Getting to take part in the nine-time Emmy award winning show (for reality television) the Amazing Race was one of the highlights of my life last year. The entire process took the better part of a year broken down by application, interview/audition, training, filming, and airing. My recollection of 2012 will always be Amazing Race centered.
The fitness component of racing in such an abstract medium was also extremely challenging and rewarding. Prior to the “Race” I was a dedicated gym-goer with an intermediate level of expertise in physical fitness. In other words, I went to the gym between four and six days a week and did a weight-based workout that varied slightly every six to eight weeks. My cardio conditioning came from nightly training of Brazilian Jiu Jitsu and my diet was always “pretty good.” Pretty good meant I didn’t drink soda and eat potato chips but I did have a major addiction to sweets and red meat. Through high school, college and law school I maintained a similar diet and workout regimen. My body weight fluctuated between 180lbs and 190lbs but more telling, my body fat percentage ranged from 13%-15%. Not great but not terrible. Using the ‘eye-candy’ test, I’d say I was fit but not “ripped”, lean but muscular and all-around healthy looking. Unfortunately my legs always suffered to keep up with my upper body (more genetics than lack of training, I swear!) and by far the hardest area for me to develop and make toned was my mid-section. Over my lifetime I swear I have done over one million sit-ups, crunches, v-leg-open-reach-stretch sit ups and every other flash in the pan exercise in order to get defined abs, and it had never happened. Until that fateful day last March when Abbie (my race partner and girlfriend) and I were told we had been one of the eleven teams selected for Amazing Race 21.
Our very first order of business that day was buying our backpacks and a handful of traveling gear. We were ecstatic and began building out an excel spreadsheet to capture all of our training methodologies for the next six weeks. We mapped out our intellectual/mental training (e.g, Sudoku, geography, foreign languages), physical (yoga, Pilates, cross training, at-home-stretching and calisthenics) and task specific to-dos (stick shift practice, changing a flat tire, etc).
The physical training element was by far the most rewarding as each of us drastically altered our workouts and saw the results almost immediately. We enlisted yoga 1-2x per week, advanced Pilates classes 2-3x per week (using the reformer machine), weight lifting and body weight (pushups/pull-ups/dips, etc) 4x per week and ‘active physical fitness’ tasks (hiking, stair climbing, beach runs, swimming, kayaking, stand up paddle board, etc.) 4x per week. Every night at home we made sure to treat our bodies to a foam-roller session to improve blood circulation, lengthening of tight muscles, tendons and ligaments and generally active release. We also found ourselves doing a nightly regiment of core exercises.
A common misconception is that ‘core workouts’ are just sit-ups, or anything revolving around the strengthening of the abdominals. I was surprised when I learned that a good core workout involves working the muscles in the lower back, your pelvis and your hips. It even includes your diaphragm. I was even more surprised when Abbie explained to me that we could strengthen our core by spending less than fifteen minutes a night on this group of muscles. Having taught competitive dance for over ten years, Abbie engages core training multiple times a week with her students. The value in us strengthening our core was that it would be our most prized muscle group on our upcoming adventure since it would ensure ideal posture and mobility while racing with twenty-five pound packs, and reduce or protect against injuries while performing whatever abstract endeavors the Race had planned for us (later we realized this included such tasks as a 140 foot free rappel, one mile sprint through mud in Dhaka, Bangladesh and spending almost two hours learning, practicing and performing a synchronized swim routine with the Russian Olympic Synchronized swim team).
Most every night Abbie led us in a series of plank exercises, bender ball movements, glute push-ups, twisting Supermans and a series of hanging movements (knee raises, straight legs, toes to bar).
A few days before we left on our trip of a lifetime we each took pictures in the dressing room of a local Lululemon. I was shocked that for the first time in my life I could see abdominal and oblique definition. My body weight had gone from just over 191lbs to 174lbs. My body fat percentage had dropped drastically from 13.4% to 7.6%. I was the fittest, strongest, healthiest and leanest I had ever been. I attribute these results to the vast array of daily physical activity (muscle confusion!), improved diet (no processed foods, greens at every meal, no red meat, no non-natural sugars) and absolutely our at-home-core-workouts.