Self-care can even be found in the wilderness
Taking good care of your body and mind isn’t just something to practice in everyday life. We can bring self-care into the wilderness, too. So what does self-care look like in outdoor adventures? Here are four concepts to incorporate into your journey as an outdoor enthusiast.
Titration: Growth without Overwhelm
Titration is a key concept in working with the nervous system. Originally a term from chemistry, it means adding difficulty slowly, in small, and manageable doses. Picture adding a solution one drop at a time in a chemistry lab: that’s what we’re doing with titration.
Choosing a workout or outdoor trip that leads to growth instead of overwhelm is key to fun and safe experiences. Like an explosive chemical reaction, doing too much too fast can flood our nervous systems. Flooding causes our brain to literally change how it functions: the rational part of our brains shut down while our fear and survival zones kick into high gear. This blocks our ability to be fully present and make decisions from a centered place.
Instead, start at a low level of difficulty and add challenges one step at a time. In between challenges, pause and notice how the challenge felt for you, letting your body rest and return to a feeling of safety. After the time to rest and process, ask yourself if it makes sense to try something slightly tougher, stay at the same level, or even try something easier.
The benefits of taking baby steps go beyond your nervous system. Gradual growth also helps your body adapt by safely building strength in your joints, muscles, and soft tissue. This means less time being injured, and more time enjoying nature and doing what you love.
Titration is also a powerful defense against the “shoulds” that sneak into our inner thoughts. It’s easy to get caught up in the ‘comparison trap' - where others are or where you used to be. Making these comparisons sometimes leaves us feeling like we’re falling short or like we need to push ourselves harder, even when it’s not good for us.
Feeling stressed about whether we measure up is a normal part of our social programming. White supremacy, homophobia, sexism, and all the other -isms make this land even harder on folks with marginalized identities. Bigotry and unfair double standards add pressure to work even harder, piling on anxiety around whether we are doing enough.
There’s no shame in feeling like you “should” be doing more — it’s part of our social nervous system’s scan for safety and very normal! But instead of measuring whether you fell short of perfect, try measuring up from zero. This means celebrating what you did accomplish, instead of what you didn’t. Often you’ll find it adds up to a lot!
Periodization: Training for the Cycles of Life
The natural world is full of cycles: the changing of the seasons, the phases of the moon, and many more. During these cycles, each phase looks a bit different: some phases are for rest and rejuvenation, while other phases are more energetic and full of life. For example, wildflowers rest in the soil before bursting with life in the spring.
We can learn a lot by applying these natural rhythms in training and life. In training theory, this is called periodization. Periodization is a technique that supports long-term performance improvements and adaptation by varying exercise intensity, frequency, and specificity. Whew, that’s a lot of jargon. Let’s break down what that actually means.
Simply put, mix it up! Varying exercise intensity and frequency means: start easy, build up, rest, then start again. This cycle applies both within a workout and across workouts and adventures. During a workout, it’s important to warm up before you build up to higher intensity movements. Likewise, to get stronger, you build up to more frequent and more difficult training slowly, over the course of weeks or months.
Varying specificity means changing the focus of your exercise based on the season or need. For example, winter sports like skiing have a lot of shifting and sliding movements. In contrast, warm weather activities like backpacking involve much more impact. Shifting and sliding movements need different training than high impact movements. Adjusting your training based on the season will help you thrive.
And, as in nature, not every season is a season of high activity and growth. Some seasons are more restful or just have different priorities. The great thing about these fallow periods is that they give our bodies and minds a chance to recover, repair, and be nourished. After winter comes spring, and often a rest season is followed by a period of big growth. This happens on a micro level too — our bodies build muscle after our workouts are complete, when the muscles are resting & fueled. Normalizing and seeing the benefits in the restful seasons can help us avoid overtraining and burnout and help us care for ourselves even when we’re having a less-than-perfect season.
Multi-Directional Movement: Building Resilient Bodies
Strength training to support outdoor adventure helps build the resilience we need for awesome trips and fun days outside. By reinforcing healthy, functional movement patterns, we can get stronger and stay injury-free.
Here’s what we know - When we’re moving through the outdoors, we’re most often moving in the forward plane of motion. Side-to-side and diagonal directions are usually not strengthened through something like hiking or skiing alone. But building and maintaining strength in all directions is vital for injury resilience and balance!
That’s where strength training comes in. A few examples of exercises that incorporate multi-directional movement are side lunges, curtsy lunges, and stagger squats.
Once you’ve established a foundation of strength, you can add an additional challenge in two ways.
- Try slowing down these exercises. Slow, controlled movements can strengthen both the smaller stabilizer muscles as well as bigger muscle groups like quads, glutes, and hamstrings.
- Try adding a dynamic element to these movements, like jumps, to build stabilization.
Building strength and resiliency through functional movement patterns and nervous system training is what Mind & Mountain is all about. You can prepare your body (and mind) for your outdoor adventures with our Summer Strong and Ski Babes programs, which are designed specifically for outdoor recreationists and enthusiasts. You'll build the strong muscles AND the resilient (and self-compassionate) mindset you need to have an incredible winter filled with mountaintop vistas, visiting favorite spots and exploring new gems. Try this Busy Day Workout (only 24-minutes!) to get a taste of how Mind & Mountain’s strength training programs can benefit your time outdoors.
Joy in the Process
Spending time in nature is a joyful expression of being alive! Practice playfulness in the outdoors, like admiring little details, doing airplane arms on a fun downhill section, skipping around, or just smiling while you take in the views.
Another way to enjoy your time outdoors is practicing positive self-talk. Notice when your internal voice starts to sound negative or limiting. Remember, it’s normal for these feelings to come up! And when they do, consider whether the things going through your mind are accurate and helpful. Then, try to find a mantra that is both true and helpful.
For example, on a group hike maybe you find yourself worrying that you’re moving at a slower pace than others and being hard on yourself for it. A new perspective to try could be, simply: “moving is winning.” You don’t need to be moving very quickly to cover a lot of ground. Focus on moving at a pace that works for your body and feels sustainable, and you’ll find you still make a lot of progress.
It takes time to rewire the well-worn paths in our brains, and it’s ok if you feel out of your comfort-zone when you start to play with these ideas. It’s truly a practice! With time, playfulness, joy, and self-love in our outdoor adventures will become more and more natural.
Getting Started with Mind & Body Training
With so much information about strength training out there, it can be hard to know what’s a true fit. At Mind & Mountain, we created online training programs with outdoor recreation in mind to take away the guesswork and information overload. We use Mindful Interval Training to practice all of the above strategies — titration, periodization, multi-directional movement, and playfulness — to build functional strength for outdoor rec from your living room in a way that doesn’t get in the way of your outdoor time.
Ski Babes — our online training program for winter sports enthusiasts — was created to help you train for winter with a structured-but-flexible program, supportive community, anti-diet culture nutrition, and nervous system-aligned training.
Get ready for a strong winter season by joining us for Ski Babes. We start training Monday, October 10. Learn more about Ski Babes here.