OMG ASPEN | TRAVEL VLOG
How Aspen’s outdoor workouts saved me from a fitness slump
Finding gym motivation shouldn’t be a problem for a Junior Fitness Editor. Yet, the #MondayMotivation videos filmed on gym floors and filling my Instagram feed had the opposite effect on my training. I was left uninspired scrolling the same bits of kit being used in unimaginative ways. To be honest, I was sick of the sight of dumbbells.
Looking back I was in denial about how healthy my training was. I would desperately try to psych myself up walking to the gym, telling myself that going was the only way to build the body I wanted.
It seems a lot of you feel the same way. Recent research conducted byLeisure DBshows we’re rapidly becoming a nation of gym-goers, with UK gym memberships leaping by more than five per cent year on year to 9.7 million. One in seven of us now belong to a gym. No wonder my social feed is full with deadlifts, squats and bicep curls.
Every day I would continue to walk or drive past parks more than capable of hosting my workout. Deep down I knew I was missing out.
Between half-hearted reps in the gym, I’d like pictures of other guys taking their workouts outside to fuel their passion for fitness. I was beyond jealous. I’d dismiss the prospect that you could actually build muscle outside gym walls. I didn’t even consider the benefit it would have on my mental and cardiovascular health, too.
I’d always wanted to challenge myself with the likes of rock climbing, kayaking and road biking. Instead, I’d sideline outdoor pursuits for an hour of back and bis, continuing to beat my body up in the gym Monday to Friday. I was drained. And by the time the weekend came around, when I did have more spare time to work out outdoors, I was exhausted, resigning myself to a rest day slumped on the sofa.
Caught in the trappings of the gym, luckily, I realised the error of my workouts and knew I needed to break the cycle before I lost my drive and enjoyment for fitness altogether.
The trip that would change it all
It’s easier to start afresh outside the London bubble, so when an invite to fly to Aspen for five days of outdoor fitness adventures presented itself, I jumped at the opportunity.
I decided on the flight over I’d use the week to throw myself into every outdoor workout. The bench could wait. En route to my hotel, the driver of the taxi started small talk. “So, what do you do?” he asked. “I work at Men’s Health magazine in the UK,” I said. “No, I mean what do you do to keep active outdoors?” he replied. I was pretty shocked. That’s the first question asked of people in Aspen – how do they like to keep fit outside? I didn’t realise then, but that would come to sum up my time in Aspen perfectly.
It’s a place that lives and breathes physical wellbeing outdoors.
Activity 1: Hiking to clear your head
I started my first morning bright and early in Snowmass, a ski village just outside of Aspen, with a mile and half hike up a popular route, The Rim Trail. What immediately struck me was that hikers weren’t glued to their phones. This was a different morning commute to what I’m used to on the tube. It became clear Aspenites are surpassing their 10,000 steps a day. In fact, they’ll probably reach that number before breakfast. 90-year olds were striding passed me on the trail, I was eating their dirt – a humbling reminder of how my bro-training had sold me worryingly short.
I knew the benefits of morning walks, but as I climbed to 9,000ft, powering with my legs (a much tougher test than the leg press), lungs filling with fresh air, it became a lot clearer. My head was completely free of stress, and with every step I was getting more enjoyment and excitement from the test the hills gave my muscles. This is the feeling I should get from exercise, I thought. I made sure before I got on the plane back home that I would fit in another hike, which I did, heading up Aspen’s Smuggler Mountain for a three miler, which was equally challenging and just as fun.
At the top of the trail I had time to reflect. London might not be blessed with mountains to hike every morning, but what I could implement in my daily routine is taking the time to walk or run more outdoors. Even if it’s just 20 minutes at lunchtime, I could trade in my quick arm pump at the gym to clear my head, burn extra calories and return to my desk with renewed focus for the afternoon.
Activity 2: Cycling that scares you
I’d become comfortable in the weights room. I couldn’t remember the last time I walked into the gym and felt a mix of fear and excitement about a workout, or genuinely questioned whether I’d be able to complete it. I missed that buzz. That’s one reason why my progress and motivation stagnated. However,downhill biking in Snowmassforced me well and truly outside of my comfort zone.
Padded up, gripping the handlebars as tight as possible, I descended 3,000 vertical feet of purpose built trails, weaving my way around precarious corners and over steep jumps. The instructor warned me that falling off is almost a right of passage for first timers and, of course, no sooner was I on the bike, was I off it – tumbling down the side of the track having misread a corner.
Yes, I was a beaten and bruised getting back on the bike, but it was exhilarating and my adrenaline was pumping, unlike any form of exercise I’d thrown myself into before. It taught me a valuable lesson – aside from the fact I should stick to road biking – my training needed to push me further – I needed to get comfortable with the uncomfortable every session. That way, I’d keep improving and never get bored of repetitive routines that were currently killing my enthusiasm for keeping fit.
Activity 3: Rock climbing and learning from failure
I’d tried my hand at indoor climbing before, but nothing could prepare me for the challenge of real rock faces in the mountains. I soon learnt there was no easy path (literally) and no man-made holes to help me to the top of 20 metre high rock faces in Aspen’s Independence Pass.
Too often in the gym I’d opt for regressions on exercises to avoid the fear of failing on reps. Climbing in Aspen I was constantly pushing my boundaries, struggling to reach the next crevice (that’ll teach me for neglecting mobility) or crashing against the rock due to my lack of grip strength. But with each fall I was learning the strength and weaknesses of my body and what I was capable of. That was genuinely exciting.
I couldn’t let the incredible views of the Sawatch Range, which boasts eight of the 20 highest peaks in The Rockies, distract me from the task at hand. That’s what’s great about climbing, you have to be all in. In the gym, my intensity would drop, as I would become easily distracted by my phone or from chatting with mates in a rest period, which inevitably turned into five minutes without lifting a weight.
Climbing is as much about mental resilience as it is physical, as you battle to overcome the tricky angles of the rock when you can’t find a clear route up. I failed on both fronts, but eventually my determination and with pointers from the team atAspen Alpine Guides I made it to the top. This was really pushing my limitations.
Activity 4: A true test of core strength on water
Before getting on a board, Charlie MacArthur, my instructor fromAspen Kayak and SUP Academy, informed me that more people than ever before were taking to the water to try stand-up paddle boarding (SUP) and kayaking. Apparently, even London’s canals were populated with boards on evenings and weekends. I wouldn’t have known this though, having locked myself away in the gym.
Spending the afternoon on Aspen’s roaring Fork River, I could see why SUP and kayaking have become so popular for those looking to keep fit. Straight away I found out both activities provided a genuine challenge for my core. After only a couple of minutes on the board, Charlie had to redirect my efforts as I tried desperately to generate all the power from my upper body. However it’s the strength and stability needed across your whole core that keeps you moving.
The unrelenting twisting and pulling kept my obliques under constant tension. The years of crunches I had been bolting onto the end of my workouts in the gym appeared redundant. Aesthetically, six-pack abs might look good for Instagram, but I’ve now learnt the benefits of targeted core strength training for functional fitness in the long term.
White water rafting with the crew fromBlazing Adventureswas just as eye opening. Not only were the eight miles of navigating the rapids a healthy injection of adrenaline, and just the fitness-boosting testosterone fix I needed, but my shoulders and lats were on fire unlike any upper-body bro sesh I’d become all too familiar with. I had been so close-minded to think that you couldn’t build muscle outdoors (and have loads of fun while doing it).
Activity 5: Listening to your body through yoga
One aspect of training I knew I’d completely overlooked was my mobility and recovery. I fooled myself into thinking a few air squats before stepping under a loaded bar was adequate enough preparation for my muscles. No wonder my body ached all the time. It was taking me ages to recover from sessions and when it came to touching my toes, I fell embarrassingly short.
This total disregard for the importance of mobilisation, stretching and recovery was having a knock-on effect on my motivation too. I’d get angry that I couldn’t squat deeper or press a barbell overhead through full range of motion.
I couldn’t expect my body to perform at its best if all I was doing was breaking down my muscle fibres, though. By constantly hammering my central nervous system and not allowing enough time for recovery, I was inhibiting my potential muscle growth.
I’d been to a couple of studio yoga classes before and saw its merits, but the one hour outdoorHatha yoga class,11,000ft up Aspen Mountain, was unlike anything I’d experienced. Filling my lungs with fresh air, I could almost feel my body releasing endorphins as I went through familiar stretches such as child’s pose and downward dog in the most unfamiliar of locations. It was as if my muscles were thanking me for finally taking the time away from intense workouts to hit the breaks and stretch out.
Yoga and recovery work isn’t a quick fix; I need to adopt short-term breaks and deloads from training to recharge the batteries, sustain motivation and ultimately improve my performance.
We’re told in order to make fitness sustainable we should make it a part of our lifestyle. My approach to training before Aspen was the opposite of sustainable. If I had carried on overdoing it in the gym, not listening to what my muscles really needed, I would’ve crashed and burned. The saying that sometimes you need to take one step back to take two steps forward is definitely a mantra I’ll be adopting within my training after Aspen.
Finding a balance with your fitness is tough. There’s a time and a place for going balls to the wall in the gym, however, seeing Aspenites healthy and happy outdoors taught me that you also need to find space in your training for runs and cycling, as well as swimming, climbing and yoga to unwind. You’ll only find out what activity works for you by trying new challenges and breaking out of your comfort zone. That’s why I will no longer be confining myself to one type of training.
Aspen in the summer is a fitness lover’s paradise. From the moment you wake up to the time you go to bed, it is a hub of outdoor adventure and activity. Whether you’re a cyclist or yogi, there is something for everyone. Foodies will also not be disappointed, either. You’re spoilt for choice with a huge selection of incredible eateries. It’s hard to put Aspen into words. They’ve captured everything that is positive about health and fitness and their attitude towards being active outdoors is infectious. All I can say is that you need to experience it for yourself. Just a heads up, you won’t want to come home.
Stay at the Little Nell in Aspen
Located in the heart of the town, The Nell is Aspen’s only 5* hotel and the ultimate place to rest and recover. From fuelling up for a day of fitness activity at the hotel’s restaurant, Element 47, with a buffet breakfast, or taking some well-needed downtime around the pool or at the spa,The Little Nellwill give your holiday a little touch of luxury we all deserve from time to time. After all, you’re on holiday.
Stay at Capitol Peak Lodge in Snowmass
Ideally situated at the foot of Snowmass Village,Capitol Peak Lodgeis the perfect place to base yourself before setting off for a day of activity. Whether you want to take the cable car up to Elk Camp for Downhill Biking or instead choose to relax at the state-of-the-art Snowmass Club, from the lodge, you have easy access to it all.
Our top 3 healthy eats in Snowmass
Fuel Cafe– For lovers of lunchtime wraps and fresh, thirst-quenching smoothies.
Elk Camp– Set at the top of the trails, it’s the perfect stop-off to refuel after a morning on the bike. The pastrami sandwich puts Subway to shame.
Stew Pot– For a hearty meal after a day’s activity, head to the oldest restaurant in the village. The beef chilli in a spinach tortilla is something special.
Our top 3 healthy eats in Aspen
Bosq– Chef Barclay has his team of chefs travel around the world in Aspen’s off-season to get inspiration for fusing different cuisines together. Go for the tempura shiitake to start, followed by Alaskan halibut for mains. You won’t be disappointed.
Spring Café– All natural and organic, the superfood juices and breakfast menu is the perfect way to start the day either before or after your hike up the mountains.
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