So far on this trip in Ecuador and Peru, the exercise surface has been the determining factor in our workouts (or absence therof). Sure I could lie down in pile of fresh manure and go through the Sahrmann lower abs progression, or attempt a plyometric workout barefoot on a woodpile but the consequences of these actions are significant (e.g., muddy clothes in a place where you can only wash by hand in the river and can’t buy new ones, and a cut on your foot which will inevitably become infected).
I began wth the intention of regular workouts, but this did not happen for the first month of the trip when I was in the Peruvian Amazon region (first in the jungle and then down its rivers). Following the fundamental attribution error, I blame this on my environment. It was always too hot, or muddy, or uneven, or wet, or mosquito ridden, etc. to exercise the way I did in the United States.
It’s not that I was inactive for the first month; on the contrary, I was getting plenty long duration, low intensity exercise. Although generally healthy, this type of activity would in no way preserve neither strength nor power. I hiked for several hours a day, swam several times a day, and later paddled for seven hours a day for ten days down the Napo River (at the border of Ecuador and Peru). I finally got back into power and strength exercise training on a slow river boat from Iquitos to Pucallpa (from Northern to Central Peru, still in the Amazons). On the boat, I had a clean flat surface, shower access, and plenty of free time.
Nonetheless, during my time in the jungle I thought about exercising (a lot) and began creating a system of organizing workouts according the the surface available. This would give me some exercise to do regardless of the surface. I divided all of my exercises into three categories according to what surface they could be performed on. The categories are ordered from most restrictive to least restrictive (i.e., anything done in the first category can be done in the third but not vice versa):
Flat surface (expecting knee deep mud, pungi pits and hornets nests)
Clean surface (such surfaces are usually relatively flat)
Soft surface (Blanket, carpet, or mat. Such surfaces are usually flat and clean)
To begin with, here are a few warmups or “daily movement checkups” that can be done with each of these surfaces (like the morning sun salutations practiced by some, including my wife). These checkups take the body through the full range of motion of nearly all the joints. Doing one of these each morning lets me know how my body is doing, serving as an early warning system for anything that might be out of order and in need of attention. Go through each movement in the progression slowly, exhaling during movement and paying attention to how it feels. I recommend a breathing cycle with an exhale three times as long as the inhale (i.e. 2sec inhale and 6 sec exhale). The exhale helps relax you during stretches and reduces pressure during movements.
The sequences below are all cyclical and can be looped back on themselves as many times as you want. The checkup can take between 2 and 20 min depending on how many breaths cycles you take at each step and how many times you repeat the cycle. I usually spend one breath cycle on each step and repeat the cycle three times. But I’ll stay several breath cycles on any part that feels particularly tight.
Try these out for yourself and let me know if anything isn’t clear.
Flat surface (This sequence combines movement’s from Gray Cook’s selective functional movement assessment with a cyclical lower body stretch I put together for a runner’s conditioning class I taught.)
9.) Fold at the hip as in #4 but this time keep your right leg in line with your torso and stand on your left leg. Slowly bring your hands to the ground, bending your knee if necessary but keeping your pelvis level, and walk your hands forward until you feel a stretch in your calf, exhaling during movement. (focus on: back of thigh, calf)
11.) Pivot counter clockwise on your right foot into a full squat on your right foot with your left leg straight. (focus on: left inner thigh)
Stand up on your right leg, repeat steps 8-11 with left leg.
1. Grab right instep with right hand and pull heel towards chest, exhalng as you pull. To intensify, turn your torso to the left and repeat breath. (focus on: right hip)
6. Draw in your abdominal muscles and lift both legs slightly off the ground, then bring on leg up as high as possible while leaving the other hovering in places. Bend your knees if you are unable to maintain this position without arching your back. (focus: back of thigh, abdominals)
Soft surface- I haven’t yet encountered a soft, clean, flat surface during my travels. I will post pictures of my soft surface checkup when I find an appropriate place.