Guide Real Talk: Physically Preparing for Your Guiding Season

Note: This is our final social media installment from our seasonal social media coordinator Cheyenne Brown! Thanks, Cheyenne, for all your hard work this winter.

Interviewer: Cheyenne Brown

Interviewee: Rob Shaul, Mountain Athlete

Photos: Mountain Athlete

Some days it seems like one of the greatest challenges of guiding, whatever it is we may be guiding, it just staying healthy. Long days, many spent doing repetitive movements, short nights, and constant human interaction begin to wear on us in all the ways as the season muddles along. It can be a challenge to stay physically, mentally and emotionally healthy through our guiding seasons.

Coach Rob Shaul started Mountain Athlete in Jackson, Wyoming almost a decade ago with a focus on programming that specifically focused on how to prepare athletes in the gym for mountain-based sports. Initially, the focus was on mountaineers and climbers but what was once Mountain Athlete has now grown into the Mountain Tactical Institute and its focus has grown to include tactical athletes (military, law enforcement and fire) as well as all sorts of mountain athletes including kayakers, hunters, skiers, and ultra runners.

Mountain Tactical doesn’t just focus on helping the most elite outdoor athletes and operators in the world become as strong and fit as possible. They are constantly experimenting with new programs for a variety of folks, including guides, as well as nutrition and gear. Coach Shaul has become one of the go-to trainers for the outdoor world and has numerous interviews and articles in Outside Magazine, Men’s Health, and Alpinist.

Redside is grateful that Rob was kind enough to let us pick his brain a bit about some strategies for staying healthy through the guiding season.


Redside: How can guides physically prepare themselves for their season?

Shaul: In general, the closer an athlete gets to his or her season or event, the more "sport specific" his or her programming should be. So 6-8 weeks out from the season, guides should be focused on training the specific fitness demands of their work - paddling work capacity, upper body push and pulling, grip strength, core or chassis integrity fitness, basic work capacity and endurance, leg strength.


It’s worth mentioning here what work capacity because it differs a bit from just pure endurance. Work capacity is more focused on the body’s ability to perform a variety of activities at various intensities and durations, and the body’s ability to recover from and adapt to that work. When we row or paddle we aren’t using the exact same stroke for the exact same amount of time with the exact same amount of effort on each stroke. Below are some links to MTI work capacity workouts, organized by time and sport.

Also, chassis integrity is something that is somewhat unique to Coach Shaul and MTI, but of utmost importance to outdoor athletes. Rather than focusing on simple core strength or core exercises, MTI identified the need for a more functional approach to strengthening the core, particularly in outdoor and tactical athletes, and that was to link leg and core strength, which MTI now refers to as chassis integrity. The following links provide further information on MTI’s approach to chassis integrity as well as some exercises and programming to get you started.


Redside: We can, and should probably, work as hard as we can in the pre-season to try and be prepared for whatever the summer season might throw at us. Most of us have the time and energy to invest, but once the season starts things can get a little bit trickier. How do we stay strong and healthy once the season starts and time and facilities are limited?

Shaul: The focus should be on strength maintenance and short/hard work capacity. In an ideal world on the river, guides would be able to carve out 20-30 minutes in the evening or early morning and alternate training between day one of bodyweight strength and core work, and day 2, sprint-based work capacity efforts. Off days I'd have them work in long runs or bike rides.

From a durability issue, the major threat is overuse in certain areas - my guess is shoulders are vulnerable - and the strength imbalances which result. My guess here is an imbalance on upper body pulling - requiring upper body pushing to be trained.

In terms of overall health, short, intense training sessions off by themselves away from camp on the river - if possible - will help mentally with the "grind" of a long 14-day trip wrangling clients.


Time to oneself can be hard to find on the river, but as Coach Shaul points out it can be great for both physical and mental replenishing. Full disclosure: I use groover time as a great time to sneak some alone time in...some pooping and some burpees and some reflection. It’s worth making a concerted effort to carve out the time for some push-ups and stretching and alone time.


Redside: How can guides take care of their physical health once they are through the bulk of their season and winding down?

Shaul: Postseason the effort should be on total body strength, and long single-mode endurance. The training will be more general and designed to build a "base" level of fitness back up.


Many thanks to Coach Shaul for taking the time to answer some questions. MTI has a database of all of their exercises on their website for you to browse:

MTI often posts a lot of great free content on their website and Facebook page so if you’re interested in geeking out a little bit on this stuff definitely think about following them. And if you’re in the Jackson area or just passing through you should stop by, say hi, and maybe jump in on a workout or two while you’re there.


Banner Photo: Coach Rob Shaul with Kayak Guides during a rest interval between intense sprint repeat efforts against the current on the Snake River.

Content Photo: Upper body pulling and pressing strength is key for paddlers. Here a Kayaker trains pulling strength with the reverse bench press.