Cameron Shook

The Iron Never Lies

Cameron Shook
The Iron Never Lies

A new year means New Year resolutions, and anytime you look at yourself to figure out what you can improve upon is a good thing. You might tell yourself that 2018 is going to be the year that you get everything together. The year that you’re going to kick that bad habit and fill it with good ones like going to the gym to get in shape and healthy so you can adventure faster, further, and harder. For anyone familiar with this trend that takes place every January, there is a surge for maybe the first 3 or 4 weeks and then you begin to see the crowds at the gyms petering out and when the short month of February is drawing to an end nearly all of the original plans are left in the dust. Here are some ideas to help you make it to at least the 2nd week of March.


Having a goal makes it much easier to stay motivated, especially if there is a chance of feeling like death at the end of whatever adventure you’re planning. Be realistic in your goals, but set them lofty enough that you will be afraid to attempt them without preparation. I’m taking another week long trip to Grand Teton National Park in May, and to motivate myself into shape I’m planning on an 18 mile day hike into the high country. If I don’t get into shape, I know I’ll only make it 5 or 6 miles before having to turn around and admit defeat. There are plenty of big goals nearby: whether it’s paddling the Southeast Coast Saltwater Paddling Trail, or running in one of those races where you crawl through mud and catch diseases, you can find something beyond your current physical limit.


Consistency is the key to establishing a good habit, and I’ve found nothing helps consistency as other people to keep you honest. If you’re fortunate enough to have a friend who’s schedule and goals line up with yours, that’s definitely the best option! The ultimate version of this is to find a personal trainer like Rob Polenik who owns and operates Brutal Iron off Cherry Road. Not only can he give you a training regimen, a full meal plan, and ways to better improve your performance he’ll also be brutally honest and not let you get away with a cheat day or meal. If a personal trainer is out of your reach, just find your one friend on Facebook who likes writing scathing Youtube comments and send him daily workout selfies. He’ll mock you for both selfies sent and not sent, but that’s the price you pay to keep you wanting to workout.


If you’ve never been inside of a gym before, there are more questions than I could possibly hope to answer in this article. All of the following advice is simply what I’ve found to be true from experience; but I have a weakness for sour gummy worms and skipping workouts to watch Netflix so take my advice with a grain of salt. First, the important thing is not injuring yourself, because starting out the thing that can derail your good habits quicker than anything is to be out of action for 6 weeks due to damage. High impact activities like running or almost any Crossfit workout put a lot of stress on joints and muscles that, if not in shape, can easily cause long term harm.Walking, swimming, even yoga are all good methods of cutting weight and building muscle with low risk of injury.


I lost 40lbs in 2016, dropping from an all time high of 250lbs to 210lbs currently; in 2018, I’m hoping to get back below 200lbs for the first time since being married. My goal isn’t to have Sylvester Stallone’s biceps or Ryan Gosling’s abs (much to the chagrin of my wife), but just a solid all around capability to handle anything from canoeing to backpacking and not feel like death at the end of it. Over the past year, I trimmed down my routine to several basic exercises that I do at home; I can never seem to make it to the gym, but swinging a kettlebell while watching TV is pretty convenient. For all of these exercises, I recommend looking them up on Youtube for instructions on how to do them properly.


Lower Body:

For hiking and backpacking, you need not only the endurance to churn out mile after mile but also the strength to carry heavy loads up and down mountain sides. Calfs, quads, and glutes all need to be built up in addition to your cardiovascular system.


Squats, with or without weight, are one of the best exercises to help you power through those uphill climbs. Start without any weight to get your form correct and then add in an olympic bar and more weight as you get stronger. Mix in Hindu Squats, which go deeper and work the knees and quads more to complete the effect of not being able to walk the next day.


Weighted lunges are what I hate more than anything else, but when having to step down awkward slopes and trails it’s the exercise that does more to prepare you than any other exercise I’ve found. If you’re feeling particularly sadistic, mix in some Bulgarian Split Lunges (where the back foot is rested on a stool) to really simulate stepping down rocky terrain.



Your core muscles (abs, obliques, etc) are the stabiliser muscles for your entire body, and whether it’s balancing a pack on your back or pulling through a forward stroke while paddling, you’ll engage these muscles more than you think.


Russian Twists are deceptively simple but are one of the quickest ways to quickly break down your core. It starts off as a simple V-Sit but then holding weights you twist from side to side moving the weight from one side of your hips to the other. If you’re wanting to create more power in your paddling stroke, this is the #1 exercise.


While Glute Bridges look goofy, they do an excellent job of strengthening the lower back muscles. Many back issues can be attributed to lower back weakness, and if you get sore after kayaking for 30 minutes this exercise not only gives you additional strength in your paddle strokes but also alleviates pain and soreness.



Many people focus on this group for the infamous “beach muscle” look of bulging biceps. I’m more utilitarian in only building up the useful strength.


Pullups (palms facing away) are something I’ve had in my routine since I began rock climbing as a child, and is one of the best all around exercises you can do. If you can’t do a single pullup to start, don’t worry; we’ve all been there. Start with simply hanging and raising yourself up as much as you can and holding it; over time, you’ll build up the muscle needed to start doing full pull ups.. I have a Metolious Wood Grip training board mounted above a door in my house, and once you work past full grip pullups you can begin working in wider hand placements, shallower grips, and even fewer fingers.


While not something you can do indoors, I find splitting wood is one of the most satisfying workouts at building my back and shoulders. Not only do you get the workout of swinging down the splitting maul, but picking up and stacking all of the logs can be almost as tiring. If you don’t have wood to split, I know some people who have bought long-handled sledgehammers and spend their time beating on an old tire.


Pushups are preferred to the classic benchpress for me, just because you not only get a great arm workout but you’re also engaging your core at the same time. Further variations like diamond pushups, elevated pushups, and reptile pushups give me plenty of strength without adding a lot of bulk.


After reading my list of favorite exercises, you may be overcome with that familiar sense of depression because working out is so boring or so hard. Maybe you’re thinking that you don’t see the point in spending a ton of time inside training for when you go outside to have fun; I can’t really blame you there. Go outside, throw on a pack, and just walk or kayak or climb or bike to your hearts content. Just resolve that this year you’re going to spend as much time adventuring and be healthy doing it.


Amish in the sense that, at one point, my family helped others raise barns.
Now I build websites to help others build their businesses.