|NATIONAL PARKS QUICKLINKS|
Backpacker Magazine – May 2007
Want legs that can tackle any climb, any heavy pack, any mileage? Well, don't work harder–work smarter. We grilled fitness experts and scoured the medical literature to uncover the latest, greatest strategies for building strength, endurance, speed, and flexibility.
Train for the Trail
Simple solutions to protect 3 trouble spots
Sore knees You know lunges are good for you, but they can do a number on bum knees. No need to give them up: Dwight Daub, an assistant coach with the Seattle SuperSonics, often has his players do lunges with their front foot on an elevated surface–an aerobic step or small box–which strengthens the muscles around the knee without overly stressing it.
Shin splints "The shin muscle's sole purpose is to raise your foot upward every time you take a stride," says Soika. If you suddenly increase mileage after a winter of watching reruns of That '70s Show, you're in danger of stressing your shins. Soika's easy fix? Walk on your heels with your toes pointed up as high as you can for 90 seconds or longer; do 3 sets a day.
Weak ankles According to Justin Price, ankle sprains are directly related to the health of your feet–namely, the arch and the plantar fascia, the band of tissue that runs along the sole. Once those are strong and supple, they'll help your foot adapt to unstable surfaces and prevent rolls. Start by resting one foot on a golf ball, wearing socks, and rolling your foot over the ball for 1 to 2 minutes. Over time, you can start doing this "massage" by standing on the ball (just be sure to transfer your weight gradually). Switch sides.
The fix Try these two dynamic warmups for a few minutes each before shouldering your pack.
Skips with self-hug Do a standard high skip, bringing knees up to 90 degrees with each skip. At the same time, extend your arms out to the side (parallel to the ground) and then bring them in to hug your chest. Repeat both motions simultaneously.
Frankenstein walk With back upright, arms out in front of you, and palms down, walk forward straightlegged and try to touch your shins with your hands by bringing your legs up, not by bending over.
Extra Credit: The roll-up
Your core–the band of muscles around your midsection, including your abs and obliques–is the foundation for a proper body position in any sport. "You should always keep a neutral, tall pelvis, almost like a dog tucking its tail," says Dieffenbach. Once your middle gets tired (after, say, 6 hours on the AT), your posture will fall apart, and your body actually moves into new positions and angles–stressing your legs in abnormal ways. Dieffenbach suggests borrowing a move from Pilates: Lie flat on your back with your legs straight, arms parallel to the floor above your head. Inhale as you contract your abs, then exhale as you slowly roll your torso up, reaching for your toes. Hold for a few seconds, then slowly roll back to the floor. Do 10 reps.
3) Train like an elite athlete–harder. And easier.
The new rules Monday run, Tuesday lift, Wednesday run, Thursday lift ever feel like you're so used to a fitness routine that your plateau feels flatter than the Grand Mesa? You're not alone. Whether you're a weekend hiker or an ironman, "Once your body is tolerating a certain constant level of stress, it's no longer adapting and thus no new gains are made," says Dieffenbach. "Basically, doing the same thing at the same level all the time puts your system on cruise control–and you can't get fitter, stronger, or faster."
Thankfully, there's a way to bust out of the rut: You need to break up your training schedule into segments of building and resting, a practice called periodization. It's long been used by Olympians and elite cyclists (and broken down into daily, weekly, monthly, and yearly cycles), but now recreational athletes are starting to use the same idea.
"For a given trip, you can cyclically progress to the level you need," says Calvin Zaryski, a professional endurance coach in Calgary who has trained Everest climbers. "You can adjust for the mileage, the vertical, the weight of your pack, even the temperature and weather." That might translate into the difference between summiting Rainier and bonking at 12,500 feet. Periodization recognizes that the body has different systems that need to build up, and that one system can be built upon the other–like boosting cardio first, adding strength, and then later honing in on speed.
The fix Say your big trip is in 3 months. Your first move, says Dieffenbach: Get out the calendar, mark the date, and then schedule your workouts leading up to it in three 4-week cycles. In the first 3 weeks, keep your heart rate around 55 to 65 percent of max. Increase your mileage every week, combining shorter weekday hikes with longer weekend ones of 5 to 9 miles, and then back off to recover during the fourth week. For the second cycle, your weekend hikes can increase to, say, 7, 9, and 11 miles, and your weekday workouts should be more intense (70 to 75 percent of your max heart rate); you still get that rest week at the end. In the last cycle, bump up your mileage again, and add even more intensity: hills, a heavier pack, or a faster pace, depending on what you're training for. Your final rest week ends up being the week before departure, so you'll arrive at the trailhead fresh and strong. A rule of thumb to prevent injury: "You shouldn't increase your volume by more than 10 percent a week," says Dieffenbach.
Extra Credit: Destination-Specific Training
In the last month or so before he leaves for a speed-hike or ultramarathon, Brian Robinson–the first person to hike the AT, PCT, and CDT in the same year–thinks about where he's going. He cuts his total miles and increases training for the exact activity he'll be undertaking. "If I were going backpacking in the Sierra, I'd do almost all hills–the hilliest hills I could find," Robinson says. "If I know I'll be carrying a lot of weight, I'll make sure to practice carrying at least that much."
Simple preventions for 3 endurance problems
Under-recovery If you're trying to get in shape at the last minute and don't let your body rebuild after a hard effort, you'll cut into your endurance gains and break down stressed muscles. In fact, your gains from working out 7 days a week are small compared to the increased potential for overuse injuries if you train more than 5 days in a row. "Generally, I like to have 3 days on for every day off," says Dieffenbach. But recovery doesn't mean a complete day of rest. "It might be an easy 1-hour ride for someone who's very fit–or a 15-minute walk with the dog for someone else."
Poor conditioning Robinson trains by spending as much time up on his feet as possible. "If you do a 7-mile run every day that takes an hour, that's not good enough for a weeklong trip at high speed," he says. "You need to practice being on your feet all day." His advice? Take advantage of full weekend days to work up to the mileage of your longest day, and repeat as often as you can.
Not enough pretrip training "I'll let you in on a guide's secret," says Tim O'Brian, who's been leading trips with Rainier Mountaineering, Inc. for 7 years and has climbed in Mexico, Russia, Africa, and South America. "It's bull when people say mountaineers and backpackers don't need to train." O'Brian has a tried-and-true recipe to get fit–even if he's pressed for time: The dumbbell step-up and step-down combination, followed by an hour on a stairclimber. Holding 20 pounds in each hand, step onto a 12- to 18-inch-high box with your right foot. Raise your left leg above the box and step down on the other side without pausing at the top, keeping your weight on your right leg until you land. Then turn around and repeat with the opposite leg. Do three sets of 20.