Happy Friday, everyone! I’m having a fantastic Zookeeper Week, celebrating all the dedicated professionals that make zoos a wonderful place for families, animals, and inspiring conservation.
A couple of years ago, I began a side project called Fandom Fitness, and while that project is on hold, the fun we can experience during National Zookeeper Week certainly isn’t on hold! One of my favorite movie franchises was Dreamworks How to Train Your Dragon, based (very loosely) on Cassandra Cowell’s book series of the same name. The books and the movies are very different, but they both center around a young Viking boy named Hiccup and his relationship with a special dragon, Toothless.
Parallels with Zookeeping
What I really loved about the different stories within the series was how they related to zookeeping in different aspects. The movies portrayed dragons as threatening predators, misunderstood creatures that the Vikings feared and fought. But when Hiccup befriends a Night Fury, he shows how the two species can coexist, and even benefit each other. I liken the books to people’s opinions on wolves, sharks, and before they were popularized by marine parks, orcas.
Yes, before SeaWorld, people feared orcas. They were considered a nuisance, and the Navy even had permission to “target practice” on the local resident orcas. Fishermen hated them because they were in direct competition with the killer whales for the valuable salmon.
But when orcas were brought into human care, people began to realize how fascinating, wonderful, and beneficial they were to the local ecosystem. Now, orcas in the Pacific Northwest are highly respected, as they deserve, and are protected by laws from harassment (intentional or unintentional) suffered from us humans.
It was like how Hiccup showed how amazing working with dragons could be, and in the following films, his Viking buddies all rode dragons instead of killing them.
Positively Reinforcing Your Dragon
In contrast, the book How to Train Your Dragon starts off with dragons being something like hunting dogs for the Vikings. When Hiccup comes of age, he is given a small dragon named Toothless to raise and train as his partner. But Toothless doesn’t WANT to be Hiccup’s partner.
Desperate, Hiccup goes to the Viking library and finds a book titled How to Train Your Dragon. It’s only one page long, and the entire entry is written in large block letters: “YELL AT IT.”
I cracked up when I read the series, especially when Hiccup knew that method of yelling wasn’t going to work with Toothless. Instead, Hiccup begins to entice his dragon to behave and work with him by telling him jokes, giving Toothless his favorite fish, and flattering the small dragon. Little by little, Hiccup gains his dragon’s trust, and they go on remarkable adventures throughout the series.
This reminded me so much of zookeepers and animal trainers, and their relationships with their animals. You, too, might snicker at the idea of “yelling” at our animals. That won’t work! We need to build a positive relationship using reinforcement. When our animals trust us to take excellent care, we can do amazing behaviors with them. We too, can make a huge difference and go on adventures, but it starts with positive reinforcement, just like Hiccup learned with his dragon.
How to Train Your Fandom Fitness
So, to celebrate this special franchise on a fabulous Fandom Fitness Friday, I wanted to share the How to Train Your Dragon Workout. It’s fun, challenging, and will prepare you to face your dragons—whether they be misconceptions like in the movie, or difficult obstacles that you must find a way to compromise, like in the book.
You will need a die for this workout (or a pair of dice if you can find two different colored die). Set a timer for 20 minutes. Start the clock and roll the die. The first roll will be the exercise you’ll do. The second roll will tell you how many of the exercise to do. The good news is you won’t have to do more than 6 of any exercise at a time. The bad news is, the die always knows what you need to work on, and you will find you often roll one certain number more than the others. Trust the die, it doesn’t lie.*
Roll the die as many times as you can in 20 minutes, performing the exercises between the rolls. Have fun!
Exercises for How to Train Your Dragon Workout
- Dragonflies– Lay on the ground with your legs straight, and an anchor to hold onto (a pole, or a heavy weight like a medicine ball, dumbbell, or kettlebell works well). Using your core, lift your legs and swing them over your torso and touch the anchor, keeping your legs as straight as possible. If your flexibility or core strength doesn’t allow you to do the movement with straight legs, bend your knees only as much as you need to bring your feet to the target. Return to your starting position in a slow and controlled manner, keeping your lumbar support as flat against the floor as possible.
- Release the Beast (each way)-Begin on all fours, with your knees off the ground (“Beast”). Your hands should be placed about shoulder-width apart. In one sweeping motion, rotate your body to the left and kick your right leg through. Bring your hand and foot back to “Beast” , and repeat on the opposite side.
- Hiccup’s Single-Leg Sit-down/Squat (each side)-Have something you can lower your body to- a chair, steps, a box, whatever is just about knee height. Stand up straight. Lift your right leg to flexion out in front of you. Slowly lower your body, keeping yourself supported by your left leg. Be careful to not let your knee go over your toes, so try to point knee out at an angle, and lower your body as slowly and deliberately as possible. Don’t just plop onto the seat. Once seated, you may rise up on both legs and repeat process on opposite side.
- Dragon Kicks (each side)- Position yourself on all fours. Brace your core and keep your balance while lifting your right leg out behind you and up toward the sky. Bring knee toward chest and repeat the cycle with your right leg the number of repetitions. Once finished, then repeat the process with your left leg. For advanced modification, place a weight on the inside of your knee and hold it with your leg muscles while kicking leg up.
- Dragon Trainers– Start by standing with a medicine ball. Squat down, like you are doing a burpee and place ball on ground. Jump feet back to plank position. Do an uneven push-up on your medicine ball. Switch arms and do another uneven push-up on the other side. Jump back to a crouch, pick up medicine ball, and bring it to your shoulder in a squat (called a squat clean). Stand up and bring your ball over your head. Keeping your elbows close to your ears, bend the elbows to bring the medicine ball behind the head in a tricep move called a skull-crusher.
- Isle of Berk Burpees- if you still aren’t sure how to do a burpee, how are we even friends? Start from standing position, squat to place your hands on the floor. Step or jump back to a plank position. Lower yourself completely to the floor, then push yourself back up to a plank. Step or jump your feet back to a low squatting position. Jump back up to standing. Use a chair or bench to modify as needed.
*If you are new to working out, or want to schedule rest periods between, you can always make a rule where if you roll a certain exercise twice in a row, you get a 20 second rest, and then roll again.
There you have it! A terrific game celebrating books, movies, fandom, zookeepers, and dragons! What more could an animal lover geek ask for?
Tune in tomorrow for a special blog post on how to really treat our animals well and give them the best care. Spoiler: it starts with taking care of yourself!