Mountain Grit: Training for the Long Haul


The Simple 7 Buckets That Build My Buffer: Suppleness-Stability, Speed (Gait), Skills, Strength, Stamina, Specificity, Spirit

“Everything is easier when I am stronger!”

The more total body strength I have, the easier it is to walk, climb, carry, lift, push and pull, provide care, and to play or compete with vigor. I expend less energy doing what I need to do, with a reserve for what I want to do. On the flip side, if getting out of a chair or carrying my skis zaps my energy, I’ve dipped into my reserve, leaving less in the tank for what’s up next.

Strength in motion nurtures health and function, and buttresses fitness and performance. It is individual, relative and can be improved at any age. Strength is a non-negotiable pillar in prep and prehab for the long haul.

As we clean-up and refill Buckets #1-3, we shift our focus to Bucket #4.

Bucket #4 is STRENGTH.

Let’s get to the meat of strength in motion, the brain, muscle and force.

The brain is the conductor, the master of movement forces. It coordinates the force-producers, our muscle fibers [motor units], to get the job done. If the job is of minimal effort or load, the brain brings in minimal forces, slower units. If the task is of maximal effort or load, faster and more explosive in nature, the brain brings in the big dogs, the faster units.

In humans, genetics and training influence our fiber-types. I may never become a world-class sprinter or marathoner, but that does not mean that I cannot optimize what I’ve got.

The bottom line …. Our slower fibers get more action. The faster ones are preferentially left out, unless the task requires their assistance. Eventually they shrink, similar to what happens in casting and prolonged bed rest. Sedentary aging is very much like bedrest. The ill-effects just take longer to rear their ugly heads.

This age-related decline in muscle mass [sarcopenia] starts in our 30s, and continues at about a rate of 3-5% per decade. Nutrition, hormones, chronic disease, and neurological conditions certainly factor in. But we CAN fight back!

Staying strong through physical work and resistance training can delay and reverse this process.

“We adapt to what we do or don’t do!”

Bucket #4a is strength in motion.

Who comes to mind as exemplifying strength? Think video, NOT photo.

A gymnast, a bronc rider, a DH racer, a rock-climber? A firefighter, tree-harvester, a stone mason, or Special Ops? A moto-crosser, mountain-biker or white-water rafter? Sprinters, jumpers, throwers and wrestlers? Team and dual sport players, colliding, contacting, and repeatedly changing direction? Olympic and Power lifters, and Strong Man competitors? Body builders?

ALL rely on a certain amount of strength and power, a vast continuum for sure. As I stated in my first column, “How much for who, depends on what I want to be able to DO, now and for decades to come.”

Strength, in all its forms, adds resilience, robustness and durability to our mountain vehicles. We strive to GO-GO, and not BLOW, but have a little bit of SHOW, too. We need a protective barrier that breaks collisions and falls, while bolstering our vehicle to move well and fast, from task to task, position to position and most importantly, season to season.

Strength unifies all of our buckets, and reinforces the skills bucket of agility, balance, coordination, reaction, power and speed.

So strength training is not just lifting weights for the sake of lifting weights or getting buff. If that is a personal passion, hobby or sport, go for it. Loads [resistance] come in many forms: body weight, bars, weights, plates, dumbbells, kettlebells, sandbags, elastic, or feed, rock, hay bales and snow.

The brain doesn’t not know the difference. It just senses and processes load information.

The sweet spot is that load, positioned somewhere between rusting out, NOT loading enough, AND wearing out, excessively overloading a vintage vehicle in need of repairs, maintenance, and maybe some replacement parts. The Gritter needs the just-right dose to deny the slide, and to fortify our ride.

Yes, mass and size matter. But it’s putting this mass into motion, movement that provides health, function, fitness and performance value. The buffest and biggest are not necessarily the best movers. Good training transfers to moving and performing better.

We CAN train to build mass, but we MUST train to keep strength. Fighting frailty with a vengeance is non-negotiable. Twenty years of frailty is not part of aging, per se, but like with our other physical abilities, we load it or we lose it! This is not to dismiss accidents, concussions, serious medical conditions or just plain bad luck.

Can we stall father time, or even reverse it? Maybe not to the level or size of our prime, but certainly enough to keep us in our game of life.

“We CAN be strong. We CAN last long. IF we resist and lift, carry, push and pull loads along.”

Bucket #4a: Strength In Motion

Why should I care?

• Strength is central to resilience, robustness and durability of the aging body; it is also vital to self-efficacy, the belief that we CAN perform a specific task.

• Muscle is health for all of our systems, particularly the cardiovascular, respiratory, joint, lymph and hormonal systems; strength training produces a healthy cascade of hormones, formidable in the battle against diabetes and obesity.

• Strength allows us to absorb our body weight with each impact, whether it’s going down stairs, walking, hiking, running or DH skiing. Think water balloon splat vs. basketball bounce.

• Strong muscles make for strong bones and healthy joints, a prehab and rehab approach.

• Total body strength is the antithesis to frailty; strength training IS prevention and treatment. LADIES, frailty hits us harder; we have less muscle and bone to start, and 30 additional years of life coming down the pike. Get and stay strong!

• Resistance training deters and delays muscle-wasting, preserves and builds strength and power; it dodges disability, and extends our freedom to enjoy our outdoor pursuits, rife with risk, but rich in reward.

• Strong folks fall less. If they do hit the ground, ample muscle mass and strength provide a protective buffer to break falls and reduce fractures and head injuries.

My Total Body Strength Check-Up

I will NOT self-inflict pain or injury just to prove I can do it.

YES [1 point]: I do it automatically with ease NO: I struggled or felt pain


1. Climb up into a truck with ease.

2. Lift groceries, kids, pets, or feed and carry them as needed.

3. Negotiate stairs carrying groceries.

4. Put my carry-on items up into the overhead bin.

5. Grab my baggage off the airport carousel with ease.

6. Pop out of a chair on TWO legs with NO hands.

7. Open a heavy door and maneuver through it while carrying stuff.

8. Move my kayak, bike, or gear on-off my vehicle rack.

BONUS: I can lift and carry at least 75% of my body weight for 30 secs,

+ Pop out of a chair on ONE leg with NO hands,

+ Do one solid pull-up, + one solid push-up.

Scoring for Bucket #4a:

GREEN: 8+ holding your own, and denying the slide.

YELLOW: 4-7 have started to slide, reverse course now.

RED: 0-3 it’s never too late to start the restoration journey; EASE* back in.

*Let’s use the analogy of a restored mountain bike. Moveable parts are now moving. Stable parts are stable. The frame is solid [strength], and the shocks and springs [elastic strength] are able to absorb impact and transfer energy as needed. Would I take a triathlon-bike on the trails? NO, it is not built for that terrain. Well, am I robust enough to absorb the hits on the snow, trails or river?

Common Sense Solutions:

Continue moving heavy stuff. Physical work keeps us strong.

DAILY, choose to move, whenever possible. Spring UP stairs, every other step.

Bare feet remain smart and strong. Walk barefoot at home. Train barefoot or wear minimalist shoes, forcing the foot muscles to do their job, and not get lazy inside shoes.

At HOME, do chores and tasks involving multiple positions and loads. Continue to lift, carry, kneel, crouch, push and pull.

At WORK, break away from the chair and the screen every 30 minutes. Prolonged sitting is akin to bed rest. Consider a vocation change, one RICH in movement.

For tradesman and physical laborers, your strength bucket may be full, but it may need some tweaks to fix some imbalances. Hit the foam roller after work. Check your other buckets, and keep them full.

At PLAY, its’ all seasons, GO! Between seasons, beef up the strength bucket. Pick a new sport and train for it. Try something new for FUN. Fun is not frivolous, you know.

TRAIN on our feet. EARN, OWN and KEEP strength and power in the squat, lunge, hinge, carry, pull and press. Shoot for a minimum of TWO total body sessions/ week, at home, outdoors, or at a gym. Join small and large group training sessions remotely or live.

If you need a jumpstart, seek out a movement professional that can safely and strategically get you on your way. See for Pat’s class on Thursday at 0930 or contact her through for personal training.

In closing, ponder this: “It’s never too late to start, but it’s better to never stop!”

Next up on GRIT: Bucket #4b: How strong is strong enough?

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