After a few years of being slightly sedentary compared to my rafting days, this year I decided to get back into shape. I’m 45 years old now and I suppose to some of you that conjurers up images of middle aged, overweight, out of shape, old dude.
The truth is that 15 years of rafting in my 20s and 30s really set me up for life physically speaking. Talking to other riverguides over the years, as well as observing and talking to people who were in shape, out of shape, or trying to get into shape, I began to formulate some basic knowledge and philosophies for how these things work. What follows are simply my opinions. They have no basis in science, but science these days is such junk that perhaps that doesn’t matter. I’m also only referring to men as I have no real understanding of the physiology of women in regards to fitness.
The work that you do on your body in your early adult life will set the tone for the rest of your life. In other words, the peak of physical fitness and strength that you hit by your mid-30s will be the maximum peak that you will be able to regain later in life. So if you’re a total slob during this part of your life and then in your late 40s you decide that you need to get in shape, well, you’re going to be like those middle aged fat guys that I see down at the gym who never get anywhere no matter how hard they try.
I’m sure that there are exceptions to this as there are so many different body types out there. But if I’m generally correct then it behooves you to get off your butt and start exercising.
Rafting as an exercise is pure strength conditioning. There is no cardio involved in pushing a raft down a river. You’re never going to be panting for breath. You will be destroyed the next day however, after your first rafting trip in a while. Good riverguides use their torso, specifically their back, pecs, and stomach to do most of the work. Technically inferior guides will attempt to use their arms and shoulders, relying on brute strength to turn the raft.
Doing this work day after day for fifteen years resulted in an extremely good core strength for me. I haven’t guided a raft since 2011 and I’ve been pretty slack since then. But what I found when I returned to the gym earlier this year was that I still had a lot of strength and it took me no time at all to get back to where I used to be. I’m not at the peak that I attained when I was about 35, but I’m definitely getting there.
I play cricket and I’m a medium pace bowler so that takes care of my cardio workouts. In the gym for me it’s all about strength training. Specifically, low reps with high weight. I really pack the weight on. And I always use free weights, either barbells or dumbbells. I don’t like complicated machines that isolate muscles because they do exactly that. I want to get my whole body into it and utilize as many muscles as possible. The difficulty of controlling the weights is the other positive aspect to this as not losing control of the bar exerts a lot of force on your body.
This requires excellent form but I’ve been going to gyms since I was 15. I find that gym instructors who push you towards machines are either lazy or incompetent. Teaching someone how to use free weights correctly is more difficult and requires time and patience. Much easier for them to buy a complicated machine that no idiot can ever lose control of.
I’m currently using this program and I’ll continue with it for a few more months. Squats, deadlifts, and bench presses are the granddaddy core strength exercises that everyone should use. This program uses 5 sets of 5 reps. I aim for the 5th set to be a failure or close to it. A failure means that I don’t fully complete the rep; it doesn’t mean that I fall over on the floor in an undignified mess. Every week I pack on a little more weight.
I do this 3 days a week and then train for cricket another 2 days. It means that sometimes I need to be in the gym at 6am but you gotta do what you gotta do. When I was rafting we’d go to the gym in the late afternoon after already completing 3 or 4 rafting trips. It took a bit of motivation but I found that a 45 minute gym workout really helped to clear my head after a full day entertaining clients on the river.
I was lucky to have had such a physical job for so long but you always need to take advantage of your luck in life. Which is why this year I finally got off my butt and got down to the gym.