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May 2003

Supercharge Your Legs

7 ways to kick your stride into overdrive

Problem: Sore quads

Solution: Eccentrical exercises

“Often, people assume they’re sore after a hike from all the climbing,” says Dressendorfer. “Little do they know that they’re hurting because they’re not used to working the muscles on the way down.”

Hiking uphill uses muscles concentrically, meaning the fibers shorten. With an eccentric movement, your muscles actually stretch as they contract. It’s this kind of eccentric strength that keeps you from tumbling down a steep hill. You can develop this kind of strength easily, once you master the ability to exercise in reverse. “Most people do strengthening exercises only concentrically, leaving their eccentric ability weaker and less able to handle stress,” explains Laura Keller, a physical therapist for elite athletes at San Francisco’s Stone Clinic.

You can work the muscles both ways by performing any of the previous exercises in the opposite motion slowly to the count of 10, says Keller. “When doing a squat, rather than focusing on raising your body, slowly lower it to the count of 10, then rise up out of the squat at a normal pace.”

Problem: Bonking on steep climbs

Solution: Pedal uphill

Your quads are crucial in helping you scale hills. And there’s no better way to build unstoppable climbing quads than to pedal a bike uphill multiple times. Just ask mountain biking World Champion Alison Dunlap. “Ten hill repeats on a road or mountain bike are incredibly painful,” she says. “But it’s really the best workout for those who don’t have much time and want to get the most out of a ride.” Once your quads are used to taking a beating on a bike, the big steps you’ll take on the trail will be easier to endure.

Problem: Can’t keep up

Solution: Intervals

Eco-Challenge veteran Martin Rydlo knows how to pick up the pace. In training, he runs 30-second sprint intervals to keep his legs light and quick. “These really work on my power and strength,” says Rydlo. “The first 15 seconds, it’s go, go, go. In the last 15 seconds, the lactic acid builds up and your legs get heavy. It’s a real killer, but doing intervals will help legs feel far more nimble during a hike.”

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