Thank goodness for those yoga classes (photo: Devin Hill).
Imagine being 47 years old and earning the nickname “The Machine” over the course of a three-day weekend in Colorado. Now imagine earning that nickname from your athletic, high school-aged son. Sean Grossman recently experienced this, and you can imagine the pride conveyed as he recounted the weekend.
Maybe you won’t be skipping lunch in the lodge and storing sandwiches in your ski pants like Sean, but it wasn’t the skipping of lunch that earned him the nickname. It was the endurance and strength that allowed him to ski all day long for three full days that earned him the nickname. It was waking up fresh and ready to go each morning while the others were dragging. This is no happenstance; Sean has been resistance training twice a week religiously for over two years, mixing in cardio and mobility work on his own time, and paying attention to what he is putting in his body.
“You’re sitting at your desk on Monday morning with sore legs, and you think that maybe taking the kids on that ski trip wasn’t the greatest idea”
There is no natural born talent to point to here, only hard work and discipline. And that discipline has paid off in his ability to squeeze the absolute most out of every day on the mountain. If he is ever limited, it is by his technical ability, never his level of fitness. I would know - I’ve been training him for over 2 years in New York City.
Now try to imagine a ski trip with the family or some friends where your legs aren’t burning on the mountain all day long. Instead of thinking about how badly you want to take your boots and skis off and take a seat, you’re figuring out which run you’re going to crush next. When Sunday comes after a full day of skiing on Saturday, instead of being sore and stiff, you’re fresh and ready to go. You’re not looking into the future, towards relief and the sofa. Instead, you’ve gained the ability to be present in the moment, something that has become harder and harder to do.
In his book “The Miracle of Mindfulness”, Thich Nhat Hanh talks about washing the dishes in a very profound way; he proposes the idea that one must wash the dishes solely for the sake of washing the dishes. My brother-in-law and I always joke around with this saying, but there is real depth to it. If you aren’t present in your dishwashing and in the here and now, and instead are thinking about that cup of coffee or movie you’re going to watch later, what makes you think that when you finally reach your cup of coffee or movie that you won’t be then thinking about what is next?
“Maybe it’s your mindset that really needs to shift”
How is this related to fitness and skiing? A lack of strength and endurance can strongly affect not only the way that you experience the immediacy of skiing itself, but also the way you build a memory of that experience. You can’t just wish or think away quadriceps muscles that feel like they are on fire.
That sensation, along with the feeling of fatigue takes up a certain amount of your mind in the present. They take away from the potential joy of the activity and fill it with bits of discomfort. And then, in the aftermath, you’re sitting at your desk or computer on Monday morning and your legs are so sore that you think that maybe taking the kids on that ski trip wasn’t the greatest idea. Would that change your attitude about going on adventure or ski-based trips in the future?
The last three years of my life have been spent working as a personal trainer, where time and time again it has been made clear that our clients must understand the “why” behind what they are doing in order for a true buy-in to occur and new habits to take root. Without establishing the “why”, without that buy-in, the motivation to stick to a program and continue making time for exercise is no doubt going to fade. So it’s important for all of us to really understand what it means to be a healthier, stronger version of ourselves, and what that can open up for us in terms of experiences.
What drew me into personal training in the first place was the freedom in life to try new things, due to being a lifelong athlete. There was never an activity I couldn’t participate in. This gave and still gives me a true sense of physical freedom. Working with my clients to help them reach that point in their own lives has been extremely rewarding. For many of them, the lack of fitness has limited them at one time or another from taking part in a life experience with loved ones or friends.
These positive and new experiences are part of the foundation that a fulfilling life is built on. When you look at exercise from this perspective and see a strong, healthy body as a key that can be used to open doors to life's physical experience, the concept of working out becomes a lot less daunting. There is meaning behind it. It is no longer cruel and unusual punishment.
A lot of information we consume regarding fitness and how it can improve our skiing performance can be placed into a small number of categories: what exercises you could benefit most from, which new stretches to add to your workouts, or how to change your training style to make you more durable and prepared for the season ahead. But maybe it’s your mindset that really needs to shift. Maybe it’s time to dig deep and ask ourselves what it would mean to us to experience skiing and all the other physical challenges in life in a different light. We all have the potential to become our own version of “The Machine”, we just need to shift our perspective, take ownership of our daily choices, and watch the beauty that ensues.