With the snow covering much of the northerly reaches, and cold weather keeping the intrepid fossil collectors indoors, the off-season is a perfect time to catch up on fossil preparation, organizing finds, planning the trips for the upcoming season, and adding or replacing tools for the field and prep station.
But it is also an ideal time to train the body for the rigours of collecting!
There is no doubt that, sometimes, collecting can take a physical toll on the body. Many of us put ourselves through a punishing regimen - be it the long hikes over and through tough terrain like deep woods, uneven rocky surfaces, and sticky mud to get to our favoured collecting spots while carrying a heavy collecting kit + tools; balancing for long hours on slopes which is hard on the hips, knees, ankles, and back; several hours of repetitive hammer blows that can make the hand, wrist, and shoulder sore; long periods in unnatural positions crouched among the rocks or bent over putting strain on the joints and lower back; and, of course, the sometimes long trek back, loaded with a lot of rock!
As we get older, our bodies are far less cooperative with our plans. When we are focused on the hunt, we sometimes hit the physical limit of what a body can do. Yes, the mind is willing, but the flesh is weak. The residual soreness of aches and pains after a day in the field are certainly felt the next day!
In this post I am going to talk about improving fitness for the field. As a caveat, this is what works for me given where and how I collect. For those who dive in the rivers for fossils, or engage more casual surface collecting, other exercises would apply. But, for me, I spend a lot of time prying out slabs of rock, wrestling them into position, and swinging hammers. Exercise is what permits me to break more and bigger rock faster, carry more back, and remain out in the field for much longer.
The exercises recommended here involve isolation techniques that are indexed to the specific motions performed in the field. These include pushing, pulling, lifting, and striking.
Function: Pushing actions in the field usually involve using pry bars, which may also involve pulling to create a rocking motion to loosen tightly compacted layers of rock.
Muscle Groups: Pushing activates a range of muscles: the chest, triceps, and anterior deltoid (front of shoulder). The goal of pushing-focused exercises is to increase strength and stamina for when pushing motions are required in the field.
Function: Pulling actions in the field involve using pry bars, but also flipping/stabilizing larger slabs, and carrying larger loads.
Muscle Groups: Pulling activates a range of muscles: the upper back, posterior deltoid (back of shoulder), and biceps.
Function: Being able to lift your gear to and from the site, and manipulate slabs, requires the ability to lift - but to do so safely.
Muscle groups: Pending the type of lift, it may engage the shoulders, back (upper and lower), biceps, and legs.
Function: Delivering effective hammer blows requires a mix of force, good motor control, and stamina. At times, you will need to deliver an intensive, devastating blow to a large, dense rock; at other times, it is a series of lighter, consistent taps to split along a layer or concretion. You may also be having to drive wedges deep into layers, and this requires fine control plus force wielding a sledge hammer. Striking is the convergence of all the other motions of pushing, pulling, and lifting.
Muscle Groups: Biceps, triceps, shoulders (all three of the deltoid group), upper back, forearm.
Exercises: just about all of them listed above! The one difference would be these that focus on shoulder and forearm:
Stretching: Whether you are hitting the gym or about to engage in a whole day of intensive fossil collecting, stretching is one of the most important but overlooked pre-activities. By stretching, you minimize your chance of injury. Torn muscle, ligaments, and tendons from not stretching will simply sideline you from getting out in the field.
Balance Power and Stamina: Force is as important as endurance if you’re going to be spending the day (or several consecutive days!) out breaking rock. Go for a balance between explosive power to take on the bigger rocky challenges, and be able to keep up the momentum in pacing yourself throughout the day to get through a higher quantity of rock.
Eat Right: More exercise and activity means your body will need to access more good nutrition to provide energy, and to assist in recovery. You can hop online and read a million different kinds of diet, ranging from the mundane to the miraculous, from the feasible to the fantastical when it comes to claims. But there is no magic diet for all people. Keep it simple and reasonable, really: a little more protein, less salt and sugar, deep green vegetables, and stay relatively consistent. Consuming beer, bacon, chips, and chocolate bars exclusively is probably not going to create the winning conditions for an efficient, energetic, fossil-hunting body you can rely on in the field.
Show Don’t Tell, Deeds Not Words
The following is my own weekly regimen. It is tailored for my needs, according to my abilities and overall goals. I provide it here as an example, not as a prescriptive template:
Day 1: Biceps/back
* 3 sets, 20 reps bicep curls @ 30 lbs (warmup)
Day 2: Chest/Triceps
Day 3: Partial rest day
Day 4: Biceps/shoulders
* 3 sets, 20 reps bicep curls @ 30 lbs (warmup)
Day 5: Miscellaneous
Day 6: Touchup
Day 7: Recovery
* Light activity, walking, etc. Mostly a day to recover and daydream about fossil collecting trips.
This regimen has changed frequently in the last 3 years. I've added things in, and taken some away. Even the way the muscles are targeted change over time. If you are considering doing something like this long term, it is important to change it up every few months as the body simply gets used to regimen and will enter into maintenance rather than development mode. In a sense, you have to shock your body to get better!