Vail Daily column: Seek alternative fitness options |

Vail Daily column: Seek alternative fitness options

Ryan W. Richards
Make It Count

You can do it. In a world where we are inundated with so many fitness options, the menu can leave you feeling uninspired and lacking context within your abilities. We all have limitations at some point in our lives, yet we often look at limitations for what they are instead of looking at the opportunities we have to build fitness with the qualities we do have. Let’s look at how mainstream fitness programs can limit you and explore some alternative options.

Last week a very close friend and his spouse came to visit the Vail Valley to experience the Colorado Rockies at their finest. We were on a leisurely hike in McCoy Park as we discussed fitness, work, family and other mundane things we all experience. My ears perked up when Craig was talking about a conference he participated in for work; a CEO of a major corporation was discussing the herd mentality and how human nature follows patterns we aren’t even aware of and how these patterns can negatively affect our lives.


The CEO was paralleling a study with monkeys to human behavior. The researchers took a handful of monkeys and put them in a room with a dozen bananas high on a shelf above them. The monkeys would climb a rope to harvest the bananas and reap the rewards. After a few moments however, the researchers began squirting the monkeys with ice cold water. Apparently monkeys don’t like cold water at all. Over time, the group of primates associated the ascent with pain, classic Pavlov conditioning.

Interestingly, the researchers would introduce one monkey at a time to the conditioned group. The newly introduced monkey to the group wasn’t conditioned with the cold water treatment. He would climb the rope to the bananas and the collective group would pull him off of the rope to protect him from the cold water. Each successive monkey introduced would climb up the rope, and the collective group would pull him down to protect him.

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The fundamental point is that each successive monkey had no idea why they and the collective group were pulling the newly introduced monkey off of the rope. Only the original group who was conditioned to associate pain with climbing the rope knew the consequences. Each successive monkey was participating in protecting the group, but they didn’t know why. They followed the herd. Group dynamics can have a positive or negative impact in our lives.


Mental conditioning can really affect our capacity to accept where we are with our fitness, and how to move forward.

For example, drive down Route 6 any sunny day and you will see a host of cyclists pedaling onward. We are conditioned to associate this with fitness. Within the last few weeks, the Crossfit games were televised on ESPN. I overheard an observer mention how he needed to start squatting those big weights. “Those guys are crazy fit.” They are indeed crazy, and fit is an understatement.

How many times have you attempted to follow the herd and tried Pure Barre, Crossfit, road cycling or P90X because you have been conditioned to believe that is how one acquires fitness and you found yourself disappointed because it didn’t work for you? I worked for a gentlemen years ago who was an avid cyclist. He continued to pressure his overweight wife to continue putting the miles in. It wasn’t working. I can remember the conversation she had with me. She was over it, and the weight would not come off. I suspect she is still overweight today. She is completely conditioned to believe that cycling is the only road to weight loss success.


If you’re overweight, fix your diet. If you have a bad back, try lunges instead of two-footed bending movements. If your knees hurt and you cannot squat, maybe squats aren’t for you. Dr. Stuart McGill, a leading expert in spine biomechanics, always said that the sport of weightlifting finds the athlete, not the other way around; not everyone is built to pull and squat heavy weights. I see too many discouraged folks who focus on what they believe fitness should look like and realize they are disqualified from those activities. Focus on what you can do, not what you can’t. This is where professional coaching is invaluable. A skilled professional will always find a way to build fitness around your limitations. Stop following the popular trend if it’s not working for you. Let’s keep talking!

Ryan Richards has a B.S. from Ohio University and is a certified strength and conditioning specialist through the National Strength and Conditioning Association. He is the personal trainer at the Sonnenalp Golf Club and the owner of R2HP, an athlete consulting and personal training company. Richards’ passion comes from overcoming childhood obesity and a T1-L3 spinal fusion. Contact him at or 970-401-0720.

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