5 principles I learned from splitting wood that can help you live a healthier life (and look better too)!

As a kid, I have always loved fire. And I have been around tons of fires. My old man would have us pick up sticks and branches after storms and throw them in an empty 50 gallon drum to burn. That made work and manual labor SO MUCH more enjoyable and fun. And let me tell you, dried Christmas trees are REALLY flammable! I’ll just leave that there. Little would I know that my inner 10 year old pyro is still alive and well today!? Not to worry, I’m much more responsible now (HEHE, FIRE!).

This trip down memory lane is not merely for entertainment, this will lead somewhere. Truth is, I still make fires very often. In the heating season, I heat my entire home with a wood burning stove. While in the midst of winter, my stove will stay lit for up to two months straight. All this burning requires a LOT of wood. My pyro tendencies also keep me pretty active since I do all the splitting myself. I have been splitting and stacking my own firewood for about the last decade. Along the years, I have had many lessons along the way (while wearing a flannel of course) that transfer very well into different aspects of life – especially health and fitness. After all, being a lumberjack is not easy work. As I like to say, “Firewood heats me twice, once when I split it and a second time when I burn it.”

1. NO SHORT CUTS – GOTTA DO THE WORK.

If you are sourcing the wood yourself, it’s not going to split and stack itself. Depending on what step of the splitting process you begin will determine how many steps you have to take. Obviously, if you’re starting with a vertical tree, you have quite a few steps before you have a stacked pile of wood. I get spoiled now as I get rounds that get delivered from local landscapers. Now don’t get me wrong, it still is a TON of work even though I use a hydraulic splitter to help me get the work done. However, I don’t have to take my chainsaw as often out to cut 10 foot logs into firewood lengths. I get hundreds of rounds that all are begging for my attention. My current demand for one heating season is about 6 cords of firewood. By definition, one cord is 8 feet long x 4 feet wide x 4 feet high and weighs approximately 2000 lbs. There is some time sensitivity to splitting and stacking as firewood needs to season or “dry out” anywhere from 5-9 months in order to minimize frustrations once you take a flame to it. There is nothing more frustrating than making a fire with wet wood. Winter and spring is my time to start splitting in preparation for the following winter. I estimate that I put in approximately 40-50 man hours to get my wood shed fully stocked.

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How this applies to your workouts. Much like preparing for winter, it takes a lot of planning and a lot of work. Obviously, if you want results, there is no way around it – you have to DO the work! There is no way around it. You can’t achieve health and attain high fitness levels without training. It takes commitment and consistent work to get to your end goal. Much like splitting firewood, it’s slow and steady… one piece of wood at a time. So think about the big picture. Every step and every rep add up really quickly. Consistency is the key!  Remember, it’s how Rome was built. Roll up your sleeves and get to work.

2. NOBODY SAID IT WOULD BE EASY.

Not every piece of wood is the same. Depending on the species, how dry it is and where it came from on the tree will determine how “easy” it will split. Those perfect cylinders that come from the trunk split like butter. As soon as you introduce a limb, or a knot, or the grain changes direction then there are some different strategies to employ to keep you from driving yourself crazy. There are times when once piece can take me more than 10 minutes to split due to the complexity of the grain.

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How this applies to your workouts. The same can be true of your fitness programs. There are times when you need to strategize your workout by ramping up your intensity, increasing your duration, or tweaking the format of your session to help you bust through a plateau. As challenging as it may be physically, it is your mental fortitude that will help you get through the task at hand. Not to mention life’s impact on your fitness programs. Juggling work, family, play, and curveballs all make for an easy “out” from your workouts. Do you choose to wake up early to get your training in so life doesn’t “get in the way” is a great strategy. This of course assumes that you’re getting to bed early enough on those nights so you’re not sleeping less and “taking away” from your recovery. Hopefully your goals are motivating enough to keep you striving towards them, no matter what challenges life throws at you.

3. DON’T DO ANYTHING STUPID, STUPID.

There are plenty of dangers that come with operating heavy equipment, using a chainsaw, and swinging a 12lb maul. These dangers force me to stay focused and “present” and do not allow my mind to wander too far as there could be some pretty serious consequences. I have found that when there is some risk present, my mind is much sharper. That goes for any task/activity where there is some risk of injury. Another added “benefit” from doing these physical tasks is that they help me to decompress and temporarily leave this stressful world for a while. When the body is put under stress, the “fight or flight” response is an involuntary reaction to it. It’s a means of survival. Think about a caveman having to fight or run for his life when attacked by a lion. In our modern day, our lives are much different. Today’s “lion” is more due to the complexity of our lives. Regardless, the physiological fight or flight response is the same. If we do not “act” on all the physiological changes (higher heart rate, higher blood pressure, adrenaline release, etc.) then it actually takes away from our health. Manual labor or other physical activities are the best way to get the body back to lower stress levels.

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How this applies to your workouts. In the weight room, all exercises have a risk vs. benefit to them. When putting your program together, select exercises that have the most “bang for their buck” for YOU and YOUR goals. It’s easy to see “cool” exercises in magazines or being posted on social media and adding them into your program. If there is a rationale for you to do it and it will benefit you, then by all means go for it. However, don’t just “do” an exercise just to do it. Exercise is a physical task. It’s the closest thing we can get to when the caveman had to “fight” or take “flight” in order to survive. Whether you find your way into more strength based workouts (fight) or more cardiovascular (flight) you will reap the benefits of stress reduction. This is obviously not limited to the physical benefits. Our mood gets better as we are much happier after a good training session. Our sleep is typically better which can keep us from being cranky (ever been around a baby that hasn’t taken a nap?). When we start looking and feeling better, we walk around with more self-confidence. Our entire being is influenced by moving. By moving the body, both the mind and the spirit also benefit. That’s win-win-win!

4. YOU CAN’T DO IT ALL AT ONCE.

It would be impossible for me to go out and split my entire pile of wood in one session. Instead, I have to be consistent with many short 60-90 minute sessions in order for me to be successful. Not only would it take me 5-7 days of non-stop work but I would be physically crushed from all the work. It is much like what business author Jim Collins refers to the “20 Mile March” when he compared two teams’ strategies when they raced to the South Pole. One team had no strategy and would react to the weather conditions. Some days they would advance 40-50 miles. The next day they may do 5 because the team was wrecked from the previous day. The other team set out to do 20 miles (hence the name) in a methodical, disciplined and consistent manner no matter what was thrown at them. On days when they felt great and the weather cooperated, they did not deviate from their plan by doing more. I’m sure you can predict who won. However, this was not only for bragging rights, the losing team not only had their tails between their legs, they also suffered tragic deaths as a result of the brutal journey and extreme conditions. That said, what Jim Collins found can be applied to either an individual looking to improve your health, finances, or relationships. The same strategy could also help businesses that are looking to create excellence in the marketplace.

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How this applies to your workouts. Applying this “20 Mile March” principle to our health and fitness (or anything else in life) will help us successfully reach our goals IF we would simply stick to a plan with consistent effort. It’s NOT about killing ourselves each and every session to the point where we break down. Think progress, not perfection. After all, if we are injured then we are not training. If we are not training, they we are not getting to our goal. In fact, we will move further from it. Bottom line, we don’t get deconditioned and fat overnight. It’s a slow and gradual (and consistent) process that eventually catches up to us and we start pushing into our waistbands. It doesn’t come on quickly and it can’t come off twice as fast. Slow and steady is the way for permanent results.

5. IF YOU DON’T KNOW WHERE YOU ARE GOING, HOW DO YOU KNOW WHEN YOU GET THERE?

Every season, I have a very specific and quantifiable goal…fill my shed with wood before Fall.  It’s very clear when I get there. When my shed is filled to capacity then I know I’m done (until I have to do it again the following year). That was strategic in that, my burning season lasts approximately 6 months. Having a cord/month is more than enough for my burning patterns, even in the harshest of winters. As I’m preparing for the coming winter, my goal is very clear. Get enough rounds to split to fill my shed. It takes about 4 large truckloads to accomplish this. The key for this is that everything is measurable for me. I know how much wood I need and I know how much I have to get in order to fill my shed to have enough for the coming season. Granted, for me, this isn’t a matter of life or death. This fulfills my pyromania tendencies and it also keeps my utility bill down. Not to mention, it provides some nice exercise (how else did you think I got my hourglass physique?).

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How this applies to your workouts. Having a clear and measurable goal is vital for setting you up for success. Much like a good road-trip, it provides you with “direction” and intent with everything that you do. For fitness and health goals, the most direct “route” is the most desirable. Even though, everyone wants to get back in shape overnight. Taking a “scenic route” is not an option as time and money are usually not in abundance, much like our patience. Find something that is measurable (and meaningful) to you. It could be VERY quantifiable things like bodyweight, body-fat, and/or BMI. Or it can be something a little more obscure. Perhaps being able to get back into your favorite pair of jeans that are in the back of the closet? Or accomplishing a new notch on your belt or even getting into a smaller belt all together. Maybe your goals are more performance based, like being able to do a specific number of pushups or pullups. Perhaps you want to squat or deadlift a specific amount of weight. Or maybe being able to climb three flights of stairs at work without stopping or getting winded is your goal. What YOU measure is entirely up to you. It should be something that is pertinent to you and motivates you to drag yourself to the gym on the days when you least want to. Bottom line, you need to be able to measure it in some capacity, preferably within a certain time frame. And if you really want to light a fire (pun totally intended there) under your rear, then give yourself a deadline to accomplish your goal(s). We ALL work better with deadlines. Especially when the clock starts ticking really loud.

So next time you go to the gym (or want to accomplish some other significant goal), just think of me and my lumberjack festivities. You cannot replace some good old fashioned work when you are looking to get somewhere in life. It doesn’t matter if it’s fitness goals, financial goals, relationships, or whatever. Just roll up those sleeves and get to work.

Train hard but train smart!

~Alex

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