Surrounded by twisting branches, jagged cliffs, protruding roots….the idea of a perfectly flat surface is aloof…unreal. There are no level pull up bars, level and parallel dip bars, flat moving treadmills, or TV screens placed neatly in front of me to distract me from what I'm doing. The thing is…I don't want to be distracted. I don't want it level and parallel. I want asymmetry. I want function. Pulling myself up over and over again on a level bar is far less exhilarating and true to the purpose of my body than climbing a tree. When I climb a tree the branches typically grow up toward the light but often have twists and turns. They are marked, sometimes rough, sometimes smooth, at times with moss; they are survivors. They have adapted to changes in the forest light and survived violent storms. I climb each tree differently keeping my eye out for dead or dying branches that might break. I generally keep close to the trunk because I can trust it more than the branches not to break. I work upward taking time to get a good grip and involving as much of my body as possible. There are moments when I propel myself upward with only upper body and core strength but those are the exception and only because there wasn't a branch or ridge in the trunk for my feet. And then there's the view. After 30 pull ups in a gym you're still looking at that TV screen and inhaling the stench of people hustling to pack their entire day of movement into 60 minutes. After a tree climb you're high above the trail viewing the landscape from a fresh perspective. After an hour of walking or running on the treadmill you're still in front of a TV. After a trail run you've traveled, felt the variety of terrain, caught the smell of pine needles warming in a patch of sun, muddied your shoes, stuffed wild raspberries in your gob, torn your skin on brambles, broken through spider webs as though they were a finish line.
I push back to go forward when I walk. I push down to go up when I climb. I do a pull up to get higher. I push back to go further.
If I deny myself these basics I'm fooling my mind and body. I need to work out, yes. I need to work honestly, though. No cheating, no zoning out in repetition without context, no watching television to distract from the sensation. This is the original work out. This is travel.
p.s.If you want further detail on the biomechanics of treadmill vs real walking check out Katy Bowman. Her blog post http://www.alignedandwell.com/katysays/junk-food-walking/#sthash.nMd3wL4l.dpbs nails it.
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