Wednesday, July 27, 2011

The Strenuous Life

In the last analysis a healthy state can exist only when the men and women who make it up lead clean, vigorous, healthy lives; when the children are so trained that they shall endeavor, not to shirk difficulties, but to overcome them; not to seek ease, but to know how to wrest triumph from toil and risk.

- From the speech The Strenuous Life, April 10, 1899, Theodore Roosevelt
Theodore Roosevelt's idea of the strenuous life involved bagging exotic animal specimens, thundering after cattle in North Dakota on a horse, charging San Juan Hill in Cuba and not letting a bullet fired into his chest put a halt to finishing a speech in Milwaukee.  Admittedly he meant much more than all of those things in his famous speech, The Strenuous Life; more than mere taxidermy (a skill he learned as a child) or cattle ranching.  He was speaking of imperialism, “righteous war,” responsibility to self as well as to homeland.  He was talking about individuals, families and nations.  My version of the strenuous life is much less global and certainly less noble but definitely kinder to our animal friends.  And we call it cross-training.

When the work in the garden becomes tedious, repairing the fenceline gets tiring or digging holes to plant trees becomes hot and boring, either Kel or I will say, “It’s good cross-training,” in an attempt to motivate ourselves or the other. Carry two full 2-gallon watering cans down a steep hill and up another one and you are cross-training: alternately working the quadriceps and then the hamstrings and glutes, not to mention the workout your arms, shoulders and back are getting.  Holding one end of the pipe (while your companion holds the other) that supports a thick, heavy roll of barbed wire while doing a walking lunge as you string the wire along each fence post?  Cross-training with a partner.  Wearing your knee-high rubber boots as you negotiate hillocks, gopher holes and cow patties works your thighs and calves better than any late night infomercial contraption, and except for the cost of the boots, it’s free – and it works.  What about pushing and prodding square bales of hay, soggy with rain, and lifting them onto the back of a trailer?  Excellent cross-training opportunity.  Maybe you’re the one shoveling that “mature” horse manure into 5-gallon buckets or maybe you’re the one lifting, carrying and dumping those same buckets into the garden beds.  No matter; either way you are getting some serious cross-training.  I like to think the Teddy would approve.

Every activity that doesn’t happen behind a desk and in front of a computer, that has me moving or using my muscles is an opportunity to challenge my stamina and fitness in different ways.  I wouldn’t trade the dirty, fatiguing chores I do out here for one minute at an office job.  I’m not sure I could ever go back to one.  And I don’t think the management would appreciate me doing reps with the water cooler bottle or combining filing with a few sets of deep squats.

(In my opinion, real life trumps fiction every time and T.R. is one of the more fascinating characters in American history.  There are lots of books about T. R. out there so hit the bookshelves.  The Strenuous Life is an illuminating glimpse into Theodore Rex’s era and yields, at least for me, some chilling advice for modern times.  You can read the complete text here.)


  1. Two points. First, this is why I love mucking stalls. There is nothing better. And second, if EW could get you back, I'm pretty sure she'd let you do whatever you wanted with the water cooler.

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