Not Feeling As Young As You Used To Feel?
When I turned thirty, I really started to notice some changes in my body. Now at thirty-two, it’s readily apparent that I’ve abused my body for well over a decade while working as a mountain guide and climbing and skiing during all my free time. These days, after carrying a heavy pack on an expedition climb, my back now talks to me when I reach camp. And my back is not saying anything all that encouraging. I would hear the same scolding words from a different muscle group after a long ski tour or a hard rock climb. My body just didn’t feel the same as it did a decade ago, and it was trying to tell me that in the form of aches and injuries. I realized I needed to start listening to my body and treating it a little bit differently than I did when I was in my 20s. Here are some tips that have helped keep me feeling good in my 30s so far.
Walking to the base of a long multi-pitch route or the local crag, my climbing partner use to find me holding a stale corn dog in one hand and a Mountain Dew in the other. In my early 20s, I was known as a human garbage disposal, eating whatever I could get my hands on. I remember shopping at a discount grocery store in Bellingham, Wash., “Deals Only.” Most of the food was either expired, had a logo on it from the previous Olympic Games, was dented, or just incredibly cheap. Somehow I managed never to get to sick and was able to climb every day.
Now that I’m in my 30s, I’ve found eating healthfully is incredibly important. My metabolism has slowed down and I’m no longer a human garbage disposal. Eating a well balanced diet has helped me stay stronger, healthier and in better shape over the past couple years. My mom used to tell me to eat anything green, so as a kid I would only eat Mint Chocolate Chip ice cream. Now I’ve found that eating a balance of salad, kale and veggies has helped to keep me going stronger at the crag and in the mountains.
Increase your flexibility
Similar to my eating habits a decade ago, I never used to stretch. Being a naive teenager, I thought stretching was for those who were out of shape. Now, I find myself waking up with a stiff back and sore muscles. Going to yoga even a couple times a month has drastically improved my ability to recover after those big days in the mountains. Another tool I’ve incorporated into my stretching routine is a foam roller. After long days hanging in the harness or a steep approach with a heavy pack, I really like to stretch out on the foam roller. Ten to 15 minutes spent on my foam roller at the end of a big day helps loosen up tight muscles by helping to open up my chest and back and working out knots in my IT bands. My foam roller is part of my climbing kit just like my harness and helmet. I even have a mini foam roller for traveling.
Doing a proper warm-up can help loosen cold muscles, joints and tendons. When I’m single-pitch climbing, I’ll typically start off by climbing a couple routes below the grade I plan to climb for the day. Same thing applies for doing an alpine-style or mountaineering climb. The first 30 minutes to an hour, my partners and I will walk at a mellow pace just to wake the body up before moving too fast over uneven terrain for the next several hours.
Unfortunately, finding an adequate warm-up can be tricky. For example when you are climbing a multi-pitch desert tower and the first pitch off the ground is the crux. When this is the case, I find myself stretching out my arms and doing windmills to warm my muscles up and help prevent injuries. Five to 10 minutes just moving your arms, shoulders, and body around can help prevent future injuries.
In general, the biggest tip that has helped me is to slow down and listen to my body. This idea was the hardest concept for me to grasp, as I tend to really enjoy pushing myself on a daily basis. But my aching back and sore tendons were really starting to speak up and become assertive! Maybe that means that the next time my body is talking to me, I need to not climb as hard, run as far or ski as fast. Either way, getting outside and enjoying the wilderness on any level is what keeps us all young at heart.