Vail Daily column: Train heavy and hard to get fit |

Vail Daily column: Train heavy and hard to get fit

Ryan W. Richards
Make It Count

Hunting has been a great tradition in my family for many generations. Several great memories have been engrained through experiencing the outdoors in pursuit of wild game. Some of those memories aren’t necessarily pleasant. A few years ago, I removed an animal from deep in the woods that was so difficult, I compromised my health in the process. Last week I had a similar experience, although not necessarily detrimental to my health; packing out large game animals such as elk, moose and large mule deer in warm weather requires deep fitness reserves. I was happy to be back safely at my vehicle with quality game meat in place.

Fitness is the ability to perform a task. This clear definition touted by Dan John a few years ago is the most basic understanding of what fitness is. Managing a single-track, walking to the car, carrying large animals on your back, skiing, and other activities requires general fitness. To fully enjoy the mountain lifestyle, you must get there. Getting there ultimately requires planning and execution. What it doesn’t require is the functional training trend that necessitates participants to micromanage all slight imperfections in their movement ability. Corrective exercise strategies have too much momentum to the right. We need the pendulum to swing back to the middle and start squatting again.

Functional training

The founders of functional training such as Gray Cook, Paul Chek, and Juan Carlos Santana never intended for trainees to stand around on Bosu balls using laughable 5-pound weights. The genesis of functional movement training was to restore the innate, fundamental movement behaviors we all once had. Unfortunately, serious strength training got thrown out along the way. Pavel Tsatsouline stated clearly in “Easy Strength,” “Look at the leaders of the FT movement to realize that you are doing something very wrong. These guys are strong. Gray Cook can breeze through a brutal RKC course that has been compared to the marine boot camp. Juan Carlos Santana benches close to 400. Paul Chek deadlifts almost five wheels, chins with either arm, and toys with heavy kettlebells.”

Too often we are stretching and stabilizing joints that don’t need either. What many people need are performance exercises designed to stress the system to increase the demand for an adaptation.

Assistance tools

We must get away from the trend of using bands, Bosu balls, TRX straps and other circus acts as the staples in the training program. These tools were designed as assistance exercises to help restore function. At some point, get on with it. You must train heavy and hard to acquire high levels of fitness. I understand all too well the story of musculoskeletal dysfunction. I’m not telling you to put yourself into harm’s way. However, lifting a 5-pound weight isn’t going to cut it when it comes to promoting fat loss. Walking around with a light band around your ankles to “fire up” your glutes isn’t going to help you get a 100 pound elk quarter out from deep in the woods.

Corrective exercises are tools that help restore function. They were never designed to be used as exclusive staples in a fitness program. Stated differently, if you don’t find faulty movement abilities on a traditional assessment, using corrective exercises to increase range of motion for the trainee aren’t necessary. Too often we are stretching and stabilizing joints that don’t need either. What many people need are performance exercises designed to stress the system to increase the demand for an adaptation.

I must underscore that creating functionality and safety is the first priority. However, even if you display reasonable levels of dysfunction, acquiring fitness can be done with good coaching. I have coached many people with physical limitations who can move mountains; selecting performance exercises that don’t put trainees at risk is paramount. Performance exercises aren’t necessarily exclusive, traditional power or weightlifting exercises either. Strong athletes can be built using other modalities as well depending on what the needs and limitations are.

There isn’t much to do in the woods other than pray, think, reflect and enjoy the scenery. As I was hauling out game meat from the woods last week, I was thinking about the discomfort that prevailed. I asked myself, “How do hunters gain the ability to do this? What did I do to prepare myself for this?” I can assure you it wasn’t because of a small rubber band from the PT’s office. Have a great week!

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 and 970-401-0720.


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