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When You Can't _______, Cross-train.

(This is gonna be a quick one and more of a personal testimonial from my recent climbing trip to the Red River Gorge.)

Let's first define "cross-training." Cross-training is exercise you do that is similar to a specific sport you want to improve in.  For example, swimming is great cross-training for running because it builds your cardio capacity and core strength.  Or doing cable rows is great for building upper back and shoulder muscles to improve paddling.
Cross-training is crucial because it creates a well rounded body and irons out imbalances that repetitive movements create. Most overuse injuries can be prevented by cross-training...but that is a different and much longer post. 

Cross-training improves specific sport performance, especially when sport specific training is unavailable.

There are a lot of things I love doing that I only get do do once in a blue moon. Climbing has unfortunately been one of those things. Climbing is also one of those things that takes practice and consistency to improve in. 
Over the past year I've been mostly trail running, cycling, training at BAREfit and building stuff because thats what time has allowed for this stage in my life. Thus one would not blame me for going into this trip expecting to have fun but not necessarily kick ass.

Well I was wrong...

My first first climb of the day was a 5.9 with a small roof that had shut me down about a year ago when I was climbing more consistently. I was hoping for a 5.7/8 to warm up on, but Jeremy of Elemental Climb Club was not about to grant such wishes.
I tied in, put on my red Mad Rock shoes and resigned to accept my fate...


I made my way up the first section, it's the easy part, dreading my looming nemesis above...


I'd been feeling really solid on the climb thus far, but I was preparing for the worst as I moved to grapple with the roof...

Then I hit the crux...

And I was over the crux, defeated my enemy and enjoyed smooth sailing to the anchors!
I went on to generally kick ass for the rest of the day, sticking moves I couldn't before and climbing with increased endurance & confidence.

This is BAREfit functional cross-training in action! Even though I hadn't done sport specific climbing training in about a year, I had maintained AND improved my climbing skills through BAREfit's Functional Adventure Sports Training methods.
This is just a little bit of proof that non-specific functional strength and conditioning translates to sport specific performance.

That is why when I can't climb, I BAREfit.

Many thanks to my beautiful and talented wife, Janae, for taking baller action shots and to Elemental Climbing Club for inviting us out with them & pushing me to test my climbing limits.

Meet Your Fitness Plan's Missing Link: Motivation

As I write this, it's 3 degrees in Louisville, KY (windshield of  -16), with at least 3" of snow or ice on every runnable/ridable surface, and I'm in dire need of logging some miles...

Though, that is not what's stopping me from logging those much needed miles.  I could very well pull out some of my expensive gear, layer it up and lace up my cleated winter shoes with the knowledge that I'll be satisfied & thawing out about 45 minutes later. But instead, I'm staying inside and writing a blog post that probably only my wife will read out of pity.

This battle, like all day to day decisions, is waged by motivations.  Today, the motivation to stay warm and comfortable edged out my motivation to progress my fitness. If it's not the cold, it's the heat, or sleep, or TV, or the newest limited edition barrel aged beer or the...well, you get the idea.  There will always be counter-motivations distracting you from being fit and healthy.

At any given time, you have at least 2 motivations duking it out like a couple wolves. We'll call them your "Fitness Wolf" and your "Couch Dwelling Wolf". The wolf you feed will almost always win because it's the strongest.  The more it wins and the more it's fed, the stronger and more victorious it gets.
The trick is actively feeding the Fitness Wolf, the one that motivates health and fitness, and not the one who makes excuses to be inactive & eat crap.

Different things motivate different people, but to get you started here are some of my Fitness Wolf's favorite meals:

  • Human Accountability

    • There is nothing more motivating than another person (or group) in the trenches with you, cheering you on when you succeed and riding your ass when you slack off.  For me, my wife motivates me in this way, she's not always out on the trail with me, but she always encourages me to get out there and doesn't pull punches when i'm lazy. Plus, you know, I wanna keep looking good for her ;)  
      I also have friends I train with on a regular basis. We compete with each other and know we're in for it if we stand each other up.  
      A personal trainer or fitness studio with small group training (like, shameless plug, BAREfit) is another great option. Working with a fitness profession whose job is to motivate and equip you toward fitness is hard to beat, and having a scheduled session adds to the priority of exercise. This option also brings money into the picture to the effect that your wasting money when you don't exercise.

  • Signing Up for a Race/Event

    • This gives me something to train toward and makes my goals more concrete. As soon as I see a race I want to do, I sign up for it. The longer you wait to sign up, the more excuses to not do it pile up (and so does the entry fee). True story. When your just training for the sake of training, its easy to go through the motions and not challenge yourself. The knowledge that you have to reach a certain level of fitness by a certain date will make you work harder. Not being prepared for a race and then getting eaten alive is no fun. It's like when your a kid and touch a hot stove for the first time, you learn your lesson! Only your mommy won't be there to kiss it and make it better.  
      Maybe your not into mountain biking or trail running or other official races/events.... Well, make your own! Find something you want to do better (like doing 3 pull-ups or climbing a 5.10 route), set a realistic date, tell everyone you know about it and do a countdown on your calendar.

  • Taking Advantage of Social Media

    • If half of social media is cats and babies, the other half is fitness. There are so many people posting daily motivation, personal progress and unique exercises. First, find which app you want to use, my favorite is Instagram for its minimal clutter free interface, ease of sharing and ridiculous number of users to follow. Follow people with similar goals, on similar fitness journeys, or with fitness levels you want to aspire to. There are several online lists of best fitness Instagram accounts that'll give you a good start, from there you can search hashtags (i.e. #functionalfitness #barefitlife #pullup) and see who other fitness users are following. 
      Some of my current faves are: captainstefano (my straight up doppelganger), hunterfitness, progressive_calisthenics, explorekentucky, and the_southern_yogi (bonus points, she's a local).
      Don't forget to post your own pictures, videos, goals etc.  Knowing your followers are cheering for you will motivate your to reach those goals.

  • Tracking Stats

    • You know those guys who have the $1000 watch that tracks literally everything down to how much they sweat, or instal a power tracking hub/crankset that costs more than a complete bike? I am not one of those guys. I am not so much about numbers as I am about enjoying the run/ride/etc., but I still track basic metrics like mileage, speed, pace and time along with how beautiful the trail is.
      In order to know how far you've progressed, you need to know at least the basics of where you started. The results of not doing any stat tracking is similar to not having concrete goals, you feel you are going nowhere, get discouraged and are prone to give up.
      Smart phones and better, cheaper GPS watches are making it easier than ever to track your basic stats. My favorite free option (assuming you have a smart phone) is STRAVA, a running and cycling app with a really good interface and some cool social motivational features.  If you don't want to dig you phone out to check your pace or if you, like myself, want to unplug as much as possible during exercise, a GPS watch is the way to go.  My current favorite option is the TOMTOM Multisport. A full review is in the works, but in short, it's easy to use, not bulky and it tracks running, cycling and swimming, where most GPS watches will only track running.

  • And This...

and this too...

Videos like these get me hyped up and make me want to get out or else.  Find videos or music or pictures or whatever, that hype you up again and again. Then take advantage of them liberally!

Now, grab a friend or 2, sign up for a race with them, post about it & your training schedule on Instagram then go out for a run/ride/climb/etc. On your way out boot up STRAVA to track your baseline performance and cue up your favorite motivational playlist.

Don't be afraid to combine your positive fitness motivations into a well balanced meal of motivational goodness.  Unlike villains in old kung-fu movies, your negative motivations will not attack you one at a time. The more positive motivations you have in place the better your chances are to follow through with your fitness plans and reach your goals.

Again, these are the things that motivate me not a comprehensive list, everyone is unique in their motivations so share with us in the comments what gets you motivated...


Cold: Your Fitness Frenemy

How exercising outside of you temperature comfort zone can beef up your workouts

Plus how to prepare accordingly.

Your environment plays a huge role in your exercise performance and results because exercise is all about adaptation. Your body adapts in order to deal with whatever circumstances it faces on the reg. There are many varieties of adaptations, but today I'm going to focus on how temperature, specifically cold, plays in.

At BAREfit, along with many other minimalist gyms, we have opted to not keep things a balmy 70 degrees this winter. I'd be lying if i didn't partially attribute this to the high cost of heating an uninsulated warehouse built in the 30's (it would easily eclipse our rent), but we knew this going in and could have opted for a space better shielded from the outer environment. So were we just hoping for 50 degree winters from here out or is there something else at play...

Working out in colder (in the winter) or hotter (in the summer) temperatures supercharges your workouts in 2 main ways:

1) You burn more calories!! 

The reason for this is really pretty simple. Your body has to work harder to regulate itself when in temperature above or below the norm, thus it burns more fuel in the same way a car gets worse gas mileage in the winter. Except when your body's concerned, thats a good thing because calories are your body's fuel.  

2) Your body adapts to perform in your present environment.

I'm a born again believer in fully realized functional fitness. By "fully realized" i mean training that moves beyond doing some body weight squats between curl machine sets and affects every facet of exercise. If a person wants to perform well in a given environment, they must adapt to that environment.  For Louisville, KY, that means adapting to cold and nasty in the winter & hot and sweaty in the summer. Exercising in a 65 degree box is not functional because it fails to prepare one for the aforementioned local weather. Case in point my sister who lives in Florida freezes out and is unable to perform in 55 degree weather because she's adapted to perform in 80 degree weather. On the other hand, a 55 degree day in January means sandals and shorts for me.  To a certain point hot/cold is a totally relative factor dependent on whatever your body considers normal temperature.

Now for the Disclaimer

This is not meant to evoke a military inspired "pain is weakness leaving the body" vibe.  Discretion and preparedness is advised when applying this principle. Hypothermia, frost bite, etc. are exposure based conditions.  Obviously, you want to avoid these conditions and doing so is easy. if you know your limits and dress accordingly.

Know Your Limits

Just like anything, weather adaptations take time.  Generally this happens naturally as the seasons change.  Also, listen to your body. Shivering, light headedness, numb fingers/toes, burning lungs, super sensitive skin, these are signs that it's too cold for you. This "too cold" point depends on exposure time, layers worn, and level of adaptation. In the end, you have to just listen to and trust your body.

Dress accordingly

Your clothing is the first and easiest step in enjoying cooler environment workouts.  Layering is key.  Three layers is the gold standard: Base-layer, Mid-layer, and Outer-layer.  Most Base-layers are synthetic (polyester, nylon) or merino wool (my personal favorite), fit snug, and wick (or pull) moisture away from the skin.  This keeps your skin warm and dry as opposed to cotton which literally sucks heat out of you when its wet. Mid-layers are heavier than base-layers yet still breath well.  This would be a fleece, a sweatshirt or even lightly insulated jacket if its really cold. The Outer-layer's main job is to keep heat in and cold out and can range from a windbreaker vest to a heavily insulated shell depending on the environment and activity. With this 3 layer system, you can regulate temperature before, during and post workout by removing and adding layers.

Consider yourself schooled on cool weather exercise. Now its up to you to get out, get your body adapting and dial in your winter wardrobe. Don't let that high of 30 keep you from your fitness goals. Everyone is different so go at your own pace and don't worry about that guy wearing runner shorts in the snow ;)  


Have a favorite winter exercise set up? Share it with us and the BAREfit Community in the comments below.