Community and the outdoors

The first two years of the transformation of my fitness are characterised by two aspects - community and the outdoors. Running with Team ASHA in gorgeous trails was my introduction to running. Coming from the confines and crowds of Madras, the parks and trails were alien and helped me reconnect with the outdoors.

A large group of people and the outdoors have been a feature of my childhood as well. Played with a dozen friends in my colony, or in school, all outdoors.

The joy of a large group, community, and being outside the confines of a room were all factors that went into designing The Quad experience. It's not for everyone but for those of us who enjoy getting out, who will take the pebble along with the smooth path, the grime and grind. For those with similar experiences from when they were younger, and/or those who want to create such experiences today.

A chat with Coach Rip

Right before Raj and I moved, we worked with Coach Mark Rippetoe, on his legendary certification, Starting Strength. One of the questions I posed him was about outdoor training - I mentioned the weather and the sweat and the humidity. He heard me out and said, "You'll get used to it." and moved on. It was not a dismissal but a simple statement of fact.

This has stayed with me since then.

Building resilience

It is easy to get used to comfort. It is hard to switch out of things, and even be in temporary discomfort. Being without an A/C in peak Madras summer, for example, is enough to create nightmares. But then, this was the norm for (at least) the first 15 years of my life. The norm for a significant portion of the population today.

What happens is once you get used to it, gets hard to go back. It softens you. It does. As the Stoics recommend, it is useful to practice removing these comforts periodically, just to keep your calluses intact.

So, whenever the opportunity allows it, I do practice it. None of these is recommendations or suggestions. Just anecdotes.

  • On a hike that my wife and I were on, she was having trouble with her shoes. I love being barefoot and exploring activities that I can do barefoot but even I need signs from the universe. And this was one. Took my shoes off and gave it to her, and I did the 10k hike barefoot. No thorns or brambles but stones and rocky trails. It remains one of my favourite hikes to date.
  • One habit I've caught myself with is sipping on water during my training sessions. From utilising it to waste time, and to catch my breath, I realised I did not actually need water. After ensuring that I focused on hydration during the entire week, I started testing not drinking water during my training sessions. Except on horrendously muggy days, or long-duration activities, I don't sip on water in the midst of my sessions anymore. Kettlebell work, for example, which is always a compact 30-45 minutes, I have not needed water in a few years.
  • Training without an A/C is standard practice for me. My previous home gym didn't have an A/C and that made it a simple decision. Keeping my hands dry, and increasing the safety protocols I followed became second nature and have improved how I train.

These are 3 simple places where I've worked on removing my old habits and patterns and challenging the ways of doing something. There is no point to them except the act of doing. The fact that it checks off quite a few boxes - resilience, removing crutches, practising for situations etc is a welcome bonus.

Not a flex

Training outdoors vs indoors is not a flex. A/C or not is not a flex. You do what suits you. You do what is comfortable, and convenient, and reduce the hurdles in you getting your activity.

Practical tips

If you are used to training indoors:

  • It can take a bit of time to get used to training outdoors. Especially in the summer but aspects like humidity and sun play a huge role as well.
  • Definitely use your air conditioner when things heat up more.
  • Do ensure you work out without the A/C as well periodically. If the A/C is mandatory, then that's a crutch and it is not mandatory. Just a "nice to have."

If you are new to training:

  • You will get used to outdoor work in a short period of time.

You've been indoors a bit too much, coz of the nature of your work and society. So, it will feel a bit difficult, to begin with.

Safety is the primary factor:

  • Regardless of where you are training, focus on safety.
  • If you are using equipment that could slip, ensure you wipe the sweat off your palms and chalk up.
  • Ensure that your floor is not slippery but allows an anti-skid grip.
  • Stay hydrated, and this is not only during the activity but starts well before and continues well after the activity is done.
  • Unless impossible, stay out of direct sunlight for long durations. If you are playing a sport, for example, this is impossible. But otherwise, don't overdo the sun exposure. Ease into it.
  • Do not lift weights looking into the sun. Just don't!
  • Don’t be stupid.

Potential activities include:

  • Walking, running and cycling are what come to mind first, for most of us. There is a HUGE difference between running on a treadmill versus running in the outdoors, even if it is on the road in a city. My personal belief is that the joy of running has a lot to do with the freedom of running outdoors. Barring safety and logistics, do these outdoors.
  • Sports. With the turf fields and badminton courts that are burgeoning around the cities, people are reconnecting to what was once common. Playing outdoors.

Which is better?

The one you can do.

It is not about better.

If you are living away from the city and in the midst of nature, it is a no-brainer. You are going to be outdoors.

If you are in the concrete jungle, then going outdoors is a welcome break from the confines of your daily life. This is what I believe in, and that’s a huge factor in why our gyms are outdoors and we steadfastly refuse to put our community inside an enclosed space. We have scant opportunities to go outside, and The Quad Experience is designed to keep you outdoors, in large groups, but with safety in mind.

But remember, you do what is sustainable and long-term for you.