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Backpacker Magazine – November 2009

Injury-Proof Your Legs

Loosen up–and stay pain-free–with resistance stretching.

by: Kristen Bjornsen, Illustrations by Supercorn

PAGE 1 2

Everyone knows that limber muscles help prevent strains and soreness. But if you stretch the traditional way–by elongating your muscle and holding the position for 30 seconds–you're not getting maximum benefit. "The muscles are actually at their weakest in this lengthened state," says David Stiles, a trainer at Studio 16-RFST Boston. "They can't contract to stabilize the joint or guard against strain."

Better option: resistance stretching–an increasingly popular method used by Olympic-caliber athletes, including gold-medal swimmer Dara Torres. It not only fends off new injuries, but it also helps heal old ones. With this new technique, you contract the muscle while you stretch it (i.e., you resist the stretch) instead of holding it in a relaxed, static position. "This strengthens the muscle, so it can contract through a longer range of motion," says Stiles. It also helps break down scar tissue on injured muscles, allowing the muscle to move more freely and efficiently.

Reap the benefits with these three exercises: Do them at least three times per week (and before and after your next hike) to see results and keep your legs limber, strong, and switchback-ready.

The Basics
Don't stretch cold muscles. Instead, warm up with five minutes of jogging, hiking, or jumping jacks to get blood flowing.
Prevent injury: Stop the stretch at the point where your muscles can no longer comfortably contract.
Increase the benefit by stretching with a partner. Have your buddy gently move your leg through the stretch position while you resist the motion by pushing back.

For each of the three exercises on the next page, do three sets of six to 10 reps for each leg.

PAGE 1 2

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DC Tom
Aug 11, 2011

You'll have to prove to me that the IT stretch is doing anything other than twisting the hip capsule. PT's like this stretch because you can feel something. That doesn't make it useful. There are other better IT band and gluteus minimus stretches that are more effective. Remember the body adapts to the environment.

DC Tom
Aug 11, 2011

So many people hurt their knees while trying to help them. They hyperflex the knee while stretching the quads. Push the hip forward to pre-stretch the quad before bringing the foot toward the buttock. Hold gently for 5-10 seconds and repeat 10 times. The muscles adapt to the environment. Retraining should be gentle and long term.

Kyle K
Jul 23, 2010

This technique is not really new or gimmicky - many poses in yoga utilize this type of stretch, whether you realize you're doing it or not (ex. half moon - balancing on one leg contracts the muscle while you stretch into it). Yoga has helped tremendously with my knees because it gives a good combination of static stretching, resistance stretching, balance, and strengthening.

Jul 04, 2010

This is a stretching technique that a lot of physical therapists use to both stretch one side and strengthen the other side.

I have a bad knee caused by tight hamstrings which has made my vastus medius (part of the quads) weak. Doings stretches like the ones mentioned above has greatly "fixed" my problem. The traditional gentle static stretching has its merits particularly with general flexibility concerns. However, there are other stretching techniques that address more specific issues such as those that backpackers have.

Julie D
Mar 05, 2010

I disagree with the first comment as well. If a gold medalist does and finds it effective that doesn't mean it's just a gimmick or not meant for the rest of us. I'm actually insulted by that first comment. That person is basicly telling everyone else that they're incapable of doing it and shouldn't even try! Secondly, I doubt that person is a doctor or even understands the science of this stretch he is so quick to crticize. Thirdly, it doesn't even sound like tried it at all! Everyone should try what they feel would work best for them. If it's helping someone with an injured knee it might help you. Everyone is different and they need to find what WORKS for THEM. Don't let someone who didn't even try it tell you not to, because if you do you might pass on something that can really help you.

Jan 24, 2010

i disagree with this last comment and would recommend this stretching technique. i am recovering from knee injury and this stretching feels better than the older style static holding stretching

Jan 09, 2010

Just because a professional athlete does it doesn't make it right! I would strongly recommend that most average to advanced hikers should not utilize the aforementioned stretching technique, as you are likely to strain the muscle you are trying to lengthen. I would utilize this technique only if you have very minor flexibility limitations and are extremely well conditioned. Safe stretching defined: gently and routinely stretching the non-contractile tissues of muscles. Stay away from gimmicky stretching techniques unless you want to see an orthopaedic surgeon or physical therapist.


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