An Inside Look at Getting Outside


Until recently, I let the weather, my mood, convenience, and occasionally what activities I had planned in the future dictate what I did for exercise most days. For the most part, this exercise routine worked. I skied when it snowed, climbed when I could, and in between I rode my bike or ran, letting my free time and the amount of Lycra I was comfortable wearing that day dictate which cardiovascular activity I chose. Following this fitness routine I never became truly fit or particularly good at any singular activity, but I also never suffered any overuse injuries or ailments that particularly plague climbers and runners.

While climbing 5.12 and running a sub-four hour marathon eluded me (okay, climbing 5.11 and running a marathon at all), this exercise program allowed me to ride a century one day and lead a climb the next, while still being able to manage big hikes in the mountains. Thinking about it now, I find it hard to believe that I once was not only a proponent of, but totally committed to, training in the gym—and not the climbing gym; rather, the kind with treadmills, weights, benches, and muscle-bound guys in tank tops.


For the most part, I’ve managed to avoid the gym and prescribed exercise routines for the last decade…until recently. Last year, after  I broke my collar bone and suffered through eight weeks of no physical activity, I turned to Steve House’s Training for the New Alpinism to jump start my fitness in preparation for a mountaineering trip to California. House’s program still let me do the majority of my training outside, as the bulk of my training consisted of carrying a heavy pack up and down my local ski hill mixed with some conventional hiking, a little bit of climbing, and a pretty simple general fitness routine that required a trip to the gym.

It came as no surprise that I took a liking to the increased structure of my schedule; after all, I’m the type of person who organizes his closet by color, his shoes by use, and his bookcases by genre. More than merely adding a level of comfort to my routine, I began to see an improvement in my performance, as having a prescribed routine forced me to push myself harder than I had in the past, and to step out of my comfort zone at times. Shockingly, I even found that I enjoyed the general fitness routine, and the little bit of gym work I added was helping make me a stronger, more balanced athlete. Most important, though, is that I saw the results of the work I was doing in the mountains and on the rock. I had gotten a taste of what was possible and dove deeper into the world of training indoors for outdoor performance.


I never loved the idea of training in the gym. In fact, I used to laugh at people who spent their days training in the rock gym instead of climbing outside (I laugh less now that they are all climbing harder than me). I still see the value of training outside, and even as I value the gains seen in the gym, it’s hard to replace the satisfaction of a day spent in the fresh air, with the sun beating down on you as opposed to florescent light. While I value the rewards of time spent in the gym, I will never be a gym rat, and I don’t foresee subscriptions to Men’s Health or Men’s Fitness replacing Powder or the Alpinist anytime soon. I’m still wrapping my head around the idea of training inside, and while I appreciate the benefits of time spent in the gym I think it must be balanced with time spent outside. After all, training for the sole sake of getting better at training is lame.