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April 2001

Survival Of The Fittest

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


Modifications for the middle-aged

If you’re a man over 40 or a woman over 50, modify the program outlined here, suggests Jim Sloan, author of Staying Fit Over Fifty (The Mountaineers, 800-553-4453;; $19.95).

  • Progress slowly and pay attention to your body.
  • Take 2 or 3 days off-or go very easy-after a hard workout, instead of taking 1 or 2 days off. That means fewer hard workouts.
  • If a long, hilly hike tires your leg muscles, don’t jump right into a muscle-strengthening leg workout the next day. Give your muscles extra recovery time.
  • Don’t skip strength training. You lose muscle and bone density as you age, but strength training helps maintain them.
  • Don’t neglect flexibility exercises, because tissues tend to dry and stiffen with age.


Move slowly until you know the limits of your comfortable and pain-free range of motion. If something hurts, don’t do it, or modify the routine. Dr. Musnick also advises:

If you have knee problems: Stick to flat surfaces and avoid stepping downhill when doing lunges or other stepping exercises. Don’t run downhill or descend stairs as a part of a workout. Lunges and squats, as described on page 58, will strengthen the fronts of your thighs and your buttocks, which can help take pressure off your knees.

If you have back problems: Avoid rotational movements unless your doctor has approved them. Take extra care not to twist your back if you use a cross-country ski machine. Lift your backpack safely by lowering yourself to one knee to swing the pack onto your back; better yet, have a hiking partner hoist the pack onto your back. Always keep your abdominal muscles tightened for support. Do plenty of balance training to develop strong abs, since they support your back muscles.

If you have ankle problems: Strengthen them with one-leg balances, gradually moving to softer surfaces to add to the challenge.

If you have shoulder problems: Add strengtheners such as assisted dips, assisted pull-ups (standing on a chair or having a friend support your lower body), and modified push-ups on your knees (supporting your weight on your hands and knees instead of on your hands and toes).

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