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Backpacker Magazine – April 2001

Survival Of The Fittest

Wish you could leap tall mountains in a single bound? Here's an exercise program designed for backpackers.

by: Therese Iknoian


In your backyard or local park, use household weights (see page 119) and a curb to strengthen your hill-climbing, pack-carrying muscles. Which muscles are those? "The butt, the butt, and the butt," says Mark Pierce, Dr. Musnick's coauthor and a certified athletic trainer in Bellevue, Washington. Actually, he's referring to all the buttocks-supporting muscles, including those in the hips, thighs, and calves, plus your hamstrings and abdominal muscles. You'll also need to work your shoulder and chest muscles.

These basic exercises will get those muscles in high gear, so add them to your regimen three times a week, beginning 6 to 8 weeks before your trip. Do two or three sets, performing the most repetitions and using the heaviest weights in the first set, then decreasing reps and weight for each following set.

Lunges with biceps curls
A: Stand with your feet apart and in line with your hips while holding a weight in each hand with your arms hanging at your sides. B: Step forward with one foot, letting your knee bend when the foot lands. Make sure that when you land, your bent knee remains over your foot, not in front of it. At the same time, flex the opposite arm so that your palm lifts toward your shoulder. Push back to a standing position by straightening your knee and stepping back as you lower your hand. Repeat on the opposite side.

No Weights? No Problem
For strength and balance exercises requiring weights, try the homemade variety: Tools, such as wrenches or hammers, cans of food, or plastic bottles filled with water or sand (water sloshing in a half-filled bottle will challenge your balance).

Stand with your feet apart and in line with your hips. Bend your knees and lower your buttocks, as if you are going to sit on a chair. Keep your back straight, your abs tight, and your knees behind your toes. Squat as low as you can while keeping your torso upright and your heels on the floor. Return to a standing position. Holding a ball behind your head with both hands will help you maintain a straight posture, or push it above your head, toward the ceiling, when you squat.

Assisted dips
A: Stand between two chairs with their backs toward you. Put your hands on the backs of the chairs and, moving your feet behind you and bending your knees, balance on your toes. B: Then lower your weight between the chairs by using your chest and arm muscles. If your arms feel stressed, put more weight on your toes. Keep your back upright. Push up with your chest and arms to return to a standing position.

Stand facing a curb or low platform. Step up onto it with your right foot, lifting your left foot off the ground as you straighten your right knee. Place your left foot on the step to finish. Return to the starting position by placing your left foot on the ground, then bringing the right foot down. You can complete the set's repetitions with the right foot and then switch to the left, or you can alternate sides.

For the Less Fit
Start with two strength-training sessions a week, and use lighter weights or eliminate them. Add a few more repetitions to compensate for less weight. For safety, do squats with a bench or chair in front of you, or use ski or trekking poles to support yourself. For step-ups, choose a very low curb. For assisted dips, let more of your body weight rest on your toes.

For the SuperFit
Lift more weight or add challenges such as stepping onto a curb with your front foot for lunges or speeding up the reps. Wear a weighted pack. Try unassisted dips by taking your feet off the ground as you lower yourself.

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