Functional Fitness: How Olympic Weightlifting Improves Camping Experience

It has been just over a year since I became both fascinated with and an avid participant in Olympic Weightlifting. I recently returned from a 5-day semi-primitive camping trip and had to share how much of a difference I could feel doing normal camping activities thanks to my strength and mobility improvements from Snatches and Cleans.

Washing Dishes

The first time I noticed myself doing something that mimicked a position from weightlifting was when I went to wash dishes in the river. For those of you immediately wondering, it was very clean stream and I used biodegradable camping soap to keep it that way. Without thinking about it I went down into a squat, but what was surprising is how low I went. I went as deep as my anatomy would allow, which I’ve done before, but not never without doing a bunch of warmup work to loosen me up! Because I had been up and moving all day every day for several days in a row, I didn’t need to loosen up. The reason we need to warmup before a workout is because we have NOT been up and moving all day. On this occasion though, not only did I have full range of motion with no tissue restrictions, but it was completely comfortable and easy to squat again and again at the river’s edge with each dish I washed. This is just one of many examples how training carries over into real life is small yet significant ways.

Guy Performing Snatch Olympic Lift
Example of full-depth squat required to perform the Snatch lift

Gathering Firewood

Temperatures got down into the low 20’s (F°) while my wife and I were camping, so it was imperative that we build and maintain a proper campfire to keep us warm. Small branches make for good kindling and are imperative in taking a fire from first flame to big bonfire, but they burn quick so they don’t provide lasting heat. Logs are needed to provide a continuous burn that can last for hours. I was without an axe or hatchet, so finding pre-cut and properly sized firewood was not exactly in the cards. I had to scavenge for larger pieces of wood, most of which were the trunks of tall oaks and pines that had fallen and split into a few pieces, but none of which were a convenient size. Some of the nice dry pieces around the campground were light enough that I could carry them under each arm, but there weren’t enough to keep our fire going as much as we needed it.

I had to grab some larger pieces, ones that were not easily carry-able in the front rack position. I had to get them on my back or overhead to be able to carry them from the forest to the campfire. To do this, I had to perform movements like the Steinborn Squat, the Clean and Jerk, a Snatch Push Press and a Back Squat. Walking with the trees in my hands overhead or resting on my my back kept the bark from scraping my shoulders and face. I only needed about 4 long logs to last the several days we needed, so it wasn’t a ton of work, but it definitely got my heart rate up dragging the lumber from the forest, sometimes propping it up on another tree so I could snap it into a shorter length, then working it up onto my back and then pushing it up overhead so I could balance it more easily with my hands since they’re not exactly smooth symmetrical barbells. They had to have weighed between 100lbs and 150lbs, so I was quite pleased to have the capacity to haul so much wood in single load.

Example of how weight training simulates carrying a log over-head

Tent Living

Being over 6ft tall means I have to spend all of my time in a tent either on all fours, or bent over. That can be a lot of time bent over, which means a lot of work on the lower back. I have been diagnosed with multiple disc herniations and degenerative disc disease, both from my inexperienced lifting days, so I am particularly vulnerable to lower back pain. I could feel my back getting unhappy whilst cleaning, setting up and changing day-to-day in the tent, but I could also tell that my back is so much stronger and healthier than it was just a few years ago. This is thanks to consistent training of proper hinge and squat mechanics that help develop the muscles around the lumbar spine. The stronger the muscles around these vulnerable vertebrae are, the less stress from gravity, movement and load goes into the disc because the musculature is able to take the brunt of the work.

Female skeleton bending over
Image of human skeleton in bent over position

There are an endless amount of real-life applications that any squat, hinge, push, or pull training program can benefit, but the most important thing to understand is that these are basic human movements. Every day we move. Most never move enough, but all movement can be summed up into one of the basic human movement patterns. When we train these movements, we train to improve our lives. We train to live better, feel better, play better, and perform better. We train to hurt less, heal faster, and perhaps help others do the same as we go. Do what you can today, so you can do what you can’t tomorrow.

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