Welcome to the podcast. I'm your host Robert Massey. Thank you so much for being here today! This is a super special episode as we've hit the half-way mark of 100 with this episode. That's right, this is episode 50 of the Travel and Adventure Photography School podcast. I am super stoked to have reached this milestone. Starting a podcast like this had been on my backburner for a while, but I kept putting it off. Until around this time last year, when I started writing and experimenting with how the first episode was going to go, and while a lot has changed since the launch of that first episode last January, one thing has stayed the same. This is all about making your travel and adventure photography game better. Thank you so much for being here on this journey with me.
With that in mind and with it being the new year, I thought I'd talk about something on many people's minds when the new year begins. Physical wellness. But, this isn't going to be about how lifting weights can change your life or how you need less sugar or anything (although you probably should lift more heavy things and eat less sugar, all of us probably should). I want to talk about a few things that I always do or have with me to stay fit and active and able to shoot all day long.
First off, a little bit about my own background with this stuff.
In the fall of 2018, I went on my annual hut trip with my brother in law and some friends. We were headed into bow hut in Banff National Park. Honestly, it's a pretty straightforward trip into the hut; about 8 km, a few hundred meters of elevation gain, and a bit of route finding through a boulder field. But really, pretty easy. Let's just say things did not go well on this trip, and it was a turning point for me. I was exhausted just a few km into the hike, and about 1 km from the hut, I dislocated my knee. I've had knee problems most of my life, so I knew what to do, but it was still excruciating.
I put my knee back into place, and instead of trying to hike back out, we made our way up to the hut where I could ice my knee and hope it would be better the next day for the trip back out. Let's just say I made it, but the hike out was not a fun one. Thanks so much to my friend Sarah for taking my bag and giving me her lighter one! That made a huge difference. Honestly, this was probably the worst hut trip I've ever been on. I was in pain, I was tired, and my whole body hurt. When we got back to the truck, I crashed hard and slept most of the way home. After that, it was weeks of recovery before I felt right again. This was when I decided enough was enough. I hadn't focused on my fitness at all since finishing school in 2015, and it was really showing. But this trip made me realize just how bad things had gotten. I was decrepit, in my brother in laws words when we were talking about this trip recently. And I really was. So, I got serious about getting better. And it has made a world of difference for me. I started going to the gym six days a week, worked on a specific fitness plan and dietary plan and changed everything around. But it was this trip that made me realize I needed to do that. I saw only two options in front of me. Give up adventuring and travel and seeing marvellous places with my camera or get healthy and get to see more amazing things. I chose health.
But, I, unfortunately, have a body that tightens up very easily. My muscles cramp and cause tightness, and I've got hypermobility, meaning my joints can bend and move in fun and not always healthy ways. All of this means I need to focus a lot on stabilization and recovery to ensure I can keep moving. Without specific protocols after hikes or runs, my legs lock up, and without focusing on stretching, my shoulders and back will be painful for days.
And, as all of you likely know, travelling and adventuring are hard enough on the body without adding in the extra weight of cameras, lenses, and tripods. Or the way we contort our bodies to get specific shots. This is why wellness to me is so essential. It is the only thing that keeps me going and shooting, and without particular things that I can do anywhere in the world, I wouldn't be able to adventure. Today, I want to give you the four things that I always do or have with me that allow me to keep moving day in and day out.
Tip #1: Rollers
Alright, first off are rollers.
These come in various shapes and sizes. I have a little tiny roller that I throw in my backpacking kit that's smaller than a baseball and huge foam rollers that are five feet long so I can lay on them at home.
Rollers are meant to be moved across tight muscles as a form of muscle relief and relaxation. It's kind of like giving yourself a massage. You can use them on pretty much every muscle in the body. Just make sure to avoid your joints. There are many different exercises for these and ways people use them, but to get started for yourself, all you need is a hardball and a flat surface. Place the ball between the hard surface and your tight muscle, and then move the ball around until you find a painful point and then slowly use it to massage that sore spot. Let's use your back as an example. If my shoulder blade is feeling tight, I'll grab a street hockey ball, go lean against a wall and place the ball on my upper back between me and the wall. I'll then slowly move around until I find the point feeling sore and then press back into the ball on the wall to help release the muscle.
It feels incredible and has meant so many times that I could keep going even just a few minutes later.
I use rollers primarily to do two things, roll out tight muscles after a hike (mainly in my glutes and hips) and to help unlock my traps and upper back muscles after carrying a heavy bag around. Everyone has different muscles that get tight, but rolling is one of the easiest ways to help them while you are out. And getting a little ball to do this with is easy and very lightweight.
Tip #2: Yoga
Moving onto the second thing, I always do to keep myself going. Yoga.
This one is more recent, but it has made a world of difference for me. For years, I've thought that yoga would be great for my muscle tightness but honestly couldn't bring myself to add that extra payment on top of gym fees and other wellness things. So I kept putting it off. But, when the pandemic closed my gym in early March 2020, I had to find new outlets, and I started doing yoga. And it changed my actual body composition. My muscles leaned out, I got faster and more agile, and I had better mobility. It's amazing. At the moment, I make sure to do yoga every morning to unlock my body after the stiffness that sleep causes. And I do it after every single hike, run, bike or anything active because it helps my muscles from locking up and causing pain.
So, yoga works for me because it helps with my muscle tightness, endurance, and flexibility, and I think that's why everyone should be doing it. Even just 20 minutes a day can unlock your body and make it feel more ready for movement.
It also has a mental component. I know many people who use yoga as meditation (I'm not one of them). But yoga does help me feel more focused and refreshed. It's almost like having a quick power nap for my brain. I'm energized and ready to go after a short yoga session.
Best of all, yoga doesn't require anything extra. A mat is excellent, and there are some accessories. But really, you can do yoga anywhere in the world without anything extra. This makes it fantastic for travelling and backpacking because at the end of a long hike after you've got camp set up and some food on, you can spend a few minutes doing a simple yoga routine right beside your tent (or even in it if you don't have standing poses). You can do it in hotel rooms, on the beach, really anywhere you've got a little bit of space.
Tip #3: Body Weight Training Kit
Tip #3 is focused more on staying fit while on the go. It's the Monkii Bars 2 Adventure Kit. This one goes travelling with me and car camping, but it doesn't come backpacking.
The Monkii kit is a bodyweight training system that can be hooked up to any door, tree, or pretty much anything else stable that allows you to workout from anywhere. It enables you to do a variety of bodyweight exercises using two handles and a rigging system. So you can do everything like rows, hangs, stabilizing exercises while in the park, on the beach, at your campsite, or at home. It's like a portable version of the TRX system (if you know what that is). Best of all, the thing packs up super small, so it doesn't take up much room in any bag. The whole thing isn't bigger than both my hands' side by side.
I picked up this amazing system a few years ago and have been using it consistently ever since. Bodyweight Training is an essential component of functional training and builds incredible strength, core stability and balance. I know there are many points where I won't have access to a gym for a while, but maintaining overall fitness is really important for me to make sure my joints aren't able to pop out of place or lock up, causing intense pain. So I use the Monkii Bars to be able to workout anywhere. Check them out for your own fitness, as they may just be the perfect thing for you. I'll include a link in the show notes.
Tip #4: Eat Real Food
This sounds easier than it actually is. But eating real meals and real food is imperative to maintaining the ability to enjoy your trips. For me, that's for two reasons. Firstly, I tend to have a gentle stomach, so throwing new foods into the mix can have some not-so-pretty consequences for me, and secondly, I have way more energy when I'm eating the right foods. Which means I can get the most out of my days.
Now, the right foods are a little dependent on your own bio-individuality. For me, the right foods include a lot of veggies, avoiding things that cause inflammation, and little to no sugar and dairy. But for you, the right foods are going to be different. You will need to experiment to find the right mixture of things that work well for you and things that don't. And don't just take someone else's diet for yourself. I feel a lot better if I don't drink at all, whereas some of my travel companions can drink all they want and still go hard the next day—totally different things for totally different people. So, go and find what works for you to feel your best. That being said, some good rules benefit nearly everyone to get and stay fit and healthy. Avoid eating overly processed meals all the time. Fast food, TV dinners, things like that aren't good for you, especially if you eat them all the time. Cook as much as you can for yourself, and try cooking new things if you can. And, to quote Michael Pollen from In Defence of Food, "Eat real food, not too much, mostly plants." This is excellent solid advice from him.
For myself, I find eating 5-7 small meals a day is better than three large meals, and I like to have protein bars on hand to give myself a pick me up while I'm out and about.
Finally, also drink enough water and make sure to consume electrolytes. I carry Nuun's tablets everywhere I travel and use them frequently to replenish my electrolytes while on the go. If you are travelling, coconut water will do the same thing (and drinking the water straight from a coconut is magical, so try it if you have the chance).
Real food, really to me, means eating things that have as few ingredients as possible and that you can easily pronounce all of them. You want the things you are eating to be as close to how they were grown as you can get. After that, find what works for you and your bio-individuality.