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A business travel workout crafted by a professional mountain climber

Conrad AnkerConrad Anker
Conrad AnkerPhoto: Stuart Isett/Fortune Brainstorm Green 2014

Conrad Anker, a professional mountain climber sponsored by The North Face, recently spoke about his craft at the Fortune Brainstorm Green conference in Laguna Niguel, Calif. Attendees hearty and foolish enough to wake up at 6:00 a.m. enjoyed a special treat: a light workout led by Anker designed to mimic the essentials of his daily routine. Anker may thrive on risk, which he vividly describes in this article for National Geographic, but his day job depends on staying fit, which in turn requires a routine.

Below, Anker describes how he keeps going, even when the biggest obstacles in his way are airports and car-rental agencies rather than mountains.

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Travel and desk time are an integral part of my life. While expeditions to big snowy mountains are the base of my work as a professional climber, sharing the story and lessons of climbing and working for my employer require an urban lifestyle. Travel with the family adds another aspect and the chance to engage your children in exercise.

I need to stay fit to get after projects in the mountains. At the base of this is building activity into my daily routine. With an eye toward micro-workouts I find creative ways to move my body, create resistance, and get my blood moving.

Our bodies have evolved with the equivalent movement of walking four miles a day. A lack of exercise and an indulgent diet have created the current challenge with weight, diabetes and associated lifestyle disorders.

I favor 48- to 72-hour missions in the mountains. I train for the three-day adventure and have it as my goal. Be it a one-day ascent of El Capitan or a ski trip to Rainier, I want to be in shape for the adventure. To do this I build fitness into my daily routine. Build those micro-workouts in!

First steps

One of my mini motivating points is to take two steps at time. The increased reach is within most people’s ability and the extra lunge and lift engage more muscles. If you travel and have the time, take the stairs and avoid the moving sidewalk. When on the road, find a flight of stairs once or twice a day and get your legs moving. Make it a goal to walk as much as possible between flights. This will reduce the effects of sitting in place for hours.

The workout

Find a location that has an optimum running path and an adjacent park.

1.) 5-minute run / skip / walk warm-up / shake out

2.) Open and close your hand repeatedly

Basic routine:

1.) 10 stretches to touch your toes

2.) 10 shoulder, elbow, wrist, finger rotations, in each direction (the centrifugal force that moves blood to your hands is a good tip to move blood to your hands when it is cold out)

3.) 20 lunges (step forward with one leg and bend down to create a 90-degree angle)

4.) 10 stand-ups (lay on your back with knees bent and feet flat on ground; roll forward to upright standing position; reverse to return to original position)

5.) 5 to 20 push-ups (75% capacity)

6.) 1 minute of a fixed line hip stretch: Clasp your hands and bring your elbows down to your knees, in a squat, to extend hips

7.) 4 x 4 plank: Hold a plank position (like a push-up, but with forearms flat against the ground) for one minute each facing down (both arms), left (one arm), down (both arms), right (one arm) using your core to support your body and keeping arms and legs immobile.

8.) 1 minute each side: Stand and balance on one leg, raising the other in front of you; stand and balance on one leg, pulling the other behind you by grabbing the ankle.

This foundation for fitness takes between 10 and 15 minutes and can be repeated or as a daily goal.

During my workouts I visualize an upcoming climb. On a technical route the moves are very precise. I can rehearse a foot or hand placement with no pressure and improve that eye/extremity coordination. Many climbers will rehearse the moves while standing, a unique form of shadow boxing.