|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.
5) Injury Prevention
A new kind of warmup might solve most muscle tweaks.
The new rules You may know that many researchers think static stretching–when, say, you simply pull your ankle up to your butt–can do as much harm as good. But now experts are reaching back to the old days of calisthenics to inform the new vogue in stretching. It's called dynamic warmups–that is, doing high skips, jumping jacks, and the like before reaching to touch your toes. "Think about taking a rubber band out of the fridge and stretching it, then think about one that's nice and warm," says Matt Horton.
Avery Faigenbaum, an associate professor of exercise science at the College of New Jersey, says dynamic warmups do three things. They boost your body temperature, they raise your kinesthetic awareness (essentially, your body's sense of how it moves in space), and they increase motor-unit excitability, which he likens to "turning on" your muscle fibers. All of these effects prevent injury. "Static stretching turns on your slow-twitch muscles, the ones you need for steady endurance," he says. "Dynamic warmups turn on your fast-twitch fibers–so they'll be ready when you backpack up a hill, trip on a root, and need to catch yourself." A bonus: Faigenbaum, in an October 2006 study in the Journal of Athletic Training, reported that dynamic warmups increase performance more than static stretching does. "You work through your range of motion much better than if you just do a forward bend," he says. "Backpacking is a dynamic sport with lunging and turning on unstable ground, and this will get you ready for it."