to be active and also get in a “workout” that will work specific facets of our race preparation. But by making them a habit and something fun, we don’t have to plan around them and find time – they’re just something that is on the calendar and is constantly keeping us moving.

And the best part of this: when a race does roll along that we want to do, we’re ready to go with minimal prep needed – maybe getting out and doing a little bit of running to get some of those muscles “thinking” that way if you want to.

Preparation as a way to influence

Now let’s go back to that list above and note a common theme there: most of those activities are things you do with other people, including your own family.

I almost don’t even need to say it, but one of the best ways to help your kids develop healthy habits for life is to let them see you keeping up with healthy habits.  It’s the whole “actions speak louder than words” thing – our friends and families are going to respond to the way we actually live our lives much more than they’re going to respond to us cajoling them to behave a certain way and practice things.

Preparation as a way to enjoy life

And here’s another thing: when the kids suddenly get that last minute invite to go to the zoo, go on a hike or camping trip, go to a birthday party where there’s some sort of physical activity, etc. and they want you to come… you’ll be ready and be able to participate. You’re not going to be that parent in the pharmaceutical commercial on TV who “just can’t keep up” because of some disease of civilization that you suffer from.

Nope. You’re going to be ready to participate and have fun with your kid. Their ability to have fun isn’t going to be hamstrung by your inability to do things. One of the primary reasons that parents like to be healthy is so that they can enjoy life with their kids. Using this as motivation to stay healthy is a great impetus.

And, speaking of parents…

Preparation as a safeguard against curveballs

I’m pretty proud of my parents. They’re in their 70s, yet they are enjoying their retirement immensely. They’re constantly out hiking, helping people, gardening, more hiking (my dad’s in a couple of hiking clubs down in Arizona where they live), swimming, and grandparenting, obviously.

And here’s the kicker: last year at this time, my dad had a hip replacement. Not because of a fall or anything like that, just from age and use. But… within a couple of days after the operation was finished, he was back up walking and feeling ready to get out and hike again.  The man was 74 at the time, yet when I called him a couple weeks later to see how he was doing, he had to be reminded that he’d just had a hip replacement – and not because the man is losing his memory.  Nope. They’re both sharp as tacks and more active than most people I know, of any age. Mom was in a similar situation after a knee surgery – up and moving in almost no time at all.

Contrast this with people of their age (or younger!) that we all know for whom a knee or hip surgery is life-threatening or at least severely debilitating.

They don’t go to the gym. They don’t schedule unpleasant exercise classes and pound out miles on a treadmill. They just get out and do things.  They’re ready for anything – like when my brother gets hold of my dad and takes him to Machu Picchu for a trip, Dad is ready to go and hike all the way there. And the guide, who was worried about his age, marveled at his ability to do the hike at altitude, and tells us that he’s the oldest person he’s ever taken out to those ruins.

So, let’s put it all together: your goal in fitness shouldn’t only be to finish that next race. The routine shouldn’t end just because that last Spartan is over and you’re ready to kick back again. Fitness should be a habit, movement should be a habit, and the purpose of that habit is to be ready for what life throws at you. Whether it’s an accident or unexpected surgery, or the ability to enjoy a day with your kids at a park and show up all the parents who are just standing (or sitting), fitness should let you do what you want to do with your life, without limitations.

Use that goal to finish a Tough Mudder or a marathon as your springboard to staying fit. That’s true happiness.