Why Improves mid-gait stability during supination and pronation, and strengthens lower leg muscles to prevent ankle sprains and overuse injuries to the foot.
How Sit on the ground, with one leg straight ahead and other leg pulled in toward the groin. Loop resistance band around the middle of foot of the straight leg. Keep the band tensioned by pulling with both hands toward torso. With foot flexed, slowly rotate forefoot inward without allowing leg to rotate (keep knee facing ceiling). Repeat 20 times, then rotate foot outward 20 times, then push foot forward 20 times. Do three sets with each foot.
Why Works inner and outer thighs to strengthen muscles that don’t get used much during running or biking, but are critical for stability during backpacking.
How With legs spread shoulder width apart and resistance band just above the ankles and lightly tensioned, bend knees slightly and side step, engaging muscles to pull against resistance band. Keep band taut: Don’t bring feet together when stepping. Walk for 20 feet, then side step back to start (facing the same way). Repeat two times in each direction.
Why Strengthens hip muscles, improving your ability to maintain good form while carrying a pack, and taking strain off knees and ankles.
How Stand with knees bent, hips and back slightly flexed, feet pointing straight ahead and shoulder width apart. Resistance band should be around both legs, just above the ankles and lightly tensioned. Place one hand on a chair back for balance. Keeping both knees straight, slowly swing one leg back at a 45-degree angle, leading with the heel. Hold for two seconds, then slowly return the leg back to the floor. Repeat nine more times, then switch legs. Do three sets on each side. (Note: If you train at a gym, hip abductor/adductor machines are also good.)
Why You have more than 100 ligaments in each foot. This strengthens them, which helps prevent collapsing of the arch and improves shock absorption during foot strike.
How While sitting in a chair, scrunch a towel on the floor with your toes; try to use all five toes just as you would fingers. Repeat 10 times on each foot. Easy? Try picking up a marble.
Why Improves balance and strength in thighs and hips, especially quads and gluteus medius (above quads), which helps with propulsion and strain of carrying pack weight.
How With legs spread shoulder width apart and resistance band just above the ankles and lightly tensioned, bend knees slightly and slowly walk forward by swinging legs out to create a semi-circle with each step. Walk for at least 20 feet, then walk backward to start. Repeat four times.
Why Strengthens abdominal muscles, which helps keep torso stable and prevents hunching or leaning too far forward.
How Lie on your stomach. Keep legs, hips, and back straight and raise into a push-up position. Harder: Lower halfway, with arms flush against torso, elbows behind shoulders (pictured). Too hard? Rest weight on elbows/forearms. Hold up to 30 seconds. Repeat five times.
Why Improves balance and strengthens oblique (side) core muscles to increase stability under a load.
How From the plank pose, turn torso and stack feet. Keep body straight; balance on one arm and raise opposite arm toward the sky. Hold for 15 seconds. Repeat on other side.
Why Improves quad strength and leg stability, which helps protect knees by absorbing impact on descents. How Keep feet flat on the ground, shoulder width apart, and pointing straight ahead. With pelvis level and hands on hips, slowly bend knees and lower butt as if sitting in a chair. Straighten. Make sure your weight stays on your heels, and keep your knees behind your toes. Be careful not to “A-frame” knees (allowing feet and knees to flare out). Do 20 squats.
Advanced Through each up-down motion, swing one arm up as you lower, then down as you straighten. Repeat three arm swings: first above the side of the head, then overhead at a diagonal, then overhead to the front. Opposite hand is on hip. Avoid twisting your torso. Do 10 squats on each side.
It’s not fast (or easy), but this ancient method of hauling cargo builds a strong core.
Carrying a load on the skull puts weight as close to the spine as possible, says author Esther Gokhale, making the ancient technique highly efficient. She doesn’t recommend it for Westerners—it takes skill and neck strength—but says, “A small load can be very educational and even therapeutic.” It’s critical to engage the longus colli—essentially, flexing your neck. “Without this muscular support,” she says, “weight bearing leads to degeneration and arthritic changes in the spine.”