Fitness, Friendship, & Fun: My Experience with Plan For Adventure

It’s a few minutes before we get down to business. About ten of us are milling around, chit-chatting about work or looking at a chalkboard on the wall that holds today’s workout. We recognize the exercises, but not necessarily the formula for how the circuit works out. I shake out my legs and arms a bit.

Then Mike shouts, “everybody grab a rope!” We all take a jump rope and adjust them for our height, then start jumping for five minutes. I catch my feet a lot and have to start over. I was self-conscious about it on my first day, but got over that pretty quickly. These people have seen me completely soak a shirt with sweat, fall over doing a box jump, and collapse on the floor when I reached my limit on push-ups. They’ve all heard my voice crack trying to sing lines from “The Final Countdown” and listened to me lament that I thought I was going to vomit (though I never did). Embarrassment is pretty much a thing of the past in this room. That’s one of the things I’ve come to love about Plan for Adventure; the group becomes your team and things that used to make you feel self-conscious become things that you laugh about. I’ve found camaraderie and a sense of belonging here. It wasn’t instantaneous, but it happened pretty quickly.

Back on day one, as I struggled to finish our first workout, I asked myself, “what the hell am I doing here?!?” That thought never enters my mind anymore when I’m fighting for one more push up, the last squat of the day, or the final quarter of a mile. Don’t get me wrong the struggle is still very real, but now I know what I’m doing here. I’ve gained a sense of purpose to my workout that I didn’t have in the beginning. I’ve never been more enthused with my own fitness journey, and I hope to share some of that enthusiasm in this post. We’ll see how I do.

You may be wondering how I first ended up at Plan for Adventure. Well, my PFA fitness journey started, like many things in my life, with a beer.

A Bent River Beer during a day of hiking.

Many of my life journeys start this way.

In February, Clarissa and I walked along the Mississippi River from our home in Rock Island to Downtown Moline. After a beer and some nachos at Bent River, we began the trek back. As we cut through alleys on our way back to the river, we saw a sign that said “Plan for Adventure.” Clarissa thought I should pose next to it, and we started contemplating what kind of business it might be. When I looked it up, I found out. It’s a gym…

Before I even knew what Plan for Adventure was all about.

Before I even knew what Plan for Adventure was all about.

Well, that’s not really accurate. But initially I wasn’t sure what I ought to call it. It’s not a health club, weight room, or fitness center. It’s a room with a garage door that holds some exercise equipment, a power rack, some weights, kettle bells, and plyo boxes. Kayaks and canoes are stored in the back. This room is where the Plan for Adventure magic happens, or at least it was until we started training outside. Now we’re not tied to a specific spot. So what the hell is it? I suppose you could call it a fitness group. That’s accurate, but I’ve come to think of it as a team, and you know how much I value a good team. You’ve got coaches, your teammates, and your training exercises. We all join the team for different reasons, sure, but we’re all on the same journey for the moment.

Inside Plan for Adventure

And this is where the journey starts.

Instead of worrying about what to call my workout/team/location/etc, I just started saying “PFA” and moved on to getting stronger, faster, and more resilient. Seriously, why get hung up on what you call your training, right? A rose by any other name and all that.

The main bread and butter of Plan for Adventure is Training Camps. The whole idea is to establish a base level of fitness, and to help you achieve your goals. It doesn’t necessarily matter what your goal is, they’ve got the experience to help you get there. Each session takes about an hour. It may not sound like much, but you’ll get a full workout, including a warm up and a cool down, as well as a little extra time to use the foam roller on anything that needs a little work before you head home. Class sizes are pretty small, fifteen or less, so everyone gets some individual attention; I’ve always been able to ask for help or clarification when needed, and I’ve always gotten lots of encouragement (both from my coaches and my teammates). The fitness level of the class members varies; whatever level you’re at, I’m pretty sure these workouts can work for you. If you’re worried about your fitness level, they offer month-long mini camps that meet twice a week to help you get started. If you’re still worried, contact them and they’ll help you figure out what you need. I’m not exaggerating when I say that all the PFA trainers (Nate, Mike, and Kyle) are the friendliest fitness instructors I’ve ever trained with; they sincerely want you to succeed and will help you all along the way. They’re also legitimately interesting people who are incredibly easy to talk to.

The first night of our two month training camp we did a simple test to establish a baseline of our physical fitness. One month later, halfway through the program, we tested again to get an idea of our progress. Sure enough, I had improved across the board. Most of us had. A month later, at the end of the camp, I had improved even more and ran the fastest mile I’ve run in over a decade. How’d we do it? You’re probably familiar with some of the exercises we do. There are a lot of bodyweight squats, push ups, box jumps. Nobody loves burpees, but we do quite a few.

The Burpee Buffet at Plan for Adventure

The Burpee Buffet. It’s a bunch of burpee variations, each done for thirty seconds, then 45, and then a minute. It’s not necessarily pleasant, but it gets the job done.

We do lift some weights on occasion, but only as part of a larger circuit. Most of what we do utilizes our own bodyweight. There are no shiny machines, just utilitarian equipment, some of which you could probably find or build in your garage. But don’t get the impression that this is a slipshod enterprise. The gear isn’t fancy, the training is top-notch. The building isn’t a marvel of modern architecture, but the coaching is incredibly motivating. The stuff matters less than the effort, and we put forth a lot of effort.

Now that the weather has warmed, we’re usually only meeting at the PFA building before running to a different location. “Everything’s better outside!” hollered Mike the first day we did sprints, and he’s not wrong. We’re still pushing past our comfort zones, only the setting has changed. We also jump rope a lot less; no longer do we begin our workout with Mike’s rallying cry of “Everybody grab a rope!” Instead it’s, “Twenty jumping jacks!” We do a few exercises to get warm and loose, then we head out the door and get a nice little run to complete our warm up. Once I’m a little tired, that’s when the actual workout begins. We do circuits of exercises along the Mississippi River. Or we do hill sprints mixed with burpees and squats up the literal pain-in-the-ass hill at Velie Park. Or we run the stairs on the backside of the iWireless center. Or we do sprints and exercise circuits in parking lots. Or we run up parking ramps and do burpee circuits up top. We train running up hills, we train running down hills. We train in the sun, we train in the rain… Then we shuffle on back, do a little core work, and call it a day. It’s an uncomfortable struggle. Sometimes it feels terrible, awful, and crazy.

But I love it.

The hill at Velie Park, Moline Illinois

The hill at Velie Park. Sprint up it a few times, and you’ll start to feel crazy too.

I have never before gotten results like I have from PFA. Don’t get me wrong, this isn’t an infomercial; I didn’t get six-pack abs from ten minutes a day (or at all, because I prefer my six-packs to come from breweries), no one has shilled any supplements, and the improvement didn’t happen overnight. I didn’t stumble on a miracle fitness guru, but I found knowledgeable coaches to guide me, correct my form, maximize gains, and help differentiate aches and pains from potential injuries. It’s incredibly motivating to have friends working alongside you, pushing themselves (and you) to get better. If you like being part of a team, as I do, then Plan for Adventure might suit you well. On the other hand, if you’re hung up on machismo, win at all cost behavior, just getting reps at the expense of form, or a negative attitude, then go somewhere else. Of course, we aren’t without the drive to win, competitiveness, or the urge to push ourselves to get one more rep, but there just isn’t much room in this group for negativity; there are high fives, the occasional hug, and an unending stream of supportive “you got this” shouts. We’re all here because we want to improve. “Relentless forward motion,” Mike will remind us, “it doesn’t have to be fast, you just need to keep moving.” These aren’t just motivational sound bites, he believes and lives by every word.

Now, I do too.

Inside at Plan for Adventure

PFA isn’t a fancy place, and that’s what’s so great about it; you just come and do the work.

“People think I just make stuff up before I come in, but the workouts are planned weeks before the camps even start.” Mike told me over a smoothie one night. We had met to work on our blogs together at Cool Beanz, but I was also getting a little insight into how PFA approaches training. Reflecting on it now, I can see just how random the workouts aren’t. They’re designed with specific purpose; to help us improve as much as we safely can. Safety is important- I’ve seen Mike send someone home for the night, because they needed more recovery time from an injury before getting back to training. No one likes to slow their progress, but it’s reassuring to know that our coaches care more about our health and safety than just making gains. As for the workouts themselves, we cycle through high volume exercise, strength and power, and endurance phases. Nate and Mike didn’t design these cycles on a whim; they’ve got years of experience and education that has shown what works, and what doesn’t. Following this cycle participants have shown marked improvement. I certainly have, and I’m not special. Everyone is different, and no two people will improve in the exact same way at the exact same rate, but everyone who puts in the effort will see improvement. Because the formula works.

As we left the coffee shop, I reminded Mike that I had schedule conflicts and would be attending the 6 AM session instead of my usual 5 PM class time. He laughed and warned me that my glutes were going to be hurting after that. The following morning, I watched as Mike wrote “Baby Got Back” on the chalkboard, followed by a string of exercises that proved that he wasn’t kidding the previous night; my butt was sore!

Baby got back workout at Plan for Adventure

Baby got back! You know what we’re working here.

I joked about it on Instagram and Mike commented that, “Everyone wants to do the glamorous activities. Strong people do them all.” I had trained with Mike for three weeks by then, and already I had grown stronger. I had also experienced an incredible shift; I could dig a lot deeper for the last rep or final sprint than I had previously believed. It may sound cheesy but the formula doesn’t just strengthen the body, it also toughens up the mind. So to hell with glamour, let’s just do the work.

No longer did I need to remind myself to pack for my workout, or psych myself up to go. I started looking forward to it. I wanted to go. I still do. There are even days when I’m disappointed because it’s not a PFA day. It’s a positive change, though seemingly insane to some. But training at PFA has come with a lot of bonuses. A better attitude and friendships are a couple worth mentioning. Free Beer Friday is another.

Free beer Friday at Plan for Adventure

Does your gym, fitness center, or health club have free beer Fridays?

It’s exactly what it sounds like. The first Friday I trained, I thought Mike was messing with us, but he was 100% serious. On Fridays, we get a free beer after our workout. I laughed about it, but Mike made a good point; we sweat together, we suffer together, we endure together. We damn well ought to celebrate together. I have joined the morning group on a Friday, and for them it’s Free Coffee Friday. It doesn’t have quite the same ring to it, but most of us have jobs to get to, so we probably shouldn’t be day drinking anyway. The beverage is different, but the result is the same. It provides an opportunity to commiserate with your teammates about the aches and pains of the week, and celebrate the successes. On the surface, Free Beer Friday (or Free Coffee Friday) serves as an incentive to get through your week’s training but look deeper, and you’ll see that it’s a team-building ritual; we struggle side by side and then revel in libations together. That’s how bonds are formed. I have no idea whether that’s by chance or by design, but it’s effective either way.

Plan For Adventure isn’t your run of the mill gym or fitness club, but that doesn’t mean that the training is sub-par. In fact, it’s the opposite. Whatever your goal, whatever you want to do, someone at PFA has experience that can help. To quote from their website;

Training starts with trained professionals with back grounds in training and adventuring. Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS), Registered Dietitian Nutritionist (RDN), Survival Certification, Certified Bicycle Repair Technician and much more. The adventures that have been led and completed by the Plan for Adventure leadership range from mountain climbing, ultra endurance racing- Iron man, Tour Divide, 100 mile trail running races, World’s Toughest Mudder 24hr race, and everything in between. Your goal may never include any of these events but… We know how to get you to the biggest events in the world, well prepared… Plan For Adventure is a company of outdoor and fitness professionals whose goal is to help everyone achieve their fitness and adventure goals.

In short, whatever your goal, the folks at PFA can help you achieve it. I’ve done most of my training with Mike, but I’ve done sessions with Kyle and Nate as well, and I’ve yet to have a bad experience. I’ve received nothing but support, encouragement, and sore muscles, though I have earned that last one good and proper. Everyone involved with PFA has been friendly and helpful. They believe in what they’re doing, and that makes a big difference. No matter who is leading your class, they’re going to help you get the most out of your training. They’ll push you, and you will be uncomfortable, but that’s exactly what we’re paying them to do.

Plan for Adventure is more than just training camps though. They’re invested in the community and want us all to get active outside. They’re working to help their friends and neighbors in the Quad Cities become more adventurous by making a number of activities easily accessible. Sunday Stair Climbs, Tuesday Trail Running, and Sunrise Hikes are available to all, free of charge. They also lead Wake Up Shake Up, an hour spent paddling a kayak or a canoe on a Monday morning to start the week off right. Don’t have your own boat? No worries, you can rent one from PFA pretty inexpensively. Last month, Clarissa and I participated in a Sunset Paddle around Credit Island; for $20 each, we rented a kayak, paddle, and personal flotation device for over two hours and had a fantastic time.

Sunset Paddle with Plan for Adventure

We had a great time kayaking around Credit Island!

PFA has also hosted a number of classes I’ve participated in, including one on commuting via bicycle, and another on bicycle maintenance. These classes are inexpensive and have proved incredibly helpful since I’ve started riding my bike more frequently. Whether it’s classes, activities, or events PFA always has something going on. The best way to keep track of it all is to check out their events listed on Facebook. Even after subscribing to their events calendar, I can barely keep up.

You pick your level of involvement though. Maybe you’re not interested in joining the training camp and training three times a week for two months. Maybe the twice a week mini camp is what you’re looking for right now. Or maybe you’re just looking to get some weekend cross training in with the Sunday Stair Climb. Whatever your interest or fitness level, they’re worth checking out.

Plan for Adventure, Moline Illinois

Unless I’m off adventuring, you’ll find me here three times a week.

I know I sound like a broken record, but for me, the positive attitude and sense of team are reasons that PFA has resonated with me. There’s joking and teasing, at times some light mocking and friendly shit-talking, but isn’t that what friends and teammates do? More and more, I find myself looking forward to my work outs. I mean I dread them too, because sometimes they really beat the shit out of me, but something about these workouts, this environment, these people, and this positivity clicks with me. For the first time in my life, I think of myself as an athlete. I’ve gained a new kind of confidence, and it’s slowly spreading to other parts of my life. I eat better, sleep better, and I’m achieving goals outside of my health and fitness plan.

One of those goals is to help people get outside and have adventures. It’s natural then that I wanted to review PFA, since they’re leading by example and trying to get everyone active outside. So I stepped up, signed, up, showed up, and now I’m sharing the good word about Plan for Adventure. Because now that I’ve tried it out, I believe in it. I’ve totally drank the PFA Kool-Aid. I don’t train with them simply because it’s convenient or because it’s getting me in shape. PFA is making me a better adventurer, which is exactly what I want out of my life right now. It’s more than just physical fitness; I’m becoming a better more confident version of Wade, and I’m grateful for that.

If you’re in the Quad Cities area and looking to get yourself physically prepared for racing or adventure, or just want to improve your physical fitness, I urge you to check out Plan for Adventure. My experience has been incredible, and I intend to continue training with them. If you’re not from the Quad Cities, then I hope you’ve still taken something from this post; if you’re struggling to improve your fitness in an environment that isn’t positive and supportive, try to find a new team that will help you on your way. It can be hard to go it alone, and working with a team of people can help keep us motivated and accountable. Most importantly, remember the words of wisdom that I learned from Mike, “Relentless forward motion… it doesn’t have to be fast, just keep moving.”

Plan for Adventure

More than just a catchy turn of phrase.

There are tons of great things I could say about Plan For Adventure, the friendships I’ve made there, and the positive effects my new outlook on health and fitness have brought to my life. At the end of the day though, actions speak louder than words; I’m now participating in my second two month training camp. When this round is done, I’ll be signed up for another. So long as I’m not out on an adventure, I’ll be there every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, getting my sweat on, and I hope you’ll consider joining us there in the future.

The next round of Two-Month training camps will start in July, as will the next month-long mini-camp. If you want to check things out before then, shoot them a line to see about visiting a class and seeing what they’re all about. Registration and contact information can be found on their webpage at www.planforadventure.com.

Epilogue:

We have a training day called “100’s Day” during which we do 100 sets of several different exercises in a circuit. We can take as much time as we need, but we must use proper form. The first time I did 100’s Day, I finished up my sets, then noticed one of my teammates was really struggling to finish her push ups. Without discussion, prompting, or even thinking about it, some of my other teammates and I dropped down and matched every push up with her. We didn’t care that we had finished our sets or that our arms were tired and hurting, we just knew that one of our own was struggling, and we weren’t going to let her struggle alone. So we all joined her, hitting three push ups, resting ten seconds, then pounding out three more. We repeated this process until she hit 100.

I have no idea how many push ups I did that day. But everyone on my team did 100, and that’s the important part. And the ones we all did together, those will probably be my favorite push ups I ever do.

I never thought I’d have favorite push ups, but now I do. That’s the kind of strange and awesome occurrences to which Plan For Adventure has introduced me. Seriously, check them out.

Plan For Adventure

Plan For Adventures’ Event Calendar

If you’re not from the QC area but still want a dose of the positive attitude I’ve gotten out of PFA check out my friend and trainer Mike’s webpage at OneRelentlessLife.com.


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