|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.
Seriously: Going faster is mostly in your head.
3 simple ways to hike faster
No time for speed drills in your routine? You can actually bump up your mph just by focusing on your form, says biomechanics expert Justin Price. "Poor technique keeps you from moving as fast as you can," he says. Here are three tips to get you started.
Shorten your stride If you overstride, you end up leaning forward to stop yourself from falling over–and actually waste energy overcoming your own displaced center of mass.
Swing those arms Your body travels contralaterally, a fancy way of saying that you gain efficiency when your opposite arms and legs move together. If you bend your elbows to 90 degrees–their most efficient position–and swing them naturally, your legs will follow.
Stand up straight "If you hunch and stare at the ground, biomechanically, you're almost propelling yourself backward," says Price. Stay erect, with your legs directly underneath you and eyes looking ahead, and you'll fly forward.
The new rules Cyclists do low-intensity, high-speed spinning workouts so their bodies learn to pedal fast. Sprinters practice drills to master lightning-quick leg turnover. What if you just want to get to your campsite quicker, or cover an entire park in one day? You can still reap the benefits of so-called neuromuscular adaptation–the idea that speed is, in a way, all in the mind.
Matt Horton, a multisport coach with Carmichael Training Systems, explains: To go faster, you train the nerves in your legs to fire faster; this in turn makes your muscles contract faster, which then increases your speed. Got it? "You want to decrease the time it takes for your brain to send messages along neural pathways to your muscles," says Walshe. Unlike with strength training, when you're seeking an actual physical adaptation (and overloading your system to achieve it), speed training is all about finesse: You're trying to perform superfast movement patterns with textbook technique.
The best thing about neuromuscular adaptation? Its effects last a surprisingly long time. A 2005 Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise study showed that the efficiency of cyclists kept increasing for 4 weeks after the end of an 8-week leg-strength training program–even though their lean-muscle mass hadn't changed. And in a 2000 study in the European Journal of Applied Physiology, middle-aged subjects could still perform the same level of explosive movements 3 weeks after finishing a 24-week training program
The fix To hike faster, try speed skips. Pushing off your left foot, raise your right leg to 90 degrees and your left arm up, bent at 90 degrees as if you're running. Hop on your left foot, then bring down your right leg and push off to skip forward. Repeat this motion as fast as you can, alternating legs with each step.
Extra Credit: The power snatch
"If you're going to be taking quick steps, or climbing steep terrain, you can borrow from traditional weightlifting," says Soika. Olympic-style lifts target every muscle in your legs–two in your calves, three in your hams, and four in your quads–and teach them all to fire, stat. Warning: If done incorrectly, this exercise can cause injury. Ask a trainer to show you the proper technique.
Stand over a barbell and position your feet shoulder-width apart, toes pointed slightly outward and head erect. Squat down and grasp the bar with a wide grip, elbows locked and arms perpendicular to the bar with wrists flexed.
Using your legs, explode the barbell up off the floor. When the weight passes your knees, push in with your hips and pull the barbell up with your back, bringing the bar into contact with your legs at the top of your thighs.
Accelerate the bar upward with your legs and back until your body is fully extended, then bend your elbows, pulling the bar up with your arms as you jump your feet out to the sides. Descend into a half-squat.
Finally, with the bar moving up and your body moving down, your arms should relock overhead. Squat up into a standing position with the bar overhead.