By: Andrew Vonehrenkrook
FARM INSPIRED TRAINING
Before I moved to the farm, I did not live what most consider the typical western sedentary suburban life. I’ve always been active: sports as a kid, NCAA soccer in college and functional fitness in the military. Before the farm I lived in a duplex exactly 2 miles from work and I thoroughly enjoyed mountain biking the gravel back road to the office. It was basically a really big ‘V’ - the first half was super-fast and the second half made you puff the whole way up. The point is, I’ve always enjoyed exercising and I believe that joy is a vital component of fitness.
If you think of exercise as a chore you’re missing the point. God made our bodies to do things and be in motion. So when I moved to the farm and saw my opportunities for ‘exercise’ dwindling under the ever increasing load of commuting, kids, and farm tasks I got a little concerned. I hadn’t realized how much I had come to rely on ‘workout time’ to center myself mentally and get that endorphin buzz. It wasn’t on purpose or for lack of trying, but ‘workouts’ kind of fell off the map. The absence was noticeable. It wasn’t that I begrudged the farm chores. I enjoyed them immensely. It’s just there are only so many hours in the day and on a farm, the farmer comes last.
Four months after moving out to the sticks (this is my first gravel driveway) I noticed that I was still fitting into my pants. Perhaps my fears of becoming a fat farmer were unfounded. A couple of months later, co-workers started to comment on my physique. They were right. I was getting stronger. Not the take-your-shirt-off-and-pose-for-a-magazine-cover strong. More like the feeling you get when you look at a still picture of a wolf or lion or bear. You don’t have to see them running to know that they are powerful. My body was becoming what it was made to be.
That being said, for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. I lost some definition and speed. Most of the exercising I did before farming could best be classified as high-intensity/moderate-duration, like kickboxing for an hour or running 5 miles. Farming takes a different tack. It’s long-duration with bursts of extreme-intensity. Like running a chainsaw for eight hours, punctuated by lifting and moving 200lb logs by hand. In the gym, no matter what the exercise, no matter how hard it is, mentally you can push through it because you know it is going to end. On the farm, work never ends. You are confronted by an endless stream of tasks, which not only demand your physical effort and attention but must be mentally sorted and juggled against each other.
It is after managing this wave of tasks for a couple of years that I noticed some crossovers to my previous workout regimens. And it is these crossovers that I’m going to share with you. What follows is an explanation and demonstration of a farm task and then its gym/home equivalent. These equivalents were designed so that you didn’t have to go out and purchase any new equipment. You will have to use a few props, but I’m almost certain you’ve got them lying around your house.
I’m a huge fan of plyometrics - explosive muscle strength from an extended muscle position. I’m also a huge fan of natural bodybuilding - exercising with just your body weight. Farming allows me to do both, at the same time for an extended duration with bursts of extreme intensity. That’s the recipe for physical fitness.
1. FEED LIFT
Bag made of heavy cloth, nylon or tarp material (dog food bag or pillowcase works great)
Small/granular substance in bulk (sand, dogfood, rice and corn are all good options)
INSTRUCTIONS Fill the bag with something biodegradable like rice or dog food, but not all the way to the top. Leave enough space to tie the bag shut with heavy string, rope or cordage. Tie the bag shut. Squat down, grab the bag and lift it up off the surface it was on. Take ten steps. Put the bag down and stand back up. Pick the bag back up and take another 10 steps. This works really well if you have multiple bags and a hallway or porch or driveway that you can shuttle the bags from one end to the other.
Building sandbag dyke to protect home from flood
Carrying a person to safety
Taking out the trash
Walking around with a kid in each arm
2. FEED SCOOP
Sacks from previous exercise x 2 (one full and one empty - you can use a bucket as the empty sack if you wish)
Scoop (cup, tin can, cut up milk carton)
INSTRUCTIONS: Pour the full sack into the empty sack without spilling anything and with no aids (funnel, extra helpers/hands, etc). Using the scoop, move the biodegradable material back into the original bag as fast as you can without spilling. Repeat this process 3 to 5 times.
Fine motor skills
Upper back and grip strength
Tactical engagements (fighting, shooting)
Putting toys away/cleaning up
For an added challenge combine exercises 1 and 2.
3. ELECTRIC FENCE
Chair/pole x 2
INSTRUCTIONS Suspend a string or rope at waist height between two chairs. Step over without breaking the string or pulling the chairs over. Repeat 20 times. [NOTE: You can either bring the first knee up toward your chest or swing the leg behind you while keeping it straight. The second leg generally follows in the manner of the first leg. Try both options to keep it interesting and your mind engaged.]
Getting into and out of a car, truck or SUV
Getting of a ladder onto a roof
Getting onto a ladder from a roof
Walking up stairs
4. BUCKET BRIGADE:
5 gallon bucket x 2 (or use kettlebells, dumbbells, or sacks from the first exercise filled with sufficient weight)
INSTRUCTIONS Fill both buckets with water. Grab one bucket handle with each hand and stand up straight. Start walking and count your steps or keep track of distance. Carry the buckets until you can’t carry them anymore. Put them down and record the number of steps or distance travelled. The next day, do it again and try to go further. Do not cap the buckets. Do not spill any water.
Carrying groceries into the house or out to the car
Carrying your suitcase while travelling
Using a wheelbarrow
Getting up out of a plush chair or couch
For an added challenge combine exercises 3 and 4.
CAUTION: Remember to use your legs for the major lifting and to keep the weight close to your body. Do not twist or turn during lifting or putting down. Extending your arms fully in front of you reduces your ability to lift by approximately 80%. Even extending your arms a little can manifest in a 20% reduction in lifting capacity.
There are a lot of great exercises that really have no urban equivalent - chainsawing; post-hole digging; changing tractor tires; chasing escaped animals; chopping wood, and many more. But you know what the best thing about small scale farming is? You fail all the time. Say you are unloading feed bags. There are ten in the shed and there are ten more waiting for you in the truck. You are smoked and long ago jettisoned your knit cap, gloves and coat which you needed when you first came outside. Number eleven just happens to be the one that snagged a nail when you were loading them and spills its contents all over the ground. It is in this moment that character is forged. That instant when you realize that your day just got longer, your expectations no longer valid.
Though a righteous man falls seven times, he will get up, but the wicked stumble into ruin. -Proverbs 24:16
That is the great thing about small scale farming - failure happens all the time. Animals escape, crops wither, varmints multiply, trees fall, batteries die, wells go dry. There is no end to the barrage of failing systems. It is a powerful reminder of the fallen nature of our existence.
The ground is cursed because of you. You will eat from it by means of painful labor all the days of your life. It will produce thorns and thistles for you, and you will eat the plants of the field. You will eat bread by the sweat of your brow until you return to the ground, since you were taken from it. For you are dust, and you will return to dust.
This is our curse. This is the consequence of sin. Yet in the western world particularly, we seek to do everything we can to gloss over or ignore it. At least in the gym, most people embrace the part about sweat, but even there our comfort comes first. We want enough space, the right temperature, an even surface with good traction, etc. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not trying to encourage you to make your exercising unsafe, just to make it more dynamic and to build in psychological hurdles to compliment the physical ones.
Failure creates the tough mind which is necessary not only for fitness, but life. I learned long ago that the body does whatever the mind tells it to do - until it breaks, and that breaking point is a LOT further away than you might think. I have observed that when the body breaks during physical exertion it’s usually because the mind wasn’t fully engaged. Failure also makes me rely more on the providence of God. I can’t make plants grow, animals heal, or rain come. The closer I get to the land the more I realize how much I’m at His mercy. And that’s what I ask for - mercy, coupled with an unending song of thanksgiving. Failure is how we learn. Failure is how we grow. Failure is how I farm.
BUILD YOUR BODY ON THE FARM
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