Discover more from 2% with Michael Easter
7 Lessons from MTNTOUGH’s TOUGHFEST
I spent last week at MTNTOUGH’s facility in Bozeman, Montana, learning from that crew and others. Here are seven takeaways.
You’ll learn: Why less gym equipment can be better, a couple killer workout tips, info on the healthiest meat on the planet, and more.
ICYMI, the 2% shop sells 2% gear, not stuff, and it’s up and rocking.
We have a new sponsor! And I’m psyched about it. Maui Nui is harvesting the healthiest meat on the planet. In the process, they’re also helping the ecosystem of Maui. Maui Nui is a **super** cool company that aligns with 2% entirely, and I suggest you check them out. More info below.
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Last week I was in Bozeman, Montana, hanging out with the crew from MTNTOUGH.
For the unfamiliar, MTNTOUGH is a fitness lab with a training app focusing on outdoor fitness. They help mountain athletes become stronger, faster, and more durable and resilient so they can endure backcountry hunts, climbs, ultramarathons, etc.
Which is to say, they help people build the type of fitness humans required in our ancient past to survive.
There’s not much research on this, but I strongly believe training for and in the outdoors is the best form of exercise for health and longevity.
And so I was there to train, swap ideas, chat on their podcast, and hang out at their inaugural TOUGHFEST.
Here are seven takeaways.
1. No Equipment Is No Excuse
You may only need one or two pieces of equipment for an effective home gym.
My garage gym has too many toys. Barbells, plates, a trap bar, an attachment for Viking presses, selectorize dumbbells, a treadmill that goes to a 40% incline, etc, etc, etc.
I collect and use this stuff because my job requires it. (That’s what I like to tell myself, anyways).
But is this gear is necessary for me to be fit enough? No.
College, professional, and specialized athletes benefit from having decked-out gyms. But most people, most of the time can get really, really fit with just a few items.
This idea was out in full force the first day I trained at MTNTOUGH. We did a group workout with GORUCK Sandbags. Here’s what it looked like:
One basic, inexpensive tool allowed us to hit all the systems and movement patterns required for solid fitness.
This is one of many reasons I like MTNTOUGH and its app. Their training programs are effective, but many only require a little gear. They publish a Minimal Gear Daily workout and cool videos like this that help people find equipment swaps.
Sandbags are a great starter to any garage gym. GORUCK Simple Sandbags are low-cost and killer effective. You can also use them as a ruck weight.
(I’ll do a future post where I lay out exactly what I’d get in a garage gym based on different budgets.)
2. Train Hard with Others
Hard group exercise turns strangers into friends.
A highlight of TOUGHFEST was the group workout. Roughly 100 people joined. With a team of three, you did the following:
Run half a mile
Climb 1000 feet on the VersaClimber
Run half a mile
Push and pull a weighted sled 50 yards 10 times
Run half a mile
Do 100 burpees and 100 thrusters
Run half a mile
Ski 1500 meters on the SkiErg
Run half a mile
Do 200 sandbag stepups
Teams ran together but split up the rest of the exercise reps. All teams were randomized, which was the most interesting part of the workout. Most of us didn’t know our teammates.
Before the workout, there was that semi-awkward thing where you meet and introduce yourself to two new people. Then you hum and haw about how the workout will be difficult. But it’s all small talk.
Then the whistle blows. Together you’re thrust into working hard and strategizing together. Pretense evaporates, and kinship grows.
By the end of the workout, I’d become friends with my teammates. We were hugging, high-fiving, and chatting like we’d known each other for years.
This phenomenon is partly why CrossFit became so popular. I once spoke to researchers at Harvard Divinity School, who told me that CrossFit is replacing church for many young people because of the social bonds strenuous exercise with others builds.
A gym with group workouts, or a rucking, running, or cycling group might be what you need to train harder and meet cool people.
3. Add Short Runs to Circuit Workouts
Adding sub-one-mile runs into your circuit workouts has many benefits.
June’s 2% Burn the Ships workout is a circuit of six exercises completed for six rounds. One of those exercises is running a half mile.
As you probably noticed above, the TOUGHFEST group workout also included a half-mile run between the exercise stations.
I’m starting to love adding sub-one-mile runs into circuit workouts. I don’t see running in circuit workouts all that often.
Breaking up strength exercises with a reasonable distance of running has a few benefits:
It’s “enough” running to build great cardio. (Running, in my opinion, is the best exercise for building cardio.)
It “sneaks in” running miles for people who dislike running.
These shorter distances aren’t so much running that people overdo it and get injured.
It exposes people. If you haven’t been training cardio, you quickly realize that you have a serious gap in fitness.
Pick three to five exercises. Do 10 to 20 reps of each, then run a quarter to a half mile. Repeat that anywhere from 3 to 10 times.
4. Burn the Gas
Going places and meeting people—rather than just speaking over phone or Zoom—gives you an edge. It gets you the best information and builds stronger partnerships.
Bert Sorin spoke at TOUGHFEST. You may recall his name from this post on 10 lessons from SORINEX’s SummerStrong event. Bert talked about building SORINEX from the company his father started in a carport to the brand it is today.
SORINEX has been so innovative in strength and conditioning in part because Bert is willing to burn the gas. I’m probably butchering this story, but the phrase came from a coach at an elite highland games event Bert competed in years back. Bert and the other competitors had to drive hours to get to the competition.
The coach said something to the competitors like, “you all burned a lot of gas to get here, so you might as well go all in.”
And so “burn the gas” became a rallying cry for being willing to “go there.” To get in your car or hop on a plane to visit people and places in person. To embed yourself in a community.
We can’t replicate the conversations from those longer, more intimate hangouts on the phone or in a Zoom window. All the good stuff happens in the unplanned discussions between the meetings, over dinner, etc.
I identify with this. As a journalist, my best work and ideas come from traveling to report the story. You have to go there.
Unfortunately, online health media rarely “goes there” anymore. This is partly why health journalism is such a mess.
It’s also why much of the funding 2% generates goes into travel to report stories, so you all get better information you can’t find anywhere else.
How you can use this
If you want to take your knowledge and friend sphere to the next level, start attending cool events. Go to GORUCK Sandlot Jax, SORINEX SummerStrong, MTN TOUGH TOUGHFEST, or any number of similar events. Go visit people you want to talk to.
5. Climb Mountains. Steep Ones.
Steep hikes might be the best and most sustainable act a person can do for their health.
Five a.m. Thursday morning, the MTN TOUGH crew and I carried water up Mt. Baldy outside Bozeman. We were rucking that water to aid stations for an upcoming ultrarun.
The hike gains 4,300 feet of elevation in four miles. It’s the sort of unrelenting steep that makes your legs feel like acid-filled hot air balloons.
But there are few things better for your fitness than hiking up a steep mountain. Throw a ruck on during the hike, and it’s even better.
It’s a sustained, low-level assault that works your legs, lungs, and heart.
I think regular steep hikes with a ruck might be the best thing a human can do for their body, mind, and longevity.
6. Finish Workouts with Stepups
Add stepups to the end of your workout. See below for three different variations.
Both big workouts I did at MTN TOUGH finished with weighted stepups.
Stepups are one of those stupid-good exercises we should all be doing. They build quad, hamstring, and glute strength. And that’s required for doing any sport well. Like, what is more functional than getting better and stronger at stepping?
And if you do stepups right, they can be a killer longevity hack.
To do them better, don’t let gravity pull you to the ground. Lower yourself slowly in a controlled manner. This trains your eccentric strength.
Having great lower body “eccentric strength” is critical as you age. It helps you avoid falls, one of the number one killers of seniors.
(My friend Peter Attia did a nice video on stepups, for those interested.)
Three stepup variations I love:
Low-Box Bodyweight Stepups
Do a few sets on a box that is roughly 12 inches high. Even the fittest benefit from warming up with slow, controlled bodyweight stepups at this height.
Toss on a ruck to make stepups harder. Use a 10 to 20-pound ruck and step up onto a 15 to 20-inch box (it’s OK to adjust either of these numbers to your liking). I’ll do stepups for 45 minutes as a complete workout. Few tasks get me better prepared for the mountains.
Front Hold Sandbag Stepups
These are the most challenging. Holding the weight in front of you turns the exercise into just as much of a core exercise as a lower body exercise. That makes you stronger everywhere.
7. Eat Axis Deer
Research suggests that axis deer is one of the healthiest meats on the planet. We partnered with Maui Nui for this reason.
The famous Flip Flop Guy was at TOUGHFEST cooking the hindquarter of an axis deer using his signature flip-flop method.
I generally think most red meat tastes the same, so long as the fat content is similar. But I didn’t feel that way about axis deer. It’s got a combination of taste and texture that is next-level.
And axis deer also turns out to be some of the healthier meat on the planet. That’s according to scientists at Utah State University, who compared axis deer to beef. The results:
Axis deer contains 1 to 64 times more antioxidants, vitamins, minerals, and healthy fats.
It also contains 53% more protein per calorie than beef.
And now Maui Nui is a sponsor of 2%. I’m psyched about it. I get a lot of sponsorship inquiries and have said no to all but three. Lost some money in the process, but I decided early on in taking sponsorship that I would only align with brands I believed in on multiple levels.
Have fun, don’t die, go outside and train hard.
Sponsored by Maui Nui Venison
You read all about the health benefits of Axis deer above. But equally important is that Maui Nui solves ethical considerations around meat. Axis Deer are an invasive species ravaging the Hawaiian island of Maui, and Maui Nui harvests the deer at night in a stress-free way, improving the ecosystem.
My picks: I like it and eat everything from Maui Nui, but the 90/10 Organ Blend is particularly great for people looking to get more micronutrients in their diet, and the Jerky Sticks are my go-to travel snack. Use discount code EASTER for 15% off.
Sponsored by GORUCK
When I decided to accept sponsorships for this newsletter, GORUCK was a natural fit. Not only is the company's story included in The Comfort Crisis, but I've been using GORUCK's gear since the brand was founded. Seriously. They've been around ~12 years and I still regularly use a pack of theirs that is 11 years old. Their gear is made in the USA by former Special Forces soldiers. They make my favorite rucking setup: A Rucker 4.0 and Ruck Plate. Use discount code EASTER for 10% off anything from GORUCK.
Sponsored by Momentous
Momentous made me feel good about supplements again. Over 150 professional and collegiate sports teams and the US Military trust their products, thanks to the company’s rigorous science and testing. I don’t have the time or desire to cook perfectly balanced meals that give me all the necessary nutrients and protein I need (let’s face it, few of us do!). So I use their collagen in the morning; Recovery protein during hard workouts; essential multivitamin to cover my bases; creatine because it’s associated with all sorts of great things; and Fuel on my longest endurance workouts on 100+ degree days here in the desert (because Rule 2: Don’t die). And I also love (love!) that Momentous is researching and developing women-specific performance supplements. Use discount code EASTER for 15% off.