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Backpacker Magazine – May 2003

Supercharge Your Legs

7 ways to kick your stride into overdrive

by: Kimberly Wong

Problem: Dead legs after a day of hiking
Solution: Squats and lunges

Eco-Challenge adventure racer Jodi Zwicky, a woman who knows plenty about long days, swears by squats. "Most of my races aren't on flat terrain, so I have to make sure my quads and hamstrings are strong," she says. "Squats are the best overall leg strengthening exercise, especially for a lot of climbing."

To squat like a pro: Stand with a barbell resting across your shoulders and slowly bend your knees until your thighs are parallel with the ground. Slowly straighten your legs. Try to do three sets of 10 to 12 repetitions. When you can do 12 reps easily, add more weight.

Lunges also work a little of everything, and you can do them anywhere. "I do lunge walks, where I take long strides and do an actual lunge-dipping down and really working my glutes, quads, and hamstrings," says professional soccer player Christina Bell. "By the end, my legs get a completely grueling workout." Bell credits lunges with giving her the strength to run around the field for hours.

To feel the burn, take an exaggerated step forward and bend both knees to about 90 degrees. Push off the front foot and return to the starting position. Repeat with the opposite leg. Try 10 to 12 reps, and eventually increase to three sets with small hand weights.

Problem: Need more power for big steps
Solution: Plyometrics

"I do a lot of plyometrics to build explosiveness in my legs," says Sarah Uhl, a short-track sprint cyclist for Team Saturn. "My event lasts only 35 seconds. I need to go from inactive to active in the snap of a finger."

Get a big boost on the trail by incorporating plyometrics, or exercises that put your body through jumping or bouncing motions. Uhl recommends box jumps, where you leap like a frog onto and off of a box 15 times. Start with a box that's a foot high, and add height to keep your workouts rigorous. An alternative is the one-leg jump, which builds strength and improves balance for leaping across creeks or other trail obstacles. Stand on one foot and jump straight up 10 times. Repeat with the other leg.

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