Fitness

Physical resilience tips from backcountry survivor Laura Zerra

Physical resilience tips from backcountry survivor Laura Zerra

Anything “functional” sounds boring – we get it. But in fitness, functional is one of the most exciting adjectives there is. It’s a catch-all word to describe movements and exercises that prepare your body for real-life activities. The pandemic has forced people away from gyms and led to an increase in outdoor exercise. We quickly realized that our workouts hadn’t exactly prepared us for wild environments. That extra muscle we had built up in the gym only weighed us down on runs and hikes. We rolled injured ankles and knees because we had only trained on perfect gym surfaces and lacked the right combination of mobility and stability. The 72 degree indoor environment did not prepare us for the temperature variations, the elements and the general unpredictability of the outdoors. It’s time to make your fitness truly functional again by lifting heavy and bulky objects, climbing, crawling and jumping more, realigning your cardio and engaging in other full-body sweat shenanigans. No one knows and appreciates this more than Laura Zerra. Master its lessons of courage and you’ll have fun being in the best shape of your life.

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Laura Zerra understands how you normally train: you know the exact number of reps and sets you will do. “People aren’t used to not having control these days. Everything is according to plans and schedules,” says Zerra, a 36-year-old survivor who spends months alone in the backcountry. “But then you go out into nature. . . . The steps on the mountain aren’t as perfectly spaced as the StairMaster, and it’s not the ideal temperature.

Although you may not be planning a backcountry expedition, you still want to develop dynamic courage, the ability to overcome any unfamiliar situation. You know courage if you’ve done an extra rep or two of push-ups or squats. But you need more than that to thrive in triple overtime during pickup hoops or to stay on course after taking a wrong turn on your morning vacation run. This is why Zerra trains under random circumstances, often training on an empty stomach or sleeping only a few hours. “If you don’t know how your body is going to react in these situations,” she says, “you don’t want to find out for the first time when you’re on top of a mountain.”

Laura Zerra

Ben Mounsey Wood

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DYNAMIC-GRIT GUT CONTROL

The burpee is one of the most lung-destructive fitness exercises. Here you will use it to develop your mental strength. Your goal: do burpees (lower your torso to the ground, stand, then jump) for 5 minutes non-stop. The Kicker: You can’t watch a stopwatch. (Ask a friend to track your time, but don’t give yourself any verbal or nonverbal cues on how much time is left.) Keep doing reps until you think 5 minutes is up. Expect to “finish” your first few times early, more because of negative self-talk than lack of ability. Take the test once every two weeks.

Get an advantage

The test is designed to mess with your mind: you think the burpee is something you only do for a short burst, except you’re doing it for endurance here. Keep a number (and a fairly large number, like 150 – yes, really) in mind as you do this. Don’t stop until you’ve completed that many reps.

laura zerra illustration

Ben Mounsey Wood

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