From time to time on this website I discuss physical fitness and related issues. Today is one of those days. Yeah, I could discuss Space X’s latest exploit. I won’t because Musk and company are doing the miraculous on a routine basis these days. So physical fitness it is, and the struggles related to that subject.
Ok, about a month ago I talked a little about my gimp left arm and how it got hurt. If you scroll down through the posts you can find the article if you’re curious. It’s called “The gun, the building, and an MRI.” The left arm and shoulder thing is one of the challenges I have in maintaining some degree of strength and stamina, there’s a laundry list of other crap, too.
I’m sure you readers out there who are approaching or have exceeded middle age have similar issues. Age is not kind to our bodies. So I’m going to talk a little about an approach I’ve come up with that’s fairly low impact and only moderately painful. Maybe some of you would like to give it a shot.
What is working for me is a riff off of an old requirement of a foot soldier, the ruck march.
When people think of ruck marches they automatically blanch. The image that comes to mind is a thoroughly miserable soldier loaded down with a huge backpack, a helmet and a weapon of some sort. Well, there’s a lot of truth to that, but the civilian version can be a lot less miserable and far more enjoyable. It’s an excellent workout, and it’ll cost you about an hour three odd times a week.
You do not need expensive equipment. I’ll bet a lot of you have what’s needed hanging around your house right now, actually.
First I’ll talk about the “ruck,” or rucksack, backpack. You can pick these up anywhere. Here in the ‘States Wal-mart has a large selection. Overseas I’m a little fuzzy on. Don’t spend huge money (over 100 USD), but don’t buy absolute junk, either. Military surplus is usually a good bet, but keep an eye on serviceability. There are two rucks I am intimately familiar with, the US large ALICE pack (affectionately known as “the big green tick”), and the MOLLE ruck. There is a third type I’m experimenting with now, a surplus Italian pack that may or may not be available where you live. The ALICE is good, the MOLLE is better, and the Italian is excellent so far. Of course, these are all ugly military bags and they may not suit your aesthetic. However, they are cheap, light and durable. Your call.
How much should you carry? A disclaimer: before you start any exercise regimen, consult a physician. OK, I said it. Now let’s talk about weight. Start off light, say fifteen to twenty pounds. This can be literally anything, but avoid sharp edges or lumpy stuff. I’d recommend water in your load so that you can hydrate along the way. You can build up to thirty-five pounds, my recommended max. Why do I say this? Because the Army has long experience with conditioning soldiers, and thirty-five pounds is the number they settled upon for standardized conditioning and qualification testing.
Ha, learned this the hard way. So I attended some pretty rough schools 2005-2006. To condition I carried a fifty or sixty pound ruck in all weather. One freezing cold day (of course I didn’t stretch) I developed a sharp pain in my knee. It got super bad, I was sucking down Naproxen like candy. Well, I made it through a year’s worth of training with that gimp knee, but it didn’t have to happen.
I was reminded of this a year ago when I attempted to start running again. That gimp knee is still there, and I’d rather prefer to avoid surgery. So no more running. Rucking, though, my knee doesn’t seem to mind long walks. But I digress. Suffice to say NOT TOO MUCH WEIGHT TOO EARLY. Any questions? Consult your physician.
Now let’s talk about shoes. I think the best damn boot in the whole world is the US Jungle Boot. If you go this route, don’t buy the cheap knock offs. The sole will fall off. Other boots work as well, but keep ’em light, comfortable and tough. Another option is a hiking shoe. You can get these anywhere, once again, buy quality. Finally, there is my summer option, the humble flip-flop.
Flip-flops? Surely I’ve gone mad. No-one hikes in flip-flops. LOL, whatever. One thing I wish I would have taken a photo of was the footwear of my Afghans. Those guys would go into battle on Chinese flip-flops, they’d scale cliffs in the things. That’s a bit extreme for me, but I hike all the time on trails and roads on flip-flops. Nothing beats them for comfort on a long hike.
There really isn’t any other equipment you need. Well, I’d recommend some kind of hat, preferably one that soaks up the inevitable sweat. Because if you do this right, you will sweat. That’s kind of the whole point.
This leads into my next subject, terrain and distance. You’ve spoken with your physician, and you know your limits. OK, now it’s time to walk. Personally, I like three miles, or 5k. It’s enough to get the muscles working, but not so far that the walk seems to stretch on forever. Your first walk will show you what changes you need to make in your equipment, especially for the novice hiker. So keep it short, maybe start with a mile. You can and will build up with time. Try out some hills if you have some, get the heart rate up. Be careful on the downhills- it’s easier to injure yourself going down than coming up.
Now walk. Enjoy being outside. Nothing acquaints you with an area like walking through it, you see so much more than whizzing by in a car. Talk with people, see some wildlife. Yeah, at first your shoulders will ache some, so will your calves. This is natural, good. Who knows, maybe you’ll develop a taste for it.
You don’t have to be miserable to improve your fitness.
Give it a shot.