The Outside Blog

Adventure : Mar 2012

Eastern Rising

In the aftermath of the massive earthquake that hit Japan in 2011, tourism dropped as much as 60 percent. Now, one year later, Japan is safe—as long as you’re more than 15 miles from the Fukushima power plant—and travelers are returning. To put the danger in perspective, the average radiation dose in Tokyo is less than that of New York City, Berlin, Singapore, Hong Kong, or Seoul. And average hotel rates in Tokyo and other areas are 10 percent lower than pre-tsunami prices. From skiing and snowboarding at world-class resorts like Niseko in the subarctic north; to the granite slabs, cracks, and faces of Mount Ogawa in centrally located Nagano; to surfing the Boso Peninsula in the subtropical south, the adventure options are mind-blowing. No matter where you are in Japan, you’re never more than 60 miles from the ocean. Farther inland, there are dozens of volcanic hot springs scattered throughout the country for a mind-clearing soak. The bullet train will take you from Tokyo to the mountain adventure hub of Minikami in 72 minutes. At the base of Mount Tanigawa, at the headwaters of the Tone River, you’ll find hiking, climbing, whitewater rafting, and canoeing. Canyons will customize any iteration of the above activities. Stay at nearby Bettei Senjyuan, a stunning contemporary ryoken with natural hot-spring baths at the foot of the mountain and a beautiful meditation garden (doubles from $460).

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Fit to Last

STRENGTH TRAINING—or, as it's now commonly called, resistance training—is on a tear. More research papers were published on the science of resistance training in the decade after 1987 than in all the years prior. Ever since the mushrooming interest in aerobic conditioning in the 1970s, studies have shown that, among other things, the upper bodies of elite runners who did not lift weights atrophied at the same pace as those of nonathletes, that weight lifting helped burn fat by raising resting metabolic rate, and that it offset the effects of aging by stimulating the production of human growth hormone. Studies on "core strength" make up the latest chapter in the story.

"The core is the seat of all power," says Al Vermeil, strength and conditioning consultant for the Chicago Bulls. "Studies have shown that when you sit down to do a lift at a machine, you remove all the stabilizers, the neglected smaller muscles that don't move as much weight but keep you supported, connect your upper and lower body, and keep your joints in position. These are the hips, back, gluteus maximus, and lower abdominal muscles."

While strength is the theme during month two of The Shape of Your Life, the plan incorporates basic muscle-building drills from the first month: push-ups, sit-ups, pull-ups, lunges, bent-over lifts, and others. We've tried to streamline your workload in a few of them. Twisting the sit-up at the top adds a rotational component to the exercise. Doing a wide-grip pull-up transfers the work from your biceps (they look nice, but big bi's are only bit players in most sports) to your back. "Simplicity of tools, but complexity of use," says Vermeil. "You can do everything you need with a medicine ball, dumbbells, a Swiss ball, and your own body weight. I used to train guys entirely with things we found in the woods."

Ultimately, the variety of resistance training that you'll encounter here will do more than make you balanced and powerful. It will introduce strength work as a part of holistic conditioning, encouraging you to approach the weight stack not as a way to get buff—which is both impractical and unsustainable—but as a way to make strength a permanent, functional part of your life.

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