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Backpacker Magazine – April 2001

Survival Of The Fittest

Wish you could leap tall mountains in a single bound? Here's an exercise program designed for backpackers.

by: Therese Iknoian


Imagine gliding along a narrow, ridgeline trail with 60-foot drop-offs, or springing from rock to rock in a river crossing, wearing a heavy pack all the while. Now imagine tumbling down the mountainside or splashing through the river. That's why you need to work on balance. Here's the secret: Keep your abdominal muscles tight. Complete a selection of these exercises two or three times a week in as little as 5 minutes total.

Multidirectional lunges
Do lunges as described for muscle strengthening (see page 58), but without the handheld weights; keep your hands on your hips instead. This time, you'll step not only forward to lunge, but also to each side (pointing your toes in the direction of the lunge) and backward (lowering your buttocks as if to squat). Try this on a soft surface like a mat, sand, or thick grass; the unstable footing will make your abs work harder.

Clock leg reach
Pretend there's a clock face drawn on the ground and stand at the center of it. Lift one foot off the ground and, without changing the direction you're facing, point with your toes to all of the hours on the clock. Alternate directions as you get better, pointing first, for example, at the 10, then the 5, then the 2, and finally the 12. Having a partner call numbers randomly to catch you off-guard will increase the difficulty.

Single-leg stance with chop
A: Stand on your left leg with your knee slightly bent. Clasp your hands and hold them above your right shoulder. B: Move your clasped hands quickly from right shoulder to left hip. Then change sides, standing on your right leg and moving your clasped hands from your left shoulder to your right hip. You can rotate your torso to the right and left as your balance improves.

Ball toss
Stand on one foot with your knee slightly bent and face a partner who also is standing on one foot. Toss a ball back and forth, catching it in both hands.

For Balance Novices
Skip the ball toss and don't add spinal rotation to the single-leg stance with chop. Keep both feet flat on the floor for the clock leg reach and single-leg stance with chop. Stop if you start to feel uncomfortable.

For Balance PROs
Try lifting yourself onto your toes during the leg reach, single-leg stance, and ball toss exercises. Stand on a less firm surface, like foam or sand. Hold a child's ball, medicine ball, or hand weights. Or, if you aren't holding anything, flap your arms to try to unbalance yourself.

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